Masked men: a biography of two Frank Thrings

The Two Frank Thrings

Two men who shared the same name and made tremendous contributions to Australian film and theatre are at the centre of a new dual biography.

Monash University’s Professor Peter Fitzpatrick from the School of English, Communications and Performance Studies has spent the last eight years researching the complex lives and father/son relationship of Frank Thring Senior and Junior.  It has resulted in his latest book The Two Frank Thrings.

Professor Fitzpatrick said that although they had a strong physical resemblance and both significantly influenced the field of arts, they were very different.

“Frank the father was a highly successful businessman, a patriarch, a visionary, while the son was a scapegrace, flamboyantly gay and financially improvident, but a giant in the theatrical and entertainment culture of Melbourne,” Professor Fitzpatrick said.

In researching the book, Professor Fitzpatrick was sometimes frustrated by the ways in which both men disguised their thoughts and feelings – one through elaborate secrecy and the other by self parody.

“[They] were intensely private men, living spectacularly public lives. But without the usual, supposedly revealing, personal documents like diaries and letters, tracking both men became an investigation that required not only careful analysis of the evidence that was still around, but also some educated intuition as to the motives of a number of crucial choices in their lives,” Professor Fitzpatrick said.

Professor Fitzpatrick’s initial interest was mostly in Frank Senior, whose dedication to achieving his dream, made him a kind of hero in the eyes of the author.

“His adventures in trying to create a film industry and a musical theatre tradition at a time when there was almost nothing to build on here in Australia was a wonderful story I felt needed to be told,” Professor Fitzpatrick said.

"But the outrageous Frank junior – so seemingly contemptuous of the Australia he grew up in, so visible and so important in shaping it – also demanded to be taken seriously. I was drawn to... the challenge of getting inside the carefully crafted public roles both men created as their masks.”

Professor Fitzpatrick has published several books and more than 60 articles on Australian theatre. He has written two feature film screenplays, for Hotel Sorrento and Brilliant Lies.

The Two Frank Thrings will be launched by Graeme Blundell at the Arts Centre Melbourne on Thursday, 23 August.

The Two Frank Thrings is available through Monash University Publishing.