Fred Brodrick: Universal's Secret Weapon

Fred Brodrick Self-portrait. 6 May, 1925. Everyone's
Over the past year and a bit I've been working on a book which I've tentatively titled "The Secret History Of The Horror Film In Australia".  This book will detail the beginnings of the genre in Australia, starting with the birth of cinema in 1896 and end in 1973. Why 1973? That's easy. Because there's plenty of other books out there that detail the resurgence of horror in Australia post-1973 so there's no need for me to rehash it.

The book will cover what movies were made here and what came into the country, along with censorship, how films were promoted and received by the public and much more. I'm hoping to have it finished by the end of this year and I've yet to approach a publisher. Currently it's hitting the 100,000 word mark with no sign of ending.

Along the way I'm writing about other parts of Australian cinema and finding myself cutting them out for various reasons. Some of those articles I've been shopping around but most I'll just post here, such as this one on Australian artist Fred Brodrick (sometimes spelled Broderick).

I knew nothing about Brodrick, other than he produced some of the most incredible posters and images for Universal (Australia) in the 1920s and 1930s. In researching him I've discovered that not a lot was written about him, but what was painted a good picture. So, without further ado, here's the story of Universal's secret weapon - Fred Brodrick.

Fred Brodrick: Universal’s Secret Weapon

Fred Brodrick, February 1930.
Looking back at the history of Universal in Australia it can be argued that the second most important person in the company was an artist named Fred Brodrick. Herc McIntyre ruled the Universal roost and was the public face of the company, but it was Brodrick who created some of the most arresting images that have ever appeared in connection with Universal anywhere in the world. However little is known about Brodrick and, much like McIntyre, he has been largely forgotten.
Born in 1892, Brodrick excelled at the Sydney Art School and became a student of Julian Ashton[i], coming to prominence in 1908 when he was singled out as being one of the best students of his year. By 1910 he was featured in an exhibition for the graduating students where his portraits, both pencil and watercolour, were again singled out for praise.
Upon graduation Brodrick found employment as an illustrator with Norman Lilley and Lilley’s Magazine.  Melbourne journalist Norman McIntosh Lilley worked in Sydney between 1907-16, mainly as a staff writer for the Worker, launched his own magazine in mid-1911. Brodrick’s role was to provide spot illustrations, etchings and watercolours for the magazine, and he was in excellent company, his work appearing alongside the likes of Lionel Lindsay and Claude Marquet. Unfortunately Lilley overextended himself and his publication lasted only five issues.
Brodrick had now established himself and quickly picked up work with Hollander and Govett as a poster designer, teaming up with a fellow Ashton protégée Tom Ferry. Using what they had learnt, the pair went their separate ways with both Ferry and Brodrick electing to design and illustrate movie posters. He decided to work as a freelancer, but was soon picked up by Universal and eventually went to work for the company on an exclusive basis.
Brodricks fine line and attention to detail saw him singled out as one of the preeminent poster designers of his era. He was eccentric in his approach to his work, often burning his previous efforts after the campaigns had ended and, in doing so, he has ensured that very few examples of his original art still exist. Along the way he designed some of the most impressive and effective posters and advertisements for Universal ever seen. His worked ranged from light and breezy, to serious portraits to the amazing posters for the Universal horror range. His posters for the Frankenstein series, Dracula and The Mummy are now considered classics, and posters from the era often fetch high sums when they appear on the open market.
Brodrick remained in the movie industry, becoming the publicity officer for Hoyts in the mid-1930s, before electing to quietly retire in the early 1940s. He passed away at home in Sydney on 4 October, 1948, having given very few interviews and much of his life remains a mystery.
Without Brodrick, Universal might have suffered in Australia. There were very few fine artists who were willing to devote their entire careers to the role of poster artist. The work was difficult and not as rewarding as other advertising art of the era, yet it suited Brodrick and fitted in with his strengths and desires as an artist. His ability to capture the essence of the actors, often working from photos and a description provided to him by McIntyre, saw him give his subjects a totally unique flavor.

POSTSCRIPT: If you know anything about Brodrick, then please, do get in touch. Or if you have any first hand information, documents or the like about Universal Studios (Australia), again, drop me a line!

[i] Julian Rossi Ashton CBE (27 January 1851 – 27 April 1942) was an English-born Australian artist and teacher, known for his support of the Heidelberg School and for his influential art school in Sydney.


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