Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Smith, Frank Beaumont (Beau) (1885–1950)

by Graham Shirley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Frank Beaumont (Beau) Smith (1885-1950), producer, director and exhibitor of films, was born on 15 August 1885 at Hallett, South Australia, son of Adelaide-born parents Francis Stringer Smith, postmaster, and his wife Mary Julia, née Blott. Educated (1893-1900) at East Adelaide Public School, 'Beau' became a journalist, working briefly on the staff of the Critic and helping to found the Gadfly. By 1908 he was press representative for the theatrical entrepreneur William Anderson. In 1911 he brought from Europe a troupe of midgets, billed as 'Tiny Town'. At Ascot Vale, Melbourne, on 11 March that year he married Elsie Fleming with Presbyterian forms; they were to remain childless. He produced a number of plays after 1913, some of them Australian and others English.

In 1917 Smith turned to film production with Our Friends the Hayseeds, inspired by the stories of 'Steele Rudd'. He had previously collaborated in dramatizing them as a play, On Our Selection. As a film-maker, he was producer, director, writer, editor and publicist from the outset. Elsie helped with the scripts and his brother Gordon managed company finances. Of Beau's seventeen silent films (1917-25) and two sound productions (1933-34), the seven about the bucolic Hayseeds were his surest box-office 'hits'. He became Australian silent cinema's most commercially successful producer, due to his rapid, low-cost and regular output of formula films, and to the enthusiasm with which distributors and exhibitors greeted his work. Unlike his creatively superior but financially less secure contemporary, Raymond Longford, he numbered film distribution managers among his closest friends.

Seeking an overseas market in the early 1920s, Smith toyed with the idea of making expensive 'super films', but soon returned to the style of production that earned him the nickname 'One-take Beau'. His output included a horse-racing drama, Desert Gold (1919), an anti-German pot-boiler, Satan in Sydney (1918), and an inter-racial romance, The Betrayer (1921). The latter and The Adventures of Algy (1925) were filmed in New Zealand as well as Australia. Nationalism featured in many of the films, notably those adapted from works by A. B. Paterson (The Man from Snowy River, 1920) and Henry Lawson (While the Billy Boils, 1921, and Joe, 1924). Of Smith's three films that survive complete, The Adventures of Algy can still send an audience into gales of laughter. The sentimental stodge in The Hayseeds (1933) is redeemed by flashes of bizarre comedy and genuine affection for rural Australians.

Shrinking profits forced Smith to suspend his film-making in 1925 and to begin exhibiting. That year he was appointed resident managing director of Williamson Films (New Zealand) Ltd (later J. C. Williamson Picture Corporation Ltd), Wellington. Although he retired to Sydney in 1938, he continued as a consultant to the company. His genial outlook 'endeared him to all with whom he came in contact'. Dark haired and of medium build, he was gregarious, sentimental, a good storyteller and nobody's fool. On the walls of his home at Killara he kept a representative selection of Australian art. He died of heart disease on 2 January 1950 in Royal North Shore Hospital and was cremated with Anglican rites. His wife survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Pike and R. Cooper, Australian Film 1900-1977 (Melb, 1980)
  • J. Tulloch, Legends on the Screen (Syd, 1981)
  • G. Shirley and B. Adams, Australian Cinema: The First Eighty Years (Syd, 1983)
  • Everyones, 18, 25 Nov 1925
  • Dominion (Wellington, New Zealand), 6 May 1938
  • Showman, Jan 1950
  • private information.

Citation details

Graham Shirley, 'Smith, Frank Beaumont (Beau) (1885–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-frank-beaumont-beau-11722/text20955, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 1 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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