SOUTH AFRICAN CLASSIC FILM STAR FREDERIK BURGERS by Deborah Painter

    Frederik Louis Benjamin Burgers, born on July 7, 1907 in Johannesburg, would bring laughter to audiences for decades through his work as a stage, radio and film actor and comedian.  During virtually the entire time he worked in these media, he worked full time as a surveyor for Crown Mines beginning at the age of twenty-one.  Burgers worked in films at Killarney Studios in Johannesburg during holidays and at any other time when he could manage a day or so in his schedule to rehearse and perform. He also had to make public appearances on his days off.  He was dedicated to his art. Burgers appeared in sixteen films and numerous stage plays and also played the piano and organ, the latter for Gereformeerde Kerk (Church) in Turffontein.

       Young Frederik, or “Frikkie”, as he was known to friends, was born into a performing family.  His mother, Johanna Catharina Wilhelmina Adendorff , was the only person in the Burgers household not involved in the media.  Frikkie’s younger brother, M. P. O. (Olivier) Burgers, would go to college, earn a master’s degree and become a journalist and playwright and one of the first full time broadcasters of the Suid-Afrikaanse Uitsaaikorporasie (South African Broadcasting Corporation). Frikkie’s father, Philip Rudolph Burgers, acted in plays on an occasional basis and Frikkie would help him backstage.  He took Philip’s place one night when he was not feeling well, and this gave him the “acting bug” at the age of 15.   Frederik was advised that acting was not a financially rewarding profession and that he might live in poverty if he pursued it full time. Thus, he completed his training as a surveyor to procure a job at Crown Mines.   In 1931 he gained fame by becoming a radio comedian, inspired by his brother Olivier.  Burgers performed for Bog Met Blou Maandag (Bow with Blue Monday) for many years up until 1967, the year of his death.

       His first venture into film was the Unifilms comedy Die Wildsboudjie  (The Game) in 1946.   His only drama was 1946’s Die Skerpioen (The Scorpion), also for Unifilms.  In 1948 Frederik married Aletta Elizabeth Nel and after her death in 1948, he married Lydia Johanna Botha.  He met comedian Al Debbo during their stage work in variety shows and he teamed with Debbo in 1949.   Debbo was the tall one and Burgers was the short one.  Neither was the straight man; both were bumblers, and in many of their films their characters managed to get villains arrested in spite of, or because of, their ineptitude.  

On left: The mayor of Potchefstroom and his wife welcome the three stars of Dis Lekker om te Lewe during the film’s 1957 world premiere in the city.  Pictured from left to right:  film star Frederik Burgers, Chanie Singer, wife of the Mayor, Mayor Mokey Singer, and film stars Yvonne Theron and Al Debbo.  CREDITS:   Potchefstroom Herald. Centre: Frederik Burgers and his friends are in danger of being expelled from their university until they concoct a scheme:  Piet (Frederik Burgers) will pretend to be his own wealthy aunt who wants to make an endowment to the university, in the screwball comedy remake of Charley’s Aunt, Piet se Tante (Piet’s Aunt). CREDITS:  Killarney Films/African Film. Productions, Limited. Left: Fanie (Frederik Burgers, left) and Stoffie (Al Debbo, right) are South African Navy admirals in a play that has attracted five paying customers.  Still wearing their stage costumes on the street, they are mistaken by Navy officers for real admirals and then forced to enlist as stewards in Fratse in die Vloot (Killarney Films/African Film Productions, Limited, 1958). CREDITS:   Killarney Films/African Film Productions Limited

   They appeared as themselves in the film Kom Saam Vanaand! (Come Together Tonight!) (1949).  They were very popular and Killarney Films/African Film Productions, Limited  subsequently produced five starring vehicles for them, including but not limited to 1950’s Hier’s Ons Weer! (Here We Are Again!) (directed by Hyman Kirstein), in which two idiotic security guards at a country holiday retreat uncover hidden loot, 1951’s Alles Sal Regkom! (Everything Will Be Alright!) (directed by Hyman Kirstein), 1952’ s Altyd in My Drome (Always in My Dreams) (directed and written by Pierre de Wet), 1955’s Matieland! (directed and written by Pierre de Wet), 1957’s  Dis Lekker om te Lewe (It’s Nice to Live) (directed by Pierre de Wet), its sequel, 1958’ s Fratse in die Vloot (Freaks in the Fleet) (Pierre de Wet, 1958),  1959’s  Piet se Tante  (Piet’s Aunt) (directed by Pierre de Wet), and  the oddball 1961 comedy En die Vonke Spat (And the Spark Splash) (directed and written by Pierre de Wet).  In the latter film, Koot du Toit (Burgers) tries to stop electrical facilities from coming to his area of South Africa because it will interfere with his marriage plans.  Later films included 1962’s As Ons Twee Eers Getroud Is! (When the Two of Us Are Married) (directed by Jan Perold), and1965’s Die Wonderwêreld van Kammie Kamfer (The Wonderworld of Kammie Camphor) (directed by Al Debbo). 

   Frederik Burgers died on July 16, 1967 after suffering a heart attack.  He left a large film legacy that continues to be appreciated via DVD sales and because of the efforts of the South African Department of Arts and Culture which has made several available to be viewed free on YouTube.

    You can see Frederik Burgers and Al Debbo on YouTube in the complete film Hier’s Ons Weer!

     Enjoy the comedy duo in the sequel to Dis Lekker om te Lewe , Fratse in die Vloot :

     You can also see them both on YouTube in the delightful comedy filmAlles sal Regkom!: