24 September 2017

Coen Hissink

Every year in early autumn, the Dutch film industry and public gather at the Netherlands Film Festival (NFF). Also this year, EFSP presents its own Unofficial Netherlands Film Star Postcards Festival from 20 to 29 September. Coen Hissink (1878-1942) was a Dutch stage and screen actor who acted in many silent films by Theo Frenkel Sr. First in the Netherlands in such films as Levensschaduwen (1916), Het proces Begeer (1918) and Menschenwee (1921) and afterwards in Berlin in Alexandra (1922) and other films. He also played in various silent Hollandia films. In the 1930s he acted in Dutch sound films. Hissink died in concentration camp Neuengamme.

Coen Hissink
Dutch postcard. Coen Hissink as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare. This postcard may date c. 1907-1908 when Hissink played Shylock on the Dutch stage.

A Dutch Western

Johan Coenraad ‘Coen’ Hissink was born in 1878 in Kampen, The Netherlands.

After studying at the Toneelschool (Stage School) for a year, he began his acting career in the theatre in 1902. He made his stage debut in the Revue De Nieuwe Haring (The New Herring) and would have a long career on stage in both the Netherlands and Flanders.

He was also known as a writer. In 1910, he published the dissertation Louis Bouwmeester's Shylock-creatie. When legendary Dutch actor Louis Bouwmeester starred as Shylock in Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice - his most famous - Hissink sat in the stalls with pen and paper and recorded everything he saw and heard.

Hissink was best known for his stage work, both on and behind the stage. Together with Albert van Dalsum and Eugene Gilhuys, he founded the stage company Het Groot Toneel (The Big Stage) in the Plantage theater in Amsterdam. He also played many classic stage roles, such as Othello in 1918.

Hissink made his film debut in the Dutch Western (!) Een telegram uit Mexico/A Telegram from Mexico (Louis H. Chrispijn sr., 1914), a silent short film produced by Maurits Binger for his film studio Filmfabriek Hollandia. Hissink played the blind father of the Dutch colonist Willem (Willem van der Veer), who gets lost in the revolution in Mexico. The home front waits eagerly for news.

Next followed the silent drama De Vloek van het Testament/The Fatal Woman (Maurits Binger, Louis H. Chrispijn sr., 1915) starring Dutch diva Annie Bos. At the time, it was for the Netherlands a huge production with 48 copies through Europe and 12 copies crossing to America.

Hissink continued to appear in a stream of silent Dutch films. In Fatum (Theo Frenkel, 1915) he again played with the legendary Louis Bouwmeester. Annie Bos was the star in Ontmaskerd/Unmasked (Mime Misu, 1915). Still existing is the seaman’s drama Het wrak van de Noordzee/The Wreck in the North Sea (Theo Frenkel, 1915).

Another relatively large-scale production was Het geheim van Delft/The Secret of Delft (Maurits Binger, 1916). The film required the construction of a 20 metre high ruined lighthouse, and a 15 metre long pier of the coast of Zandvoort. These constructions meant high production costs and the film starred the most famous actors in the Netherlands at that time, including Willem van der Veer, Esther De Boer-van Rijk, Jan van Dommelen and Annie Bos.

Hissink often played supporting parts as the bad guy. He had a rare leading role in the silent crime film Levensschaduwen/Life's Shadows (Theo Frenkel, 1916). He was also one of the leads in another crime film, Het Proces Begeer/The Begeer Case (Theo Frenkel, 1918). He played smaller parts in the silent dramas Pro domo (Theo Frenkel, 1918) with Louis Bouwmeester, Theo Mann-Bouwmeester and Lily Bouwmeester, and Schakels/Connections (Maurits Binger, 1920) based on a play by Herman Heijermans and starring Annie Bos, Jan van Dommelen and Adelqui Migliar.

Esther de Boer van Rijk and Coen Hissink in Op hoop van zegen (1934)
Dutch postcard by M.B. & Z / M.H.D. Film. Photo: Maarseveen, Den Haag. Publicity still for Op hoop van zegen/The Good Hope (Alex Benno, 1934) with Esther de Boer van Rijk.

Decadence, homosexuality, prostitution and cocaine

During the 1920s, Coen Hissink continued to appear in such silent films as the British-Dutch silent crime film Bloedgeld/Blood Money (Fred Goodwins, 1921), with Adelqui Migliar, the adventure film De zwarte tulp/Black Tulip (Maurits Binger, Frank Richardson, 1921) based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas père, Menschenwee (Theo Frenkel, 1921) with Louis Davids, and De Bruut/The Brute (Theo Frenkel, 1922) with Willem van der Veer, Erna Morena and Bruno Decarli.

He also appeared in such international films as the German-Dutch co-productions Der Mann im Hintergrund/The Man in the Background (Ernst Winar, 1922) with Adolphe Engers, and Frauenmoral/Women's Morals (Theo Frenkel, 1923) with Olga Engl, Helena Makowska and Theo Mann-Bouwmeester.

His final silent film was De cabaret-prinses/The Cabaret Princess (Theo Frenkel, 1925) with Emmy Arbous.

In 1928, he wrote a volume of short stories about decadence, homosexuality, prostitution and cocaine. For inspiration, he visited a gay club in Berlin where he sniffed cocaine in a toilet. The book about his experiences was titled Cocaïne: Berlijnsch zedenbeeld (Cocaine: Berlin's pictorial image).

He returned to the screen in the sound film Op Hoop van Zegen/Hoping for the best (Alex Benno, Louis Saalborn, 1934) starring Esther de Boer van Rijk and Frits van Dongen (Philip Dorn). The film was based on a 1900 play by Dutch socialist dramatist Herman Heijermans, situated in a fishing village, about the conflict between the fishermen and their employer.

It was the third filming of the play in less than twenty years. The film ends in tragedy with the unsound boat setting out to sea and sinking with all hands and the owner pocketing the insurance money. The film won an award at the Venice Film Festival in 1935 and is known as one of the most successful film productions of the Dutch pre-war cinema.

The success lead to more small roles for Hissink in the film dramas Merijntje Gijzens Jeugd/Merijntje Gijzen's Youth (Kurt Gerron, 1936) after the popular novel of the same title by A.M. de Jong, and the Dutch-French film De Man Zonder Hart/The Man Without Heart (Léo Joannon, Louis de Bree, 1937), starring Louis de Bree and Dolly Mollinger. During the 1930s he also often worked for radio plays.

Hissink’s final film role was in De Laatste Dagen van een Eiland/The Last Days of an Island (Ernst Winar, 1942) with Max Croiset. It was already shot in 1938, but premiered in 1942. The film mixes a documentary that tells about the last days of the island of Urk and its inhabitants, and a story of a young couple.

During the Second World War, Hissink refused to join the Kulturkammer (Culture Room) of the Nazi regime and he joined the Resistance. In 1941, he was caught by the Nazis and sent to the concentration camp Neuengamme in Germany. There Coen Hissink was killed in 1942. He was 64.

Esther de Boer-van Rijk, Coen Hissink, Willem v.d. Veer, 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 (Alex Benno, Louis Saalborn, 1934) with Esther de Boer van Rijk and Willem van der Veer. Collection Geoffrey Donaldson Institute.

Sources: Piet Hein Honig (Acteurs – en Kleinkunstenaars-Lexicon – Dutch), Eye, Wikipedia (English and Dutch) and IMDb.

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