Happy 106th birthday, Johannes Heesters!

Johannes Heesters, 1903-

WHILE IT IS NOT exactly what the Germans call a “round birthday,” by the time you turn 106 every birthday is something to celebrate. This time it is the turn of the Dutch-Austrian singer and actor Johannes Heesters. He is not only the world’s oldest active stage performer, he is also one of Europe’s most controversial.

Heesters was born in Amersfoort, Netherlands on December 5, 1903. As a child he dreamed of becoming a priest. He later embarked on a banking apprencticeship before discovering his true vocation as a performer. At the age of sixteen he began to study music and acting, appearing on the stage for the first time in 1921. His film debut followed in 1924 as a supporting actor in the Dutch movie Cirque Hollandais. But silent movies could not satisfy the young tenor’s ambitions and Heesters continued to seek stage roles. In 1927 he auditioned for the German band leader Harry Frommermann, who would subsequently found the fabled “Comedian Harmonists,” but refused to sign a contract when Frommermann told him that he would not receive a wage for the first several months. Heesters landed his first major role on stage in 1930 and went on to become an accomplished operetta singer, debuting at the Vienna Volksoper in 1934…



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