The Two Frank Thrings
By Peter Fitzpatrick
‘In Fitzpatrick’s expert hands, their stories count among the saddest as well as the most scintillating in our annals.’
— Ian Britain, Australian Book Review
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 (1926–1994) 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. It’s a kind of detective story, following the lives of two men who did all they could to cover their tracks, and to conceal ‘the self’: Frank the father used secrecy and sleight-of-hand as strategies for self-protection; Frank the son masked a thoroughly reclusive personality with flamboyant self-parody. It’s also the tale of a lost relationship — and of the power a father may have had, even over a son who hardly knew him.
About the author
Peter Fitzpatrick is Honorary Professor of Performing Arts at Monash University, where he held a Personal Chair until 2007. His first venture into biography was entitled Pioneer Players: The Lives of Louis and Hilda Esson (1995), which was nominated for a Victorian Premier’s Prize and four national awards. He has published two novels (the football ‘whodunit’ tale Death in the Back Pocket, in collaboration with Barbara Wenzel, and Promontory), three non-fiction books and more than sixty articles on Australian theatre. He has written two major feature-film screenplays, Hotel Sorrento (for which he and director Richard Franklin won AFI Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay), and Brilliant Lies.
In theatre, Peter is the author of the book for Anthony Costanzo’s musical Life’s a Circus (nominated for a Green Room Award for best new musical). He devised and wrote Flowerchildren: the Mamas and Papas Story, and directed more than thirty plays and musicals at Monash University, including five works by Stephen Sondheim and the world premiere seasons of Martin and Gina and The White Rose (Melbourne and Singapore). His other professional directing credits include Paris and Rent at Melbourne’s National Theatre.
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