Alfred Holtzer

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Alfred Holtzer (b. Hornsey, North London, 09/10/1869 - d. Cape Town, 30/11/1958) was a lecturer (speech training and literature), theatrical producer and playwright.


Alfred Holtzer was the son of a barrister's clerk. From his youth he had a keen interest in music and the theatre and regularly attended first nights, seeing many of the famous actors of his day. Although he is said to have studied dramatic art at the London Polytechnic, he did not take to the stage himself and came to South Africa in 1898 because of his health. Initially he had a small holding on the Cape Flats but eventually he joined the Standard Bank and stayed in its service until the late 1920s.

Always passionate about Shakespeare, in 1910 he played Orlando in As You Like It when it was staged at Kelvin Grove, then still a private residence. On Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, he was one of the cast members of a Shakespearian Concert held in the Cape Town City Hall on the occasion of the Shakespeare Tercentenary celebrations. In 1919 he became one of the founder members of the Cape Town Repertory Theatre Society and, in fact, the first play ever performed by that organisation, The Broken Chain, was written by him. It was staged at the Railway Institute and was directed by Ralph Kimpton. Another play, a musical comedy entitled Cheat the Calendar, was performed at Cape Town's Opera House in March 1929. He was also responsible for several one-act plays.

Like his near-contemporary, Edward Vincent, he was a member of the Owl Club and served as its Honorary Secretary from 1914 until his death in 1958. For them he produced Maurice Baring’s one act play The Rehearsal, which was presented at the Hiddingh Hall in July 1929, with himself in the role of William Shakespeare. He also taught elocution and dramatic art at various educational institutions, including the South African College School, and produced a number of Shakespearian plays for the SACS Dramatic Society, including Richard II (1935), Julius Caesar (1943) and Macbeth (1944), all staged at the Little Theatre. He was for many years a part-time lecturer at the Cape Technical College.

A young Leonard Schach made one of his first appearance in a play staged by Holtzer, as did Margaretha van Hulsteyn, better known as Marda Vanne. Schach gives an amusing account of Holtzer's approach as a teacher at SACS in his autobiographical The Flag is Flying. As an actor he appeared in Jerome K. Jerome's Passing of the Third Floor Back and in the Victorian melodrama The Dover Road. He also took the role of Bartolomeu Dias in the film Die Bou van 'n Nasie / Building a Nation (Joseph Albrecht & Andries A. Pienaar/1938). In addition he was Secretary of the S.A. Society of Artists and was President of the Cathedral Players. A portrait of him by Frank Wiles was painted to celebrate the 500th meeting of the Owl Club. In 1924 he married Dorothy May Kemp (born Kuys), who died in 1987. (FO)

Note: A manuscript of the play Cheat the Calender is in the collection of the National Library in Cape Town.

(FreeBMD records Alfred Holtzer as having been born in Islington, London in 1869. In 1898, at the age of 28, he married Irene Augusta Lloyd, who was eight years his senior and an enthusiastic member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Immediately after the wedding they left for South Africa and there is a record of a Mr. and Mrs. Holtzer arriving in Cape Town in 1898. In 1914 she sailed to England for a holiday, but failed to return. Eventually, in 1924, he sued for divorce, which was granted later that year.)


The Cape, 8 March 1929

Ranby, W.E. - The Owl Club 1894-1950 (1952)

Rosenthal, Eric - The third Tuesday: a history of the Owl Club 1951-1981 (1982)

Schach, Leonard - The flag is flying

Who's who in South Africa 1940

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