The most comprehensive account of the life and career of Frank R. Clifton found to-date, detailing his time spent in the United States of America covering pre1874-1898 that was published in the 'Sacramento Daily Union' on 9 Jun 1898. 

 

"LOCAL THEATRICAL CHANGE" 

 

"CLUNIE OPERA-HOUSE AND ORPHEUM HISTORY"

Something Concerning the New Management and New Season About to Open.

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In the lives of theatre as in the lives of men there are changes which tell for good or ill. Perhaps the theatre is more sensitive to change than any other agency of entertainment. Give a theatrical establishment a bad name, and it is practically irrevocable. Let it, however, pass through as many hands as it may, if its record is marred only by the mutations of public caprice or the shifting of success and failure in money making, and the reputation of the house may remain uninjured. 

           The Clunie Opera House, now the only theatre in Sacramento, was erected by Thomas J. Clunie several years ago, and opened after a brief season under Ben Cotton, under the direction of a firm, one of whom was a scenic artist and the other without theatrical experience of any kind. Since then it has been alternately in the hands of theatrical people, operatic artistes and vauderville companies, and for the greater length of time it was managed through the agency of the proprietorship. 

           Early in its history it was graced by two famous artistes, the elder Salvini and Mary Anderson. From them to negro minstrelsy, the theatre circus, the spectacular and vauderville with occasional dramatic and operatic seasons it has vacillated, until less than a year ago the owner practically rebuilt it, giving it a handsomer interior, enlarged seating capacity and improved ingress and egress facilities. About that time it came under the lesseeship of the Orpheum organisation, with the late Gustave Walter as director general, and Frank R. Clifton as local manager. It had fair measure of success as "The Orpheum No.3," but it was found that for continuous vauderville the community is not sufficiently large to maintain a constantly open house with one class of entertainment all the time upon the boards. 

          With the recent death of Mr. Walter, the Orpheum people deemed it advisable to change the character of the house and on Saturday afternoon of this week it will open with Hopkins' Transoceanic Variety Company, for three performances, when it will become what is known as a combination house. Through all its changes of management the house has remained cleanly. It has been uniformly well conducted, and no scandals have been related to it. Nothing has attached to the pretty theatre to injure its good name, and it, therefore, enters this week upon a new career with its fame untarnished, and the prospect for its future fair and promising.

           There were may efforts made to secure control of the house when it was known that the vaudeville management would strike it from its list of circuit. But the lessees wisely, and after mature deliberations, preferred the claim and offer of Frank R. Clifton, who now becomes the manager-in-chief, and the one interested party in its control and management. He secures this advantage solely by virtue of the far-seeing and practiced judgement of the Orpheum management of San Francisco, upon whom the responsibility of fixing the immediate future of the house devolved. 

          Perhaps Mr. Clifton could come to his new responsibility with no better indorsement than is thus given, since the Orpheum people have had years of experience in catering to the public taste, and are the best of all others qualified to pass upon Mr. Clifton's capacity to maintain the credit of the house. He, however, assumes sole responsibility, and while cut free from the Orpheum circuit, bears such friendly relationship to it, that whatever he sees fit to play Orpheum attractions available, he will enjoy the privilege.

          This, it is obvious, is a decided gain for amusement lovers in this city, as it insures the frequent opening of the house. That it may, however, be capacitated to receive any manner of theatrical, operatic or other legitimate troupes, some changes sooner or later, and the sooner the better, will have to be made in the stage fittings. For, while well appointed as to scenery, and all usual stage properties of a permanent character, and while its stage has sufficient depth and breadth for any class of business, it lacks in the hight of the fixtures to admit of scenery carried by many road companies, and in this day all companies are of that order, railroad and steamer facilities in our day being so great that the best that the metropolitan centers see upon the stage is transported to lesser cities and towns with comparative ease. 

          This enables most companies to carry their own scenic effects. The opera-house stage will not take some of the loftier scenes, and it will be necessary to raise its grooves and fly galleries so that flats from the lowest to those twenty-four feet in hight may be received. This requirement will, doubtless be supplied by the ownership, since it increases the drawing value of the house and enlarges the opportunity for this community to enjoy the performances of the most pretentious troupes on the road or that may ever take to the road.

