Picture show man
Keith Farrands is known about the city of Dubbo for his voluntary work with various organisations but there’s more to this local legend…much more as LISA MINNER found. A career with Paramount Pictures saw the movie buff mixing with some of the industries greats, like Alfred Hitchcock, and inspired a lifelong passion for films and theatre.
IF variety is the spice of life then Keith Farrands has had a sprinkle-and-ahalf in his 76 years. A movie buff extraordinaire, Farrands has worked for Paramount Pictures, has a collection of films that would make even Netflix tip its hat and can even boast having been in a couple of classic Aussie films in the 60s and 70s. It’s all been part of the journey for this gent who eventually returned to Dubbo to sink his teeth into a career at the Dubbo RSL Club.
After finishing his intermediate certificate, Farrands and his family moved from Orange to Dubbo where his father established the public works in White Street.
In his late teens, he set his sights on the bright lights of Sydney and enrolled at East Sydney Tech with the hope of becoming an interior designer. After two years he found he was a little ho-hum with it all and quit, but as luck would have it, he found work in another area he was equally fascinated by and began a career that would shape his future – in the movie industry.
He began working for the prestigious Paramount Pictures.
Asked how he snagged the job of a lifetime, Farrands says he was lucky to have a friend who worked at Paramount as the director’s chauffeur.
There was a position going in the despatch department which involved choosing content, packing up all the different films and sending them off to theatres around the country.
“I started in despatch and was later offered a job in the booking department where you make up the programs for all the theatres.”
In those days, there used to be two feature films and a cartoon for each session.
“We also provided serials and news reels, not like now days and I did that job for two years.”
Later, the young aspirant changed roles within the company, moving into another division of Paramount as a sales representative in New Zealand, affording him a whirlwind tour of every beautiful theatre in the neighbouring country.
“I was over there for six months and can say I have been in every theatre in New Zealand – every theatre!
“I had to go around and meet with the managers and get them to sign a contract to say they’d show so many films at a certain price.”
From there, Farrands took on Queensland in the same role, and as was the case in NZ, it gave him the opportunity to visit every theatre in the state.
“I was everywhere, from Cooktown to Mt Isa – everywhere! And away for stints of six weeks at a time, living out of a suitcase,” he recalls.
While he was at the peak of his career with Paramount in the 60s, behind the scenes television was slowly beginning to gather momentum in the market, with families installing sets in their homes and for the first time being able to see what was once only available at a theatre.
It changed the whole nature of the theatre business, with families choosing to stay in and watch TV in their own lounge rooms.
Theatre attendance dropped dramatically for a time, Farrands says, with many establishments closing their doors altogether.
As a sales rep, the dramatic change to the industry made his job no longer viable and so Farrands bid Paramount farewell and returned to Sydney to begin a new life and career.
Some of the highlights of his time with the company were getting to meet some pretty famous people, like the legendary Alfred Hitchcock, whom he met in Sydney at the premiere of Pyscho in 1960.
“He was a very strange man… very. He liked blondes too; he had a fascination for them.
“I took a photo of him holding a koala in Sydney and I had a short conversation with him but he wasn’t too keen to speak with us normal people.”
He also met Tony Bill from the 1963 film Come Blow your Horn, which also starred Frank Sinatra.
“He was a nice man, apparently a mad womaniser though,” Farrands recalls, laughing.
He also met Bob Hope, whom he describes as “a terrific fellow, a very natural sort of person”.
Reflecting on that time the now 76 year old says: “I had a pretty interesting life with Paramount when I look back on it all.”
In 1971, the influence of the movie industry had already made and Ferrands decided to try his hand at acting. He spotted an advertisement in the local metro paper seeking extras for a new Aussie film to be shot in the outback.
The film was the cult classic thriller, Wake in Fright (also known as Outback), arguably one of the country’s most disturbing and innovative films of the time. It starred Chips Rafferty, Gary Bond and Donald Pleasance and was digitally re-released in 2009. Prior to that it had been considered a “lost-film”, not available on VHS or DVD. It was screened in Australian theatres again some 38 years after its first release, and received critical acclaim.
