George Christiaan Slieker

Dutch exhibitor

Christiaan Slieker grew up in a Friesien family of travelling fairground showpeople, and married the daughter of a renowned carousel owner. The family business was not only prosperous, but one that was always looking for a new attraction, from panoramas to a discus-throwing apparatus to an 'electrical fishery', which provided the family with a brisk trade at the 1895 Amsterdam World's Fair. In Spring 1896, Slieker travelled to the Industrial Exhibition in Berlin to look for the latest showman's apparatus, and returned with a Kinematograf bought from H.O. Foersterling & Co., whose equipment was either bought from Victor Continsouza in Paris, or was a copy of Continsouza's design. When Slieker gave his first film show at the fair on the Wilhelminaplein in Leeuwarden on 15 July 1896, he opened the first travelling movie show in the Netherlands, advertised as 'Edison's Ideal, Living Pictures ... Discovered by the Messrs. A. and L. Lumière'. Slieker's travelling show was called the Grand Théatre Edison, and held 116 people, usually charging an admission of fifty cents for the twenty seats at the front, and twenty-five cents for the ninety-six remaining places. Quickly moving from Leeuwarden on to the fairs and markets in Alkmar, Nijmegen, Utrecht, and literally scores of other Dutch cities and towns, Slieker's Grand Théatre Edison became a familiar and successful attraction across the country. In the same year Slieker’s programs included three films shot by Amsterdam photographer Machiel Hendricus Laddé, among which was the first known Dutch fiction film, the comedy Gestoorde hengelaar (Disturbed Angler, 1896).

He was quickly imitated by other fairground entrepreneurs, especially Herman Fey, Frits van Haarlem, Carmine Riozzi and H. Grunkorn, and later Albert and Willy Mullens, and by the turn of the century many elaborately decorated shows were travelling a circuit that frequently included Belgium and parts of rural France and Germany, like those of Antoon Wegkamp, Alex Benner, W. Lohoff, and others. In 1906 Slieker advised his colleague showman Jean Desmet to convert his Toboggan Slide attraction into a film palace, thus launching one of the most elaborate of the travelling shows, Desmet's splendid Imperial Biosope. The next year, 1907, Slieker gave up travelling the circuit and opened a business in Drachten, living on into a ripe old age giving interviews about the birth of the movies. His original Foersterling projector is now in the collection of the Museum Smallingerland Friesland.

Deac Rossell (revised entry March 2004)