           The new lessee and manager Frank R. Clifton has been known in this city for several months and in that time assistant Orpheum director, has established himself so well with theatre going public that this new venture assures him a most kindly welcome. 

            Mr. Clifton was born in Quebec, the son of the Financial Inspector of Upper Canada. While yet a boy he became enamoured of the American Institutions and emigrated to Ogdensburg, NY and ever since has been a resident of the United States, and since then, was qualified to swear allegience to 'Old Glory', has been a citizen. He is as thorough and typical an American as if he had not been born just over the cousin-line. 

            From his earliest years he was an athlete. In mere babyhood he had athletic vigour, an athlete born as it were, born into love for athletics and equipped by nature with a constitution and physique that fitted the calling. Whilst yet beardless he became noted for his strength and skill as a gymnast and attracted the attention of New York managers. He was the first American to do a double somersault from the horizontal bars. 

            An all round performer in athletics and gymnastics he was always in demand, and never saw the day or the hour he could not command a lucretive engagement. The thirst for travel was upon him as a boy, and it enabled him, as a boy and a man, to see the goodly part of the western hemisphere and gratify a taste for lands strange and new. But wherever he went he wore the American colours and never for an instant failed to make his intense patriotism and love for the 'Sarry Banner' manifest. The earnest, profound admiration for his country was such as to distinguish him as the 'American Gymnast'.

           His first appearance was with Amory Bruce Company, a small affair, which he soon found limited for his work, and so he took place with managers of the country, and as an expert gymnast had the pick and choice of the best engagements offering. He won especial honours under Langrishe & Glenn's Black Crook Company, in which he was their star gymnast and athlete. 

           He made his first appearance on the Pacific Coast with that company coming to San Francisco and being billed as the only man living who could do the double pirhouette. While in San Francisco he created such a sensation with his act that the Olympic Club of that day paid him the exceptional compliment of attending one of his performanes in a body out of especial admiration for the splendid feat. He went with Montgomery Queens Circus throughoout Mexico, South America & Cuba. He visited Mexico also with Orrin Bros Circuses, its star gymnast. He was identified at various times with Sells Brothers & Adam Forepaugh's establishments, and all other leading ring companies. 

           In 1874 he played his first in Sacramento with Sells Bros we believe. His many visits to California so impressed him with the country that he resolved to make this State his home, and settled in San Francisco permanently in 1886. But he still adhered to his line of business and was four years successful as busines manager of McMahon's Circus and went with the organisation to British Honduras and other distant parts. Returning finally to his California home he resolved to cease roaming. 

           He fell in with Gustave Walter when he first started the Orpheum business and was engaged by that far seeing manager as his assistant in his expanding business. Until this time he had been with the Orpheum Circuit always in the capacity of manager. When it was resolved to add Sacramento to the circuit he was chosen to manage here. Now, for the first time, he proposes to apply his experience and skill on his own account, content to take what comes band do all that can be done by one thoroughly familiar with managerial tactics and difficulties and perfectly at home handling people of the stage whose peculiar and varied moods he understands to perfection. 

            Mr. Clifton enjoys an enviable reputation for fair dealing, promptness, openess of conduct, uprightness of living and strict business methods. He is well liked here and has the confidence and esteem of the business community, while theatre goers of the city are profuse in their compliments upon his methods and his labours to deserve commendation. He is one manager, of all we have had, who lives to the letter of managerial maxim. 'The management is best which is least seen in the act of managing'. Mr. Clifton believes this as gospel, and he is right. No one who in the past year has attended at the Opera House but has noted the absence of any appearance of management. The manager himself has never been pretentiously to the fore. Things went smoothly, orderly, with clockwork precision, but few could discover the hand upon the tiller or were able to speak if the management was in front of the curtain. 

            It remains to be seen how Mr. Clifton will suceed as manager of a combination house here. If his scheme does not work it can confidently set down as truth that it will not be because of the man or the lack of skill or hard work. It will be because the city will not support a dramatic establishment and that we do not for one moment believe.

 

Ref: Sacramento Daily Union, vol.95, number 108, page 6, California Digital Newspaper Library.