Frank Thring 1926-1994
He was born Francis William Thring in Melbourne on 11 May 1926.
Young Frank made his first public appearance as a toddler in the opening scenes of his father’s 1932 film The Sentimental Bloke.
Thring’s first major professional engagement came in 1949, when he was recruited by Anew McMaster for a Shakespeare season at the Princess.
‘The best tribute I can make to Frank,’ said actor and playwright Alan Hopgood at a celebration of Thring’s life, ‘is that every actor who came in contact with him endeavoured, at some stage, to imitate his voice. Few succeeded. But the few who did were so clever that, had there been a memorial church service, I would have suggested that three of the best imitators should read the Lessons. And I’m sure Frank, wherever he is, would have sucked in air, groaned, and said, “Very funny, but there’s really only been one of me – and (pause, groan) – just as well!”’
Frank Thring was indeed a one-off: a flamboyant, eccentric, intimidating, often cruelly sarcastic iconoclast, who, though he would have been the last to admit it, was also a very good actor.
He was born Francis William Thring in Melbourne on 11 May 1926. He was named for his father, Francis W. Thring, a much loved and respected entrepreneur; from a shaky start as an itinerant conjurer, he had gone on to run Hoyts cinemas, establish the nation-wide chain of luxurious Regent theatres, make early Australian sound films, including several starring George Wallace, lease the Princess as a Melbourne home for his Efftee stage productions, which he launched in 1933 with an elaborate all-Australian musical, Collits’ Inn, and open Melbourne radio station 3XY. Thring senior died in 1936 when his son was only 10.
Young Frank made his first public appearance as a toddler in the opening scenes of his father’s 1932 film The Sentimental Bloke. He trained as an actor with Irene Mitchell and broke into radio, first as a sound-effects man at 3XY and later as an actor. By far his most unlikely radio role was as the part-Aboriginal detective Napoleon Bonaparte in a serialisation of Arthur Upfield’s The Man of Two Tribes. In March 1945 he enlisted in the RAAF, but was discharged six weeks later. In September that year he made his stage debut as Henry VIII in Ray Lawler’s Hal’s Belles at Lorna Forbes’ and Stanley Turnbull’s Melbourne Repertory Theatre in Middle Park. In 1946 he got good notices for his work there in Sumner Locke Elliott’s Invisible Circus.
Thring’s first major professional engagement came in 1949, when he was recruited by Anew McMaster for a Shakespeare season at the Princess. This led to a featured role (as a 75-year-old!) in The Love Racket, a musical showcasing the British comedian Arthur Askey that David N. Martin staged at the Tivoli. In 1951 Thring toured Australia in Kenn Brodziak’s Aztec Services production of the farce See How They Run. Also that year he played Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner. The role suited him superbly, and he played it in five different productions.
Sally Dawes: ‘Frank Thring’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
A Tribute to Frank, booklet published for the celebration of Thring’s memory, Victorian Arts Centre Playhouse, 5 March 1995