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Ross Thorne & Kevin Cork

George Laurantus

From around 1915 to the early 1960s 116 country picture theatres in NSW were at some time operated by 66 Greek immigrants in 57 towns. Thirty-four new picture theatres were built by Greek exhibitors in these towns. It is known that at least 61 of these immigrants were proprietors of their own food businesses by the time they branched into the motion picture exhibition business.

The Laurantus brothers fitted this model of arrival. Nicholas went to a Greek-run country café. George worked in Sydney until Nicholas bought the café, then he went to work for his brother, who although looked after the family was domineering like a father. George arrived from the island of Kythera in 1908/9. By the 1920s Nicholas had bought the Globe (later Plaza) Theatre, Narrandera; it burnt down in 1925 and the new one opened in 1927. This would be where George developed his flair for showmanship. He taught himself violin, would perform, and generally loved show business. He married in 1928 and settled in Junee to look after Nicholas’s cinema interest in that town. It was a partnership with Ben Cummins, a local businessman. The three of them leased the Montreal Theatre, Tumut, then handed its operation over to a brother-in-law of the Laurantus’. They did the same with the Gundagai Theatre. In 1935 the Rio Theatre was built by Nicholas or the two brothers in partnership (depending upon what story is related). In 1936 Nicholas built the Rex Theatre at Corowa.

Again 1939 he wanted to pull out of cinema. Whereas other members of the family stayed at Gundagai and Tumut, Nicholas required George to give up Junee and look after a property he owned out of Narrandera. It would be five years before George could leave and obtain a picture theatre at Liverpool, Sydney, on his own terms.

According to his son and daughter, George was quite bitter, resenting his having to leave Junee. He loved the town and the Athenium Theatre. He painted all the billboards that announced the films for the wide fascia on the awning. He enjoyed setting up promotional floats and events. For On Our Selection (made 1931) he had a Dad, Mum and Dave with horse and old fashioned plough standing on the wide nature strip in the centre of the Broadway. Huge billboards covered the sides of a truck to advertise Janet Gaynor in Delicious (booked for four nights c.1932). A float that completely covered a small truck drove around town advertising Motion Picture Art in the Musical Gem, City of Song with Betty Stockfield. It is obvious from these examples from photos in Peter Laurantus’s possession, and the gusto with which benefits and gala nights were organised, that George was an asset to Junee.


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