Pierre de Wet

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Pierre de Wet (b. Pretoria, 22/08/1909 - d. Johannesburg, 24/06/1990) was a stage, radio and film actor, dramatist, stage and film director and theatre administrator.

Biography

Pieter Stephanus (Pierre) de Wet was the son of Pieter Stephanus Josephus de Wet and his wife Isabella Catharina Frederica Malherbe (born Lombard). He was educated in Pretoria and while still at school he is said to have appeared on the stage of the local Grand Theatre. Though he became well known as a theatre personality and achieved fame as the father of the Afrikaans film, he probably first saw his name in the newspapers as a dancer. In April 1930, at a mannequin show in the Pretoria Town Hall that was opened by visiting actress Olga Lindo, he and his partner, Elsa Werner, performed an exhibition dance. Later that month he and Estelle Lissack were finalists in the oriental dance section of the Eisteddfod. The following year he made his film debut in the role of “die seun” in the first Afrikaans sound film Moedertjie, based on In die Wagkamer, a one-act play by J.F.W. Grosskopf. According to an article in the Rand Daily Mail, afterwards he was given a chance by Charles Ross at the Johannesburg Empire Theatre, but it is not known in what capacity.

In February 1932 he travelled to England and found theatrical work in stage musicals like The Cat and the Fiddle and Wild Violets. He had a small part in The Cat and the Fiddle (1932), but understudied the juvenile lead and took over the role towards the end of the run. He also renewed his acquaintance with Olga Lindo, who acted in the play. A ten-month tour with Wild Violets took him to all the major English centres. In addition he was part of the huge cast of Charles B. Cochran’s revue Streamline, after which he turned his attention to films. Though not credited, he is thought to have made appearances in Blossom Time (Paul L. Stein/1934), Brewster’s Millions (Thornton Freedland/1935) and Honeymoon for Three (Leo Mittler/1935). Perhaps the acting profession was not all that lucrative, because when, in 1938, he travelled on the ocean liner the Normandie to the United States, the ship’s manifesto listed him as an advertising manager. He returned to South Africa prior to the outbreak of World War II.

He began his professional stage career with André Huguenet in As Mure Kan Praat (1940) (an adaptation of The Stranger Within). This was followed by Is Jy ‘n Bokryer? (1940) (Are You a Mason?), Helshoogte (1941) (Wuthering Heights) and Absolom, my Seun! (1942) (John Ferguson). The latter featured a character called Pinkie played by De Wet and he and Huguenet disagreed on how the role should be interpreted. In August 1942 De Wet broke away and launched his own company, the Pierre De Wet Toneelgeselskap. Their first play was Satansloon (1942) (Gaslight) and this was followed by Pinkie, a play by De Wet himself, an expansion of the character of Pinkie from Absolom, my Seun! that would also form the basis of his first film as director, retitled Pinkie se Erfenis. To strengthen the company he recruited actors like Anna Neethling-Pohl, Jan Cronjé and Gert van den Bergh and toured with Die Goeie Oue Tyd (1944), a play written by Sita. In addition he and Anna Neethling-Pohl presented four one-act plays under the composite title Korrels en Kaf (1944) at the Library Theatre in Johannesburg. One of these featured the character of Dokter Kwak, who would later turn up in one of his films. His last work for the stage was Ontvlugting (1944), written by W.A. de Klerk. That year he also played the title role in the radio drama Agamemnon, with actors from his stage company in support.

After Moedertjie (1931) it was to be nearly 15 years before he returned to the film medium, but he was instrumental in setting up an infrastructure under the auspices of African Film Productions that produced a series of popular Afrikaans features. His first four films were adaptations of plays in which he had been involved, but later productions were light comedies and no fewer than six of them starred the popular duo of Al Debbo and Frederik Burgers. In fact, Burgers was one of his favourite actors and they made eleven films together, with De Wet either directing or producing. In 1952 it was announced that Pierre de Wet would be leaving African Film Productions to set up a new company with orchestra leader Hendrik Susan. However, it would seem that all films subsequently produced by either Afrikaanse Rolprentproduksies or Suid-Afrikaanse Rolprentproduksies were still released through AFP. His last film as director was En die Vonke Spat (1961), though he made a few guest appearances in productions by others. Initially he also acted in some of his own films and was invariably involved in aspects of the writing, something he later professed to hate.

