01 October 2012

Cissy van Bennekom

This week EFSP has its yearly Netherlands Film Star Postcards Festival again. During the Netherlands Film Festival (26 September - 5 October 2012) we provide you daily with postcards and bios of Dutch film stars. Lovely Cissy van Bennekom (1911 - 2005) was a Dutch theater, film and radio actress who played in a series of popular Dutch films in the 1930's.

Cissy van Bennekom
Dutch postcard. Photo: Loet C. Barnstijn Productie. Publicity still for De familie van mijn vrouw/My wife's family (1935).

Promising Talent
Francisca Wilhelmina 'Cissy' van Bennekom was born in Haarlem, the Netherlands, in 1911. Van Bennekom began her career at the end of the 1920's as a linen clerk in department store De Bijenkorf in Amsterdam. In 1928 she entered the theater world at the age of 17, through mediation of a friend. She became a regular actress of the company Nederlandsch Tooneel of Louis Saalborn and Dirk Verbeek, where she debuted as a fairy in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. She continued with a long series of supporting roles, mainly those of maids and nurses in such plays as De familie Schimek (The Schimek family) (1930), De deftige straat (Quality Street) (1931), Oplichters (Crooks) (1931), and a digression with the Ensemble Jacques Sluyters at the open air theater Emmen in Cain (1930). In 1932 she moved to the Vereenigde Schouwspelers, where she acted in Goethe's Faust. Under the direction of Pierre Mols, she played Manuela in Jongedames in uniform (Girls in uniform)(1932), known from the German film Mädchen in Uniform by Leontine Sagan. It was her first major role, opposite the Enny Mols-de Leeuwe as as Fräulein von Bernburg and Julia Cuypers as the director. In 1934 Van Bennekom played the part of Doortje in her first film, the popular folk comedy De Jantjes/The Tars (1934, Jaap Speyer). It was based on a successful popular play by Herman Bouber that already had been released as a silent film in the 1920's. De Jantjes was one of the first Dutch talkies, after a few unfulfilled experiments. The cast was completely Dutch and Dutch sites played important parts. The production of the film got a huge press coverage and De Jantjes became a great public success, although the communist newspaper De Tribune noted: "It will probably stink of chauvinism. Just a film that the Dutch bourgeoisie can use, with the heightened international situation."Undoubtedly this was a hint at the election of Hitler as Chancellor.

Jan van Ees, Willy Costello, Johan Kaart jr.
Dutch postcard by Hollandia Film Prod./Loet C. Barnstijn. Photo: publicity still for De Jantjes (1934).

De Jantjes - Willy Costello, Suzie Klein, Johan Kaart jr., Marie van Westerhoven, Jan van Ees
Dutch postcard by Hollandia Film Prod./Loet C. Barnstijn. Photo: publicity still for De Jantjes (1934).

A Difficult Character
After De Jantjes/The Tars, Cissy van Bennekom would act in eight Dutch sound films. Firstly she played in the fisherman drama Op hoop van zegen/The Good Hope (1934, Alex Benno), based on a popular play by Herman Heijermans. Like De Jantjes, Op hoop van zegen had already been filmed before in the silent era. The film press described the film as not a huge artistic innovation from a filmic perspective, but with strong performances by actor Esther de Boer-van Rijk as the old fishermen’s widow Kniertje and Cissy van Bennekom as the daughter of Simon the ship’s carpenter. Afterwards came De familie van mijn vrouw/My Wife’s Family (1935, Jaap Speyer), De vier Müllers/The Four Muller (1935, Rudolph Meinert), ’t Was 1 April/It was April First (1936 Detlef Sierck aka Douglas Sirk), Op een nacht in mei/One Night in May (1936, Jaap Speyer), the short film Amsterdam bij nacht/ Amsterdam by Night (1937, Alex Benno) and De spooktrein/The Ghost Train (1939, Carl Lamac). Although she played mainly supporting roles, Van Bennekom became a famous Dutch film star in the 1930's. She had the reputation of being 'a difficult character' because she took no notice of the directors. Later she told an interviewer she "had to fight serious battles in order to be allowed to change the grotesque, in broken Dutch constructed texts and to be able to put the correct accents." She also complained she had to arrange her film costumes herself and sometimes had weekdays of 24 hours making just 15 guilders. From her own oeuvre, Van Bennekom only spoke positively about the films De Jantjes, Op hoop van zegen and De spooktrein. For the multilingual films De vier Mullers (1935) and ’t Was 1 april (1936) Van Bennekom travelled to Berlin and Vienna. Privately, Van Bennekom was also a tough cookie. In 1938 she was big news in the newspaper. She had to appear in court for slapping an intrusive man, who then sued her. Outraged by the verdict - she had to pay 5 guilders - she wrote to the newspaper De Telegraaf that the judge was favouring bold men. She only regretted that she had lost her temper. The judge then wrote a rebuttal in the same newspaper. She was pushing in when quitting a tram, after which the man ran after her and called her names. She sold the man such a blow “that he surely heard it if he did not see it”, as she said herself. Cissy went on appeal, where the compromise was a penalty of 1 guilder. Due to the jubilee of Queen Wilhelmina in 1938, in the end she did not even had to pay that one guilder.

