Frank Clifton, the 'American Gymnast'

aka 'Raslus' the Celebrated Equestrian Clown & Slack-Rope Artiste & Aerial King

1842-1904

A Biography and 'a work in progress'

by James Bohun

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Born Frank RILEY abt.1842, son of Thomas.

ref/source; (i) Name verified, baptism unfound to-date (see Edward Richard Kinane) (ii) Joe Boganny, The Era, 4 Jul 1912. (iii) Interviewed for the article 'Local Theatre Change' in the Sacramento Daily Union of 9 Jun 1898, Frank R Clifton claimed he was born in Quebec, Canada, son of the Financial Inspector of Upper Canada, (unsubstantiated to-date), (iii) Frank R. Clifton with Tony Denier's Humpty-Dumpty Co, is an Ottowa, Can., boy and son-in-law of our correspondent, New York Clipper 12 Mar 1887. 

 

Frank Clifton, Acrobat, son of Thomas Clifton, Gentleman married widow Sarah Alvarez formerly Daniels otherwise Toledano on 5 Aug 1869 at Whitechapel Register Office, London. Sarah Daniels/Toledano was notably the sister of Moses & Abraham Toledano, better known as 'Mo & Abe Daniels' Musical Clowns, and in Europe as 'Les Freres Daniels', and Joseph Toledano aka 'Joe Daniels' the highly accomplished Minstrel, Professor of Music & Banjoist Par Excellence. 

Father of Joshua Toledano aka Josh Clifton 1871-1948, Mary Clifton aka Polly/Pauline, Mrs. William 'Wilkes' Molesworth Lloyd 1872-?, and Joseph Toledano aka Joe Clifton later known as Joe Boganny 1874-1943. The family adopted the surname Lazarus in 1892. 

 

An athlete born, who during adolescence became noticed by managers as a Clown & Gymnast whilst performing at Astley's Amphitheatre in London, became apprenticed to the clown, vaultager & somersault thrower Hiram W Franklin, later becoming highly acclaimed himself executing wonders on the Slack-Rope, an Aerial King & Somersault Thrower, as his tutor before him, astounding the public in accomplishing the most daring of feats under several personae throughout his careers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Professionally known as Frank, Franki, Frankie Clifton or Raslus in the British Isles, Isle of Mann, Ireland and on the Continent of Europe., only ever as Frank Clifton, Frankie Clifton, Frank R Clifton or Frank Russell Clifton in the USA, Canada and other parts of the globe of which he toured a large part from the late 1850's to 1890's. Appeared in Circus, Music-Hall, Theatre, Variety & Vaudeville, often appearing solo, sometimes with his brother/partner as The Clifton Brothers or Brothers Clifton clowning or performing feats on bars, ropes & trapeze. Formed the Raslus Troupe in the mid 1870's which he toured through the British Isles & Ireland and was when his children first entered the circus ring.

Ceased roaming and performing in America around 1893 and based himself in San Francisco, California where he was appointed manager of The Orpheum later being transferred to The Orpheum in Sacramento.

 

One of his first appearances was in Nov 1857 performing at the Surrey Music Hall, Westbar, Sheffield, England as Young Francois the great Summersault Thrower, Juggler & Balancer. Later in the Spring of 1858 appears as Franki 'the Boneless Youth' & 'the Wonder of the Age' at Wilton's Music Hall, London, who is documented as having appeared with the Equestrian Troupe before Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace on 24 Jun 1858. 

Young Franki continues to be mentioned in news reports through 1858 & 1859 appearing in Belfast & Dublin, Ireland and other cities in England & Scotland invariably as 'a clever contortionist, trapezeist, french clown, posturer and the 'extraordinary youth' from Astley's Amphitheatre, London whose elegant and unique performances have lately caused so much admiration in London and the Provinces. 

The Grand Fete & Gala at the Bristol Zooalogical Gardens was held on 25 Jul 1858 where the celebrated artiste Mr. H. R. Clifton (Harry Clifton) from Evan's Music-Hall, Covent Garden, the celebrated Parisienne Clowns French & Louis from Soulier's Cirque, Paris & Crystal Palace, Sydenham and the Young Franki from Astley's were all on the Bill. In March 1859 at the Monster Saloon, Dublin the Franki Brothers from Astley's appear for the first time, in their marvellous feats on the Trapeze & French Clowning, indicating that Franki had a brother or performing partner he occasionally teamed with. Two weeks later at Jude's Concert Hall, Dublin, Ireland, Franki is again recorded performing in his 'Drawing Room Entertainments' at the same time as the popular comic vocalist Mr. H. R. Clifton. - It's fascinating to speculate who or what influenced him, however in May 1859 Frank adopted a new name, and the first referrence to the performer Frank Clifton is found, 'a clever youth in the tumbling line', appearing at The Colosseum, Belfast, Ireland. Interestingly in Sep 1859 the Equestrian & Theatrical Agent Ambrose Maynard requests Young Franki oblige him by writing.