Early in 1963 he joined Alpha Film Studios, a company specialising in the making of advertising films, as production manager, but in September of that year he and fellow director Percival Rubens were fired by studio manager Ronald Brantford, allegedly because in their “free time” they were working on a feature film. The Foster Gang was subsequently released in July 1964. At some stage there was talk that De Wet would be directing Jim Reeves and Juliet Prowse in Kimberley Jim, but ultimately that was directed by Emil Nofal and without Prowse. In April 1964 he was appointed house manager of the Johannesburg Civic Theatre and in 1974 it was announced that he would be executive press officer for Ster Films. It’s uncertain whether he took up that job, because many years later he was still with the JCT. He also continued to take occasional supporting roles in films and on television. Not surprisingly, he featured in various documentary programmes that dealt with the history of the Afrikaans theatre and film, including Van Stories en Sterre (Katinka Heyns/1979), Van Kerslig tot Kollig (Annie Basson/1982), Pierre de Wet-Dokumente (1989) and Silwerdoekstories (Katinka Heyns/1994). A tribute to Pierre de Wet directed by Jan Prinsloo entitled Heng, Dit Was Lekker! was broadcast in 1987.

He was married to actress Eugenie Heyns, whom he had “discovered” when she was with the Volksteater and who acted in four of her husband’s early films. Curiously, though there is no mention of this in South African sources, in 1935 a Pierre S. de Wet married Peggy E. Meredith in London. Certainly, when Pierre S. de Wet, “advertising manager”, travelled to the United States in 1938, the ship’s manifest stated that he was married and he was the same age as “our” Pierre de Wet. (FO)

Film & Television Credits

As Director

Pinkie se Erfenis (1946), Geboortegrond (1946), Simon Beyers (1947), Die Kaskenades van Dr. Kwak (1948), Kom Saam Vanaand! (1949), Altyd in My Drome (1952), ‘n Plan Is ‘n Boerdery (1954), Vadertjie Langbeen (1955), Matieland! (1955), Dis Lekker Om Te Lewe (1957), Fratse in die Vloot (1958), Nooi van My Hart (1959), Oupa en die Plaasnooientjie (1960), En die Vonke Spat (1961)

As Producer

Hier’s Ons Weer! (Hyman Kirstein/1950), Alles Sal Regkom! (Hyman Kirstein/1951), The Foster Gang (Percival Rubens/1964)

As Actor

Moedertjie (Joseph Albrecht/1931), Pinkie Se Erfenis (Pierre de Wet/1946), Geboortegrond (Pierre de Wet/1946), Simon Beyers (Pierre de Wet/1947), Die Kaskenades van Dr. Kwak (Pierre de Wet/1948), Alles Sal Regkom! (uncredited) (Hyman Kirstein/1951), Altyd in My Drome (Pierre de Wet/1952), All the Way to Paris (uncredited) (Jamie Uys/1966), ‘n Seder Val in Waterkloof (Franz Marx/1978), Nicolene (Marie du Toit/1978), Sterretjie (TV series) (Jan Scholtz/1982), Skating on Thin Uys (Bromley Cawood/1985), Agter Elke Man (TV series) (Jan Scholtz/1985), Hoffman (TV series – single episode) (Koos Roets/1985), Die Losprys (TV series) (Koos Roets/1986), Die Swart Kat (TV series – single episode) (Bromley Cawood/1986).

As Writer Only

As Ons Twee Eers Getroud Is! (with Jan Perold) (Jan Perold/1962)

Sources

Rand Daily Mail, 17 April 1930

Rand Daily Mail, 17 January 1979

Sunday Times, 15 September 1963

Binge, L.W.B. - Ontwikkeling van die Afrikaanse toneel

Botha, Danie - Voetligte en applous!: die beginjare van die Afrikaanse beroepstoneel

Le Roux, André I. & Fourie, Lilla – Filmverlede: geskiedenis van die Suid-Afrikaanse speelfilm

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1795132/?ref_=fn_nm_nm_1


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