At 101, world's oldest workingactor has no plans to retire

10th December 2004, Comments 0 comments

10 December 2004, HAMBURG - Johannes Heesters, Dutch-born German singer-dancer-actor who holds the world record for being the oldest actor still appearing on stage, says he has no plans to take what he calls "early retirement" - at age 101. Heesters, who turned 101 on 5 December, has announced plans for a gruelling series of singing-and-dancing guest appearances during the 10-day run of a Christmas extravaganza at the Dortmund Konzerthaus theatre in Germany. "The stage is my life and I'd have been dead and

10 December 2004

HAMBURG - Johannes Heesters, Dutch-born German singer-dancer-actor who holds the world record for being the oldest actor still appearing on stage, says he has no plans to take what he calls "early retirement" - at age 101.

Heesters, who turned 101 on 5 December, has announced plans for a gruelling series of singing-and-dancing guest appearances during the 10-day run of a Christmas extravaganza at the Dortmund Konzerthaus theatre in Germany.

"The stage is my life and I'd have been dead and gone long, long ago if it hadn't been for the stage and the audience's applause," the tall and angular Dutchman with snow white hair and his trademark top hat, tails and cane told a news conference.

The Guinness Book of World Records lists Heesters as the world's oldest actor still working on stage. 

Announcing additional plans for a one-man show next spring, Heesters added, "For about half a century now, people have been asking me when I intend to retire. A lot of those people retired long ago themselves, and many are long since dead. I'm still here. And I intend to go on working. On and on."

In any other country he would be a phenomenon. But in Germany, with the turbulence of the past 100 years, his career has been extraordinary, to say the least.

His career spanned the Weimar Republic, the Nazi era, post-war chaos, the transition to television in the 1950s and rediscovery by young audiences when he was at an age when most other performers opt for retirement.

Born 5 December 1903, in the Dutch town of Amersfoort, Johan Marius Nicolaas Heesters, fell in love with the stage when his father took him to the theatre for his 16th birthday. Within weeks he was enrolled in singing and acting classes in Amsterdam.

Blessed with stunning good looks, a dazzling smile and a wooing voice, he quickly made a name for himself on the stage in Holland and Belgium and in a number of silent films.

His tenor crooning made him a hit in operettas on the Vienna stage in the 1930s, where his soft Dutch accent in German speaking roles added to his sex appeal with the largely female audiences which would propel his career for seven more decades.

Talent scouts for Berlin's famous Ufa movie studios quickly snapped him up. With the flight of Jewish and leftist performers, directors and screenwriters from Nazi Germany, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels was eager to line up "exotic" actors.

Heesters was featured in a string of all-singing, all-dancing romantic comedies opposite such female stars as Budapest-born Marika Roekk. It was Goebbels' contention that movies featuring Dutch and Hungarian accents allayed fears that the Nazis had driven away all non-German talent.

Heesters along with Roekk, Swedish singer-actress Zarah Leander and a few other non-Germans were given big billing in Nazi-era Ufa studio productions. All became enormously huge stars in the bizarre confines of Nazi-occupied Europe.

But few were so popular that their careers survived the collapse of the Third Reich. Heesters, however, was able to continue his career without a hitch. The fact that the Nazis had type-cast him as an outsider, as a non-German, made it easy for him him to shake off the stigma of having been one of their biggest stars.

In no time he was back on the musical stage in Vienna, Munich and Berlin, and his stage career carried him through the 1950s.

Middle-aged, a bit grey at the temples but as dapper as ever, and still in possession of that dazzling smile and crooning voice, Heesters wowed middle-aged female matinee audiences with his roles in Franz Lehar's "The Merry Widow" and similar popular standards.

He had a short-lived Hollywood career, appearing in a couple of Otto Preminger films in the 1950s, including "The Moon Is Blue" opposite David Niven.

But his Hollywood career failed to ignite, so it was back to West Germany where his tried-and-true fan following carried him over into countless televised all-singing and all-dancing Saturday evening variety shows through the 1960s and into the 1970s.

The last three decades have seen him appear in German stage renditions of "Gigi", Neil Simon's "The Sonny Boys" and other more mature roles, culminating in Heesters appearing last year in his own Stuttgart stage production of his own life - starring as himself. 

DPA

Subject: German news
 

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