In 1936, several Hollywood actors starred in Australian films, including Helen Twelvetrees (in Thoroughbred) and Victor Jory (in Rangle River). But when Charles Farrell came out to appear in The Flying Doctor, he brought with him a touch of Hollywood glamour and the aura of a big-name star.
Farrell had been a movie star since the early 1920s and was mobbed upon his arrival in Sydney.
Crowds gathered to see him at the Hotel Australia and in Martin Place, where he laid a wreath on the Cenotaph. Later, the popular actor even needed to be rescued from a crowd that gathered to see him play a polo match.
In The Flying Doctor, Farrell was co-starring with Mary Maguire, an up-and-coming actor who appears with him in the clip below:
Maguire had already appeared in Charles Chauvel's Heritage (1935) and celebrated her 17th birthday on The Flying Doctor set at Pagewood.
Also appearing in the film were radio stars James Raglan and Eric Colman, and Margaret Vynor, a model who had worked in France. There was also a notable cameo by cricket legend Donald Bradman.
A number of well-publicised moments during production generated attention for the film.
At Bondi Beach, in front of a crowd of 30,000 people, Farrell helped director Miles Mander select a stunt double from the participants in a surf lifesaving carnival (see image). They picked 5 finalists from 25 contestants to undergo screen tests back at the studio.
One Sunday, filming took over two platforms and two trains at Sydney's Central railway station. Later, the whole town of Cowan turned out to see Farrell hop on and off a moving train as he ‘rode the rattler’.
Parts of a wrestling scene were filmed after a tournament at Leichhardt Stadium:
Not all the film's publicity was planned. Mander and scriptwriter JOC Orton appeared in court and were fined after a speeding incident in which the pursuing police car was involved in an accident.
Farrell also generated headlines after complaining about the amount of income tax he was required to pay, arguing that actors have a shorter period of time than other occupations in which to earn money. He paid the required amount on his earnings after remaining an extra month in Australia making cinema appearances to supplement his salary.
A ballroom scene required for the film added a touch of local style. A number of Sydney socialites played extras during the day's filming, appearing in their best evening wear at 10am:
Also appearing in the scene was the Frank Coughlan Band, which later became the famous Trocadero Orchestra. Coughlan is often recognised as being one of the most influential musicians in the development of jazz in Australia.
Unfortunately by the time The Flying Doctor had its opening night in Brisbane, the film's principals were noticeably absent. Charles Farrell had returned to America, Miles Mander was back in the UK and Mary Maguire had left for Hollywood to advance her career.
NFSA Film Curator Jeff Wray will introduce and screen a newly digitised The Flying Doctor on Sunday 1 September 2019, preceded by a selection of vintage sports clips.