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Fouché, François (1890–1968)

by B. M. Wicks

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

François Fouché (1890?-1968), wrestler and entrepreneur, was born reputedly on 13 June 1890 at Goshen, Indiana, United States of America, one of seven children of parents employed in a circus. Information about his early life, based solely on Fouché's testimony, carries an aura of legend. He claimed that his father was a French cavalry officer who formed an aerial circus troupe, and that he himself had graduated from Michigan State University, served as an officer in the United States Army Medical Corps and competed in an Olympic Games. Fouché became a professional wrestler after World War I. With a commanding physical presence, he was about 6 ft 2 ins (188 cm) tall, big boned and athletic, weighing about 18 stone (114 kg) in peak condition. He worked the international circuit and competed against the best, but was consistently modest about his wrestling skill, often observing that he was never in the class of the few at the top.

On 5 September 1938 he arrived in Hobart with several other wrestlers. Three thousand people attended the first match of what was billed as 'one of the most experienced and best performed wrestlers' to visit Tasmania. Intelligent, educated and articulate, with a soft voice and a great sense of fun, Fouché was a showman among showmen. In personal encounters he invariably charmed people, but Hobart already had its wrestling favourites and it was his lot to play the villain. He paraded the city streets and promoted his role with such enthusiasm that he was remembered as having 'arched across the Hobart scene like a rainbow in a leaden . . . sky'. He was not to know then that he would spend the rest of his life in Tasmania and that his superficial theatrical reputation would become fixed in the minds of many citizens, helping to make him at all times a controversial figure.

'Big Frank' set up a gymnasium in Hobart, and conducted radio sessions on diet and health before abandoning wrestling to become the proprietor of a coffee-lounge. He bought a large house in fashionable Sandy Bay where he was later joined by Marjorie ('Mitzie') Myra Arnold (1911-1982), a former 'Tivoli girl' with whom he lived in a devoted domestic relationship. During World War II he opened the Stage Door Canteen, an unlicensed dine-and-dance cabaret in Elizabeth Street which was popular with American troops. There, on 23 August 1942, Leslie Appleton died following an exchange of blows with Fouché. Two days later Fouché was charged with manslaughter. Brought to trial, he was acquitted on 26 September on the ground that he had acted in self-defence. The evidence showed that Appleton had been the attacker and that Fouché hit him only once, but his reputation never recovered from the publicity.

Fouché closed his nightclub in December 1946 and bought farming land at Old Beach, a place then isolated from the city by low-grade rural roads. On that site he planned to build an American-style luxury hotel, with a golf course and casino, to be 'the most outstanding recreational resort in Australia'. Having secured a provisional hotel licence in December 1947, he began work, using day-labour. When the hotel was no more than a crude steel-and-concrete frame, a crisis developed. Fouché had raised his £41,500 mortgage finance through the Tasmanian Public Service Superannuation Fund Board, but in a report to parliament in June 1949 the attorney-general condemned the transaction and the board resigned. The new board refused Fouché any further advances and he brought an action against it in the Supreme Court. The judgement, delivered in September 1950, barred him from receiving any additional payments and ordered him to repay with interest the £21,900 already received. On 26 December 1951 a fire at his partly finished hotel at Old Beach (which was insured by the mortgagees for £25,000) caused losses estimated at £60,000 to £80,000. Fouché then appealed to the High Court, which in March 1952 upheld the previous judgement of the Supreme Court.

In 1953 Fouché opened a licensed beer-bar at Old Beach, but never appeared to recover financially. His house was slowly taken over, from the entrance hall inwards, by building materials and he lived a reduced existence, farming and still planning for the future. He died on 19 July 1968 in a motorcar accident at Glenorchy and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • W. McNally, Man from Zero (Melb, 1973)
  • B. Ross, H. V. Biggins Headmaster Extraordinary (Hob, 1986)
  • More of Don Norman's Old Photographs (Hob, 1993)
  • People (Sydney), 16 Dec 1953
  • Mercury (Hobart), 6, 9, 15 Sept 1938, 25, 26 Sept 1942, 17 June, 30 Sept 1950, 26 Dec 1951, 1, 7 Mar 1952, 8 Dec 1965, 25 June, 20 July 1968, 2 May 1981
  • Herald (Melbourne), 20 July 1968
  • Australian, 27 July 1968.

Citation details

B. M. Wicks, 'Fouché, François (1890–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fouche-francois-10226/text18079, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 22 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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