The Two Frank Thrings

Peter Fitzpatrick

The Two Frank Thrings
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The Two Frank Thrings

Peter Fitzpatrick

Winner of the National Biography Award 2013

They shared a name, of course, and their physical resemblance was startling. And both Frank Thrings were huge figures in the landscape of twentieth-century Australian theatre and film. But in many ways they could hardly have been more different.

Frank Thring the father (1882-1936) began his career as a sideshow conjuror, and he wheeled, dealed and occasionally married his way into becoming the legendary F T impresario, speculator and owner of Efftee Films, Australia’s first talkies studio. He built for himself an image of grand patriarchal respectability, a sizeable fortune, and all the makings of a dynasty.

Frank Thring the son (19261994) squandered the fortune and derailed the dynasty in the course of creating his own persona a unique presence that could make most stages and foyers seem small. He won fame playing tyrants in togas in Hollywood blockbusters, then, suddenly, came home to Melbourne to play perhaps his finest role that of Frank Thring, actor and personality extraordinaire. Central to this role was that Frank the son was unapologetically and outrageously gay.

Peter Fitzpatrick’s compelling dual biography tells the story of two remarkable characters.

Review

The rise of commercial cinema in Australia and the nascence of our independent film industry provide a fascinating backdrop to this meticulous academic biography of the two Frank Thrings, father and son.

A self-styled citizen of the world, Thring Snr was the nouveau riche movie magnate who oversaw the construction of some of Australia’s most luxurious movie palaces in the 1920s, including Melbourne’s Regent Theatre. Later, he founded Australia’s first talkies studio, Efftee Films, securing the Thring family fortune in the process.

Frank Jr, however, was flamboyantly gay and had little interest in dynasty. A sybarite and a personality beyond compare, he courted both fame and acclaim as a character actor, treading the boards of London’s stages and chewing the scenery in king-sized Hollywood productions such as Ben Hur. The Thring dynasty died with him.

Fitzpatrick has drawn on an exhaustive range of sources, from public records and surviving promotional materials from the day to his own interviews in researching this book. His prose might lack the vim of a Peter Biskind, but with subjects as ostentatious as these, his book certainly doesn’t want for incident or appeal. Definitiveness is what’s called for here, and on that front Fitzpatrick delivers.

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