Veteran actor Frank Thring Jr. died of cancer Dec. 29 in Melbourne, Australia. He was 68.
Scion of a famous Aussie showbiz family, the actor had a public persona of flamboyance, wit and high-camp style, which was counterbalanced by a reclusive private life.
Frank Thring Sr. was an impresario who for a while headed up a successful Melbourne film studio, Eftee Prods., which made a number of feature films in the 1920s. Frank Jr. was born in 1926, an only child brought up amid affluence and the social elite. He was educated at private schools and was 10 when his father died.
After brief war service in the air force, he made his first stage appearance as Henry VIII in Ray Lawler’s “Hal’s Belles” at Gertrude Johnson’s National Theater in 1945. He was an immediate success.
In 1953, his mother financed his efforts in converting the Middle Park Repertory Theatre in Melbourne to the Arrow, where he was actor-manager.
One production there was “Moby Dick,” the rights to which Thring bought from Orson Welles. Another was Oscar Wilde’s “Salome,” in which he played Herod. He took the production to England, where it became a huge success in the West End.
Thring’s London success resulted in an invitation from Anthony Quayle to appear with the Royal Shakespeare Company in “Titus Andronicus,” opposite Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh.
Thring claimed that Kirk Douglas came backstage and said, “You cut off Larry’s hand so well, why don’t you come and do the same to Tony Curtis in ‘The Vikings’?”
For the next five years he appeared in Hollywood epics such as “El Cid,” “King of Kings” and “Ben Hur.”
Homesick and fed up with the itinerant lifestyle, he returned to Australia to resume his career in the theater, and for the next 25 years starred in a succession of Melbourne Theatre Company productions that ranged from Shakespeare to kitchen sink dramas.
He also worked on a number of feature films made in Australia. Among these were “A Question of Adultery,” “Ned Kelly,” “Mad Dog Morgan,” “Mad Max,” “Death of a Soldier,” “Mad Max Beyond Thunder dome” and “The Marsupials: The Howling III.”
His theater appearances became fewer as alcohol began to affect his performances. He filled in as theater and TV critic for a Melbourne newspaper, which gave voice to his well developed acerbity.
He had been hospitalized frequently in recent years for alcohol-related ailments, but his final stage appearance – as the two butlers in “The Importance of Being Ernest” – was both a triumph and a trial for him.
He was married briefly to Joan Cunliffe in the 1950s.
Standing over 6 feet tall and weighing more than 200 pounds, Thring would amplify his large presence by appearing in black, festooned with gold chains and other massive jewelry.
With a distinctively deep, theatrical voice he used to great effect, Thring had a quick mind and a wicked tongue, not least about himself.