Fifty years of Patrick Mynhardt

5 July 2002

He’s 70, he’s been an actor for 50 years, lives in a cosy house in Norwood, Johannesburg, and has no plans to retire. He’s Patrick Mynhardt, and he’s full of deprecating comments about himself, despite having achieved great success in his years in the theatre.

“Retire? What would I do? I can do nothing but talk shit”, he says, with a hint of a smile.

He’s recently finished his 500-page autobiography, which took him 10 years to do. “It just ‘borrelled’ out of my nostrils and ears,” he explains. He doesn’t have a publisher yet because he’s still working out how to put it all on disk – “I bought my computer in 1987, and I don’t really know how to put the pages on disk.”

Patrick is usually associated with works he’s adapted from one of South Africa’s best storytellers, Herman Charles Bosman, but in fact he has played a range of roles – Cassius in Julius Caesar, Napoleon in War and Peace, Victor in Private Lives, Dr Josef Mengele in Nemesis and many others, as well as numerous roles in Afrikaans plays.

Patrick Mynhardt
Patrick Mynhardt and Oom Schalk Lourens: ‘Those stories are bloody beautiful’

Despite the successes, he is somewhat madcap about his ability. “If people tell me I’m good, I think they’re mad. If they don’t, I’m hurt”, he says.

Patrick, a resident of Johannesburg for 42 years, was born in the small Free State town of Bethulie in 1932 to an Afrikaner father and an Irish mother, and retains, he says, aspects of his Irish heritage. “I love the Irish and their whimsicality – I have a lot of it in me.”

His Afrikaner side emerges in his storytelling abilities. He used to go around to the old folk in Bethulie and say to them: “Vertel my ‘n storie”. The storytelling engendered a love of theatre, he says.

But perhaps what pushed him into the theatre was an abortive three-year university career. He started off doing a BA at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, where, in his first year, he did English, Afrikaans and chemistry. “The chemistry was a disaster, I learnt the formulae and definitions by heart.” But that didn’t help.

He then changed courses, and chose law, but that turned out to be much worse than chemistry. In his third year he dropped law, and went back to the arts.

He considered “self-moord”, but that didn’t work either, because he “used a Minora razor blade because it was cheaper than a Minette”, and it didn’t do the trick.

By now friends suggested he become an actor, so in 1953 he moved to Pretoria with that in mind. Within a year he left for London where he spent six years learning the craft. He also learnt something about potato peeling and dish washing, as part-time jobs, treating each dish as a battleship in fantasy games to try and relieve the boredom.

He says he hated reciting “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers …” and would have preferred to have said: “Wie weet waar Willie Wouters woon, Willie Wouters woon waar westa winda waai.”

But it was a productive time in England – he worked all over England and in London in two West End plays, got parts in television plays and serials for the BBC and commercial TV companies. He also had roles in films, for the Rank Organisation and MGM. He worked with many famous actors, among them Judi Dench.

Back to South Africa
In 1960 he “longed for South Africa” and decided to come back. In the sixties he played in Private Lives, War and Peace and The Staircase, amongst others, and the film Majuba. Altogether he has appeared in 150 stage plays here and in England. He has worked in other media too – 100 local and international films and around 100 television plays and serials, in South Africa and overseas.

In 1968 various authors were asked to read their stories at a theatre dinner by candlelight. Patrick was invited to read a Herman Charles Bosman story. He was offered R30, a meal and the pre-condition that he hold the book and refer to it. He turned it down. But eventually he was persuaded – and read Willem Prinsloo’s Peach Brandy.

Patrick went on holiday after this, but before he left he bought all Bosman’s books and read them while he was away.

“He didn’t attract me at all, I don’t love him more than anyone else”, he says in one breath, but in another: “Those stories are bloody beautiful.”

The one-man Bosman shows are still in demand 34 years later. He put together four shows – A Sip of Jerepigo, More Jerepigo, Just Jerepigo and Another Sip of Jerepigo – and has toured the country extensively. He took the shows to England and toured the top cities, but wasn’t sure of how successful he was there, except in Manchester, where, although “they wouldn’t let me leave the stage, they weren’t warm”.

Patrick doesn’t think he’ll put together a fifth Bosman show, but if he did, he would call it Tjeerio Jerepigo.

His own story
In 1982 he was encouraged by actor Gordon Mulholland and comedian Hal Orlandini to put together a show of his life story – “Your own stories are so marvellous,” they said.

And so The Boy from Bethulie was born. In it you’ll hear about his “drinking problem”. He recounts: “My mother had a big problem with me, she had to hide the drink from me, my favourite was peppermint liqueur. I had my first stomach pump before I was six.”

There’s the anecdote about the five little Jewish boys, aged five to nine, who lived in Bethulie and came to his house to play after watching a war movie. Patrick had them marching and saluting to Hitler by the time their parents came to fetch them at the end of the afternoon. “They didn’t come to play for six weeks.”

Or the story about having his name in lights. When he arrived to play at Ermelo in Mpumalanga, his name was underneath the name of the show: “A spi of Jerepigo”.

The next move was to combine the Bosman and Mynhardt – the result was The Best of Bosman and Bethulie, which he has performed in Brussels, New York, Washington, San Francisco and Israel, as well as back home.

“For 50 years I have had the rare privilege of being an actor. Even though I’ve been an actor for those years, I know nothing,” says Patrick.

He has no immediate plans for the future but several regrets – he would love to do “the odd cameo for South Africans in Australia who remember the country with nostalgia”. He makes it clear he doesn’t need to do the shows for money, but for another reason: “I am a rich actor, I don’t need the money. I need the therapy.”

Another regret: “I would love to be a better spiritual human being, a truly good person. I believe in a god, I would love to be a born-again Christian, but the fault is mine for not working on it.”

Patrick has brought Bosman alive for thousands of people, and given those people lots to laugh about in Oom Schalk Lourens’ view of the world. He’s given even more people a great night at the theatre with his own story, The Boy from Bethulie, and his The Best of Bosman and Bethulie.

He says: “I just wanted to be a wonderful actor.” Forget about regrets. If you’ve achieved your great desire in life, what else matters?

Source: City of Johannesburg web site

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