29 September 2014

Jan Musch

On the sixth day of the 2014 Nederlands Film Festival in Utrecht, we present you in the unofficial Dutch film star postcards festival Jan Musch (1875-1960). He was one of the great stars of the Dutch theatre during the first decades of the 20th Century. In the 1930s he also starred in a few Dutch films, including the award winning drama Dood water/Dead Water (1934).

Jan Musch
Dutch postcard by REB in the series Portrettengalerij, no. 105.

A Quiet Charm

Jan Musch was born as Johannes Petrus Musch in 1875 in De Jordaan, the heart of old Amsterdam. His father, a café owner, was offered theatre tickets for showing posters in his café. So young Jan saw a lot of stage plays and soon wanted to become an actor too.

Musch also showed talent for drawing and music. He performed as a magician, together with his friend Johan Buziau, who would later become one of the great clowns of the Dutch theatre.

Jan started his stage career in the choir of the revue De Doofpot (The Extinguisher) in the Salon des Variétés in Amsterdam. The following years he worked as an extra, singer or dresser, and also played the piano in harbour bars.

At 17, he got his first paid stage job as a servant in the classic Dutch play Spiegel der vaderlandse kooplieden (Mirror of the National Merchants). He was influenced by the naturalistic, romantic acting style of the great actor Louis Bouwmeester.

Actress Esther de Boer-Van Rijk noticed him and took care that he got an engagement at the Nederlandsche Toneelvereeniging in 1899. Under the direction of Herman Heyermans he became one of the great Dutch actors of the early 20th century in plays like Allerzielen (All Souls’ Day). His acting style changed into a quiet charm, simple and withdrawn.

Jan Musch
Dutch postcard in the series Hollandsche Kunstenaars (Dutch Artists). no. 1. Photo: Bernard Eilers.

Dutch Actor
Dutch postcard. Collection: Britta K @ Flickr.

Grand Character Actor

From 1909 till 1915 Jan Musch was one of the main actors in the company of Willem Royaards, which would prove to be another main period of his stage career.

He became a grand character actor in the classic plays of Joost van den Vondel like Lucifer and Gijsbreght, and of William Shakespeare like The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

In 1916 he returned to Heyermans and his Nieuwe Nederl. Tooneel-Vereeniging, which performed in the Grand Théâtre in Amsterdam. Musch became the co-director.

He played the title roles in two classic Dutch plays Bredero's Spaanse Brabander (The Spanish Man of Brabant) and Pieter Langendijk’s Krelis Louwen, which he would perform again and again during the next decades.

With his great comic talent he was also an ideal interpreter of the plays by Molière, such as the miser Harpagon in L’avare (The Miser).

In the following decades Musch stayed the vital star and attraction of the different companies he worked for. In 1928 he made a successful tour in the Dutch West Indies. Privately he was reserved and never gave interviews.

Jan Musch as Adam in De paradijsvloek
Dutch postcard. Photo: Cohnen Jr. Publicity still for the stage play De paradijsvloek (1919) by Alphons Laudy. The original production by het Schouwtooneel with Musch as Adam was a huge success in both The Netherlands and Flanders.


During the 1930s Jan Musch often worked together with the actress Else Mauhs. With her and with actor Ko Arnoldi he formed in 1933 the theatre company Het Masker (The Mask), which existed till 1936.

During this period he also appeared in a few films. He starred as a doomed fisherman of the Zuiderzee (Southern Sea) in the drama Dood water/Dead Water (Gerard Rutten, 1934) with Max Croiset. The film won an award at the Venice Film festival.

Musch also appeared in De Man zonder hart/The Man Without a Heart (Leo Joannon, 1937), and as a signal man in the thriller De spooktrein/The Ghost Train (Carl Lamac, 1939) with Fien de la Mar and Adolphe Engers.

In 1939 he retired because of ill health. In the first year of the war the Vlaamse schouwburg in Antwerpen (Antwerp), Belgium, asked him to reprise his role in Molière’s L’avare, which he did to great acclaim.

When the Nazis introduced the fascist Kulturkammer in The Netherlands, Musch refused to join. His first wife, the violinist Ans Benavente, had tried to escape through France, but was killed by the Nazis.

Musch started to perform underground, and with his second wife, actress Mary Smithuyzen, he helped the Dutch resistance. Therefore he had to flee in 1943.

After the war he started a political cabaret and performed many of his old roles on the radio. After a successful tour through Surinam in 1949 and his last film role in Myrte en de Demonen/Myrte of the Demons (Paul Bruno Schreiber, 1950) he decided to make a farewell theatre tour with L’avare in 1952.

The 77-year old Jan Musch had shone magically on the stage for more than six decades. Recovering after a stroke, he died in 1960 in his hometown Blaricum, Netherlands.

Dood water
Dutch postcard, no. 38993. Photo: Nederlandse Filmgemeenschap, Holland. Publicity still for Dood water/Dead water (Gerard Rutten, 1934). Collection: Egbert Barten.

Max Croiset and Arnold Marlé in Dood water
Dutch postcard, no. 38996. Photo: Nederlandse Filmgemeenschap, Holland. Publicity still for Dood water/Dead water (Gerard Rutten, 1934) with Max Croiset and Arnold Marlé. Collection: Egbert Barten.

Dood water
Dutch poster for the film Dood water/Dead Water (Gerard Rutten, 1934) starring Jan Musch.

Sources: Theun de Vries (DBNL) (Dutch), Wikipedia (Dutch), and IMDb.

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