Franciscus Jacobus Ludovicus* (also François Jacobus Louis) De Vriendt was born on 2 September 1886**1874 in Borgerhout, Antwerp, Belgium. He was the son of a famous sculptor Jan Frans de Vriendt and his wife, Catharina Maria Philomina Eulaers. De Vriendt first achieved recognition in Europe as a sculptor before he took to the stage. He trained at the Theatre School in Antwerp. He and his second wife, Paula Aich-Lebourd (an actress) whose stage name was Poldi Mignon Sorel, gained much experience in Belgium, the Netherlands, and the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). The couple developed into folk artists specialising in quick-change impersonations, often changing parts up to six times in one performance.
At the beginning of 1927, De Vriendt and his wife arrived in Cape Town and held two-person shows, which were popular and financially profitable for them for the next three years. Their repertoire included: Brand in de Jonge Jan (or De brandstichter) and Bietje and Die sonde van die verlede (an adaptation of Herman Heyermans’s Kind series and directed at the dangers of alcoholism). The couple returned to Belgium at the end of 1929, after a very successful visit to South Africa.
In 1936, six years later, De Vriendt and his wife returned to South Africa with the intention of settling there permanently. They were accompanied by Willem Benoy, a former director of the Royal Dutch Theatre in Antwerp and well-known actor and elocutionist. They set up a theatre company was called “Mignon Sorel’s Company,’under the auspices of the Algemeen Nederlands Verbond. In 1938, de Vriendt, Benoy and an Afrikaans company presented “Wat God verenig het” (a family play by Botrel, adapted by G. Lampe). This was Benoy’s last tour as he died in Antwerp in 1940.
De Vriendt reached the climax of his career in 1938, the year of the Voortrekker Centenary. He made a success of Sepp’l (Die Vondeling) with his first South African operetta company. He himself had written the libretto in Flemish, the music was composed by Emiel Hullebroeck, and the group did many other performances. From 1943 to 1945 de Vriendt presented Die dodelike soen (an adaptation by Brieux), and Johannesburg by nag both written by him. All his plays were comical and very powerful, and popularised the theatre among Afrikaans speaking people. Even the sudden death of his wife did not deter him from the stage.
De Vriendt married Afrikaans actress Tirsa Rosouw, after the death of his first wife. He died on 27 July 1946 in Springs, South Africa. He had one daughter of his first marriage to Josephina Wellens.
* Beyers et al gives his name as Franciscus Jacobus Ludovicus. Potgieter et al gives his name as François Jacobus Louis.
** Beyers et al gives 1874 as the year of his birth. Potgieter et al gives 1886 as the year he was born.