Adolf Dymsza was a prominent Polish actor and director of revues and comedies. He was born on 7th April 1900 in Warsaw, and died on 20th August 1975 in Góra Kalwaria, near Warsaw.
Wielki polski aktor rewiowy i komediowy, także reżyser.
His real name was Adolf Bagiński. He was born into a working class family. His father, also named Adolf, was a railwayman. After graduating from Wawelberg Business School, he worked in a notary’s office and it was most probably then that his first contact with theatre occurred. In around 1918, he started to perform in the semi-amateur Staszic Theatre. He spent the next three years outside of Warsaw and performed in the Municipal Theatre in Grodno (among others).
However, he did not completely abandon his hometown. For several months he acted in small roles in Miraż, one of the most important small drama theatres of pre-war Warsaw. At the same time, he served as the theatre’s stage manager.
The Qui Pro Quo Era
For a long time, Dymsza was not permanently employed in a theatre. He played small parts in films, worked as a bellwether and taught ballroom dancing in a school in Warsaw. He even won a dancing marathon held in a circus on Ordynacka Street. Supposedly, he danced for 48 hours straight. In February 1921, he performed in Konrad Tom’s szmonces [editor’s note: ‘szmonce’ is a Yiddish word meaning ‘a joke’, ‘nonsense’] one-act play titled Wantz Hotel in the famous Qui Pro Quo theatre. However, this performance was such a failure that his name disappeared from Qui Pro Quo’s programmes. He reappeared there, but it is difficult to say when exactly as he performed anonymously. Józef Galewski, Qui Pro Quo’s famous decorator, said that he did ‘behind-the-curtain performances, some juggling, bouncing the ball in darkness’. At that time, he also returned to performing in Miraż and in the Stańczyk small theatre, while at same time moonlighting as a bellwether at mediocre dance parties.
Legend has it that one of Qui Pro Quo’s actors saw him at such a performance and suggested that director Jerzy Boczkowski audition Dymsza once again. However, Tadeusz Wittlin asserts in his memoirs that Boczkowski was witnessed Dymsza’s performance in Zakopiańska confectionery in Saxon Garden and that he was the one to make him an offer to return to the stage. Dymsza worked with Qui Pro Quo in 1925 and from that time he performed in the small theatre until its end in 1931.
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He performed in sketches written especially for him by Julian Tuwim, whom Dymsza quickly befriended (this friendship lasted until the poet’s final days). Tuwim quickly discovered the actor’s capabilities in the field of absurdist humour. He created his signature role – that of an eccentric named Teofil Winegret who sported a bushy black beard and threateningly leered from below his shaggy brows as he delivered grotesque monologues. Later Dymsza considered the Qui Pro Quo era to be the most important period of his life. It landed him a professional career and a considerable income (prior to the war he was a fervent fan of cars), as well as and personal happiness. In 1930, he married Zofia Olechnowiczówna, a member of the Tacjann girls group which danced at Qui Pro Quo. Later he reminisced that performances at that stage were a great acting school for him:
I learned the trade, gained respect for the art, the stage, and for my senior colleagues. And also – first and foremost – I learned discipline and punctuality.
In Warsaw’s Drama Theatres
Following the end of Qui Pro Quo, Dymsza performed in groups considered to be successors to the legendary stage on Senatorska Street: in Banda (1931–1933), Polish Theatre and Small Theatre (when the latter two were merged with Banda for a short period). Later on, in 1934, Dymsza joined the Rex drama theatre which was located in the enormous Panorama building on Karowa Street and also performed in smaller cities. Together with his group, he visited Sosnowiec, Kalisz, Lviv, Przemyśl, Radom, Tarnów, Płock and Rzeszów. For a single season, he performed at Cyrulik Warszawski, where he played one of his best roles ever in Marian Hemar’s The Career of Alpha and Omega. From 1937 until 1939, he performed in the Small Qui Pro Quo in Ziemiańska Café on Mazowiecka Street.
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Several seasons prior to the outbreak of World War II, he tried his chances in non-revue drama theatres. In the Polish Theatre, he played Dudka, one of the Athenian artisans in the legendary A Midsummer’s Night Dream directed by Leon Schiller in 1934. For this role, he made use of his cabaret abilities but – as Jerzy Kreczmar wrote:
This comedian’s great talent fit perfectly into the convention of Athenian artisans’ amateur rehearsals.