Review website, Rotten Tomatoes said of the film: “A disquieting classic of Australian cinema, Wake in Fright surveys a landscape both sun-drenched and ruthlessly dark.”
The scene in which Keith participated was early on in the movie during a packed bar scene.
“I went to the Sydney show ground where they had a pub set created for the scene. They filmed us all day.
“It wasn’t too taxing. I just had to sit around and smoke and drink beer – there were about 100 of us doing the same!” he says, laughing.
He recalls being fairly close to Chips Rafferty who sat up the end of the bar. “But you couldn’t get near him of course.
“It was great day – beer, cigarettes and a cheque for $11,” – which Farrands still has, laminated, as a memento of his part in the film.
He also had a bit part in another classic called They’re a Weird Mob in 1966 – a film based on a comic novel by author John O’grady.
“The scene I was in was on Bondi Beach – it’s not even all of me actually, it’s just me from the waist down in my red jockettes!
“We use to go to Bondi Beach every weekend and the crew happened to be filming this weekend and the camera just came along.
“I have both the films in my collection at home and have watched them many times.”
Speaking of collections, no story featuring the remarkable Mr Farrands could be complete without acknowledging what can only be called a movie collection of epic proportions.
Influenced by his early career with Paramount, as of 2016, Keith’s collection of VHS and DVDS numbers 4000.
“I have a whole room full of them, but in 1980, when I purchased my first VCR I was given a copy of a film called Breaking Away and it all snowballed from a single tape and after that I decided I didn’t want to give them away, I wanted to keep them and the collection just continued to grow.”
Asked to name his favourite film genre, Farrands doesn’t hesitate – MGM musicals.
He counts Judy Garland among his favourites, along with Marilyn Monroe.
His favourite film of all time is the 1952 classic, Singin’ in the Rain, starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’connor and Cyd Charisse.
“I love it. I am going to Sydney to see the stage production later in the year. I know every word of it.”
Have films improved over the years or has the industry been consistant, I ask the movie buff, who thinks the violence and swearing is over done in current films.
“I went and saw Last Cab from Darwin and I have to say the swearing spoiled it for me.
“I know people will put up with it now days, but personally, I don’t like it.”
When Farrands eventually returned to Dubbo, he turned his personable nature to the hospitality industry.
Employed with the Dubbo RSL Club for 30 years as a senior steward, there are not too many people in the city who wouldn’t have crossed Keith’s path in this capacity.
Now firmly retired, Keith has taken on the role of gallery guide with the Western Plains Cultural Centre, a role that sees him assist in guiding with school visits, “dementia tour” and with various community groups that may need the assistance of an informed guide to enrich their visit.
He says he wanted to continue on in some form of service after retirement and the WPCC ticked all his boxes.
“I have always been fascinated by the place and I also work over at the Neighbourhood Centre,” he says. “And I enjoy trivia competitions.”
If he could have his time over, would he do anything differently with his life?
Farrands is characteristically frank: “I probably would have continued with the interior design course!”
I was over there for six months and can say I have been in every theatre in New Zealand, every theatre!
Keith’s Top Ten classic films of all time:
Singin’ in the Rain. (1952) The Wizard of Oz. (1940) Gone with the Wind. (1940) Rebel without a Cause. (1955) Pyscho. (1960) Seven Year Itch. (1955) Some like it Hot.(1959) How to Marry a Millionaire. (1953) Stalag 17. (1953) Shane. (1953)
Keith’s Top Ten favourite theatres of all time:
The State Theatre (Sydney) The Regent Theatre (Sydney) The Winter Garden (Brisbane) Her Majesty’s Theatre (Perth) Melbourne Regent Theatre (Melbourne) The Plaza Theatre (Sydney) The Century Theatre (Dubbo) The Roxy Theatre (Dubbo) The Embassy Theatre (British films, Sydney) St James Theatre (MGM musicals, Sydney)
The Regent Theatre in Melbourne