Esther de Boer van Rijk, Aaf Bouber, Cissy van Bennekom, Clara Visscher, and Annie Verhulst, in Op Hoop van Zegen
Dutch postcard by M.B. & Z. (M. Bonnist & Zonen, Amsterdam). Photo: Dick van Maarseveen, Den Haag/M.H.D. Film. Publicity still for Op Hoop van Zegen (1934).

A Superb Film Actress
Through her busy film schedule, Cissy Van Bennekom worked less on stage. In 1935-1936 she filmed in Loet Barnstijn’s studio Filmstad Liefdes-Idylle/Love's Idyll, under direction of Jaap Speyer. Privately, she experienced her own idyll with Clemens Wilde, a Hungarian Jewish sound-engineer at Filmstad, and they married in 1936. Kurt Gerron and Adolphe Engers acted as witnesses. Then, Van Bennekom went to the Ufa studios in Neubabelsberg to act in the comedy 't Was 1 april (1936, Detlef Sierck). In the late 1930's Van Bennekom shifted territory to cabaret and radio and renewed her stage career. From 1937 on, Van Bennekom played with the ABC Cabaret of Wim Kan and Corry Vonk, founded in 1936 and based at the Amsterdam Leidseplein Theater. In 1937-1938 she played at the Amsterdam Tooneelvereeniging of Albert van Dalsum and A. Defresne in plays like Artisten-Ingang/Stage Door. Later in 1938 Van Bennekom followed Van Dalsum and Defresne when they joined the Nederlandsch Toneel, now under the direction of Cor van der Lugt Melsert. The company became the regular player of the Amsterdam Stadsschouwburg. In 1939 she played in the radio play Spreek met Vlaanderen en het komt in orde, the first Paul Vlaanderen series, based on the British radio play Send for Paul Temple by Francis Durbridge. Van Bennekom played Cora Granders, the niece of the detective. In the summer of 1939 Van Bennekom played in the Amsterdam studio Cinetone her last film role in De spooktrein/The Ghost Train, directed by Carl Lamac. In particular, the performance of Jan Musch as the station manager was widely appreciated, but there was also praise for Van Bennekom’s performance. Het Vaderland: "Despite her small role Cissy van Bennekom shows she is a superb film actress". When in May 1940 the Netherlands was occupied by the Germans, Van Bennekom stopped her stage and film career, because of her Jewish husband. However, the pre-war Dutch films in which she had acted were still widely shown in Dutch cinemas. When the south of the Netherlands was liberated already, Adolphe Engers and Van Bennekom presented a New Year’s wish on 1 January 1945, in the act Thomasvaer en Pieternel, written by Professor Casimir for the radio station Herrijzend Nederland. After World War II, Van Bennekom joined the cabaret of Wim Sonneveld in the show Vanavond om 8 uur (Tonight at eight) (1947). She also contributed to the first experimental television broadcasts by Philips. In 1948 she retired from public life to focus on her second marriage. She moved to France and became a sculptress. She got an offer from America to play a role in a play in Kansas City, but refused as she wanted to stay with her 4-year-old daughter. After the death of her second husband, she returned to Amsterdam. At the age of 93, Cissy van Bennekom died in 2005 in Amsterdam.

Long scene from De Jantjes (1934). Source: Robin Kalshoven (YouTube).

Sources: kranten.kb.nl/, Filminnederland.nl/, Theaterencyclopedie.nl/, Wikipedia (Dutch) and IMDb.

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