One year later, on the same stage, he became Calchas from Homer’s Helen of Troy. This was another success of his, as was the role of Fikalski from The Open House. Bohdan Korzeniowski, known to be a very strict critic, praised him:
His marvellously incisive facial expression, most often still and saddened, is immensely restrained and – because of this – powerful and confident; his diction coheres to the emotional value of the spoken word – all this constitutes a very rare dynamic characteristic to comedy.
He was an actor with great comedic skills. His stocky sportsman’s figure and his excellent co-ordination allowed Dymsza to perform acrobatic manoeuvres which became one of his comedic trademarks. He often performed grotesque deformations of his characters and accentuated these caricatural traits with his voice. He delighted in playing characters from Warsaw’s common people as he rejected his impeccable diction and replaced it with elements of Varsovian jargon.
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Dymsza’s final role prior to World War II was an unsuccessful performance as Mrozik in Fonsio’s Wedding. This ill-famed play disgracefully ended the era of the interwar period’s drama theatre – the premiere of this petty farce, which took place three weeks prior to the outbreak of World War II, did not befit the gravity of the events that were transpiring.
Kazimierz Wierzyński, clearly disappointed, wrote:
Dymsza’s Mrozik fell short of expectations. His comedy was bleak and restrained – it did not work out the best for him. Surely, in farcical craziness, he would have been unsurpassed.
World War II and the Ban on Performing
World War II was the most controversial period in Adolf Dymsza’s life and career. He was one of the actors who did not comply with the 1940 ban on performing issued by the Association of Polish Stage Artists (ZASP) which prohibited artists from performing in the so-called overt drama theatres run by Germans. Dymsza, from 1940 until 1944, performed on the scenes of Komedia, Niebieski Motyl, Nowość, Maska, Jar, and Miniatury. His disregard for the ban finally led to punishment: in July 1944 the underground Republic of Poland issued a rebuke towards several artists, including Dymsza, for:
Maintaining close relations with the Germans and effectively suppressing the disdain of the Polish people towards events organised by the German propaganda by listing their own names in the titles of multiple revues and exploiting their pre-war popularity.
This affair is considered to be extremely contentious even today: it is known that the actor sneaked anti-German allusions into his performances, often on the verge of great risk.
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Because of his activity during World War II, in 1945 Dymsza received a ban on performing on all stages until 1946 and until 1951 in Warsaw. His return to the capital after a five-year-long exile (during which he performed in Teatr Powszechny in Łódź and starred as Strasz in Józef Bliziński’s Castaways and as Nieśmiałowski in Michał Bałucki’s Bachelor Club) resulted in an enormous manifestation of adoration towards the Varsovian actor. After that, until the end of his professional career, he remained with the Syrena Theatre group.
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Still from the Polish motion picture Bolek i Lolek directed by Michał Waszyński, 1936. Pictured: Michał Znicz, Adolf Dymsza & Maria Chmurkowska, photo: Polfilm / EN
dymsza adolf role filmowe 3_4969954.jpg
qui pro quo
Dymsza excelled not only in drama theatre but also in film. Prior to World War II, he starred in twenty-eight film roles. After the war, he performed in eight films. In Skarb (The Treasure, 1949), he played a brilliant imitator of natural sounds employed by the radio. In Sprawa do załatwienia (Matter To Be Settled, 1953), he played several completely different characters and amazed the audience with his capabilities to transform as an actor. Dymsza was also popular as a singer. His drama roles, including the character of Teofil Winegret, were preserved in Ludwik Perski’s documentary film titled My Theatre.
He was a very colourful persona in the Varsovian theatre world. His impetuous scenic disposition corresponded with his temper in private life. He was a man of great vitality and endless energy. He became legendary as a joker who pulled pranks on the stage on his colleagues. Dymsza was also known as a talented handyman and inventor and was also passionate about shoemaking.
In theatre, but also in his private life, he was often called Dodek. His final years were marked by progressing senility and finally death in a nursing home. He wrote about his life in his memoirs – Dymek z papierosa (Cigarette Smoke). Anita Bagińska-Dymszówna was his daughter and she followed in his father’s footsteps as an actress (she passed away in 1999).
Adolf Dymsza, Wspomnienia z Qui Pro Quo, [in]: Kazimierz Rudzki [red.], Dymek z papierosa. Wspomnienia o scenkach i nadscenkach, Warsaw 1959.
Józef Galewski, Wspomnienia, mps, rkps, sygn. M 233, t. 5., Zespół Dokumentacji Teatralnej IS PAN Warsaw;
Written by Tomasz Mościcki, Nov 2010, translated by Patryk Grabowski, Aug 2018
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