 

In Feb 1860 The Great Little Clifton announced in The Era the imminent conclusion of a successful run at the Royal Alhambra Palace, Leicester Square, London, Proprietor Thomas McCollum, also appearing there had been Howe's & Cushing's Company, the 'Californian Wonders' with Messrs. Hiram Franklin, Dunbar, McGillon & Fisher.' Describing his line of business as consisting of 'Chairs, Stilts, Somersaults, Contortionist, French Clown, Trapeze etc.', and that he would be 'at Liberty to accept an engagement for Town, Country or the Continent' and for 'H. Clifton to please write' c/o 24, George Street, Blackfriars, Southwark, London.

It follows, a deal was struck and a contract signed as by mid 1860 Frank Clifton sailed from England with Thomas McCollum's Circus, including Hiram Franklin, the whole company arriving at Cape Argus, South Africa by Sep 1860, at the start of what turned out to be a five year engagement for Frank Clifton who's recorded performing 'wonderful feats on the slack-rope' in Cape Town. By Oct 1860 McCollum's Troupe were in Agra, India, and Mr Clifton was 'performing on the trapeze displaying great talent'. From here reports are sketchy and rare to find, however by Apr 1861 McCollum had erected his circus on the Champs de Mars in Mauritius.

Hiram Franklin, who had left England with Thomas McCollum, decided to split company with him whilst in South Africa and reformed Franklin & Co's Circus, apparently with much success, leaving The Cape on 24 Jul 1862 after a three month stay, sailing for Mauritius, ultimately bound for Calcutta, India, they never made it, apparently lost, Franklin along with his wife and child and all his company were never seen again, Franklin's son Leon was fortunate, escaping his fathers fate having remained ashore. 

Their journey continuing, McCollum had arrived in India and was in Bombay by Jan 1862, whilst there on 24 Nov 1863 the death of Mr George Buckley from Baltimore, USA, who'd been attached to McCollum's Circus was reported. Come Feb 1864 Frank Clifton is mentioned performing along with others, 'Equestrian Feats, Olympique Sports, Acrobatic Wonders & Aerial Flights' with McCollum's on The Maiden, at Calcutta, India, and by Apr 1864 'McCollum's Great American Circus Company' having previously been operating at Maulmein, Burma were at The Straits intending to give some performances there before proceeding to China. In Jan 1865 The New York Clipper's Foreign, Dramatic & Show News reported that Frank Clifton, Equestrian Clown with McCollum's American Circus in India, 'is looked for in England soon, with a Company of 'Native Snake Charmers' and performing 'Flying Foxes'.

In May & Jun 1865 'The Great Frank Clifton' places Classified Advertisements in The Era, 'Gymnastique, Tumbling Clown, Cord Volante, Stilts, Contortion etc., having concluded a most successful six years engagement with McCollum's American Circus and created a sensation in all parts of the globe visiting Cape Town, Mauritius, Bourbon, Ceylon, Bombay, Lucknow, Delhi, Madras, Calcutta, Java, Burmah, Hong Kong & Japan, is at Liberty, write c/o H. Clifton at 42, New Bond Street, London'., and by Sept '65  made his first appearance with Charles Hengler's Grand Cirque at Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorkshire and was hailed a triumphant success, followed by acrobatic performances at Whitebait Concert Hall, Glasgow, executing 'very wonderful feats that fairly eclipse anything ever seen before'.

From the begining of Dec 1865, then under the management of Mr John Henderson (1827-1867) Frank Clifton appeared with Cirque Hippodromes Grand Tourament & Christmas Entertainment at The Royal Agricultural Hall's, London as a Slack-Rope Performer and is first mentioned in The Sportsman, reporting on the Equestrian Company, as a former pupil of Hiram Franklin - interestingly 'Young Franklin', a gymnast, was reported appearing successfully that week at The People's Music-Hall, London. Continuing at the Royal Agricultural Hall's till the end of Jan 1866 Mr Frank Clifton performed exceedingly gracefully on the Cord Volante and as Frankie Clifton, clown. From Feb to Apr 1866 Young Hiram Franklin was performing, 'a smart little fellow' on the Cord Volante with 'The New Circus Company' at the Royal Pavillion Hippodrome & Cirque, Brighton, by then under the direction and management of Mr. John Henderson (Mr. Ginnett's successor).

From Spring 1866 to early 1869, no records have been located but it's presumed Frank Clifton had been touring the Continent and where it's most likely he first met up with his future brothers-in-law, Abe & Mo Daniels, confirmed to some degree in The Era's Classified Ads of Feb 1869, when Frank announced 'Clifton, Clifton, Clifton' the Greatest Corde Volante Performer in the World who has performed in all the great cities throughout the globe, including Cirque Napoleon de l'Imperatrice, Paris now performing at the Alhambra, Holborn, London for upwards of twenty weeks and Crystal Palace, open for a turn for future dates'.

From Aug to Dec 1869 he played at The Oxford Music-Hall, London and with a new persona, 'Raslus' the Roman Gyrist quote "The Great Raslus who made a sensation with his 'Monkey-Sketch' at The Oxford, and proclaimed the only man of his day able to work a somersault from a rocking rope to ground level. Once he fell up to his chest throught he stage floor breaking an arm and a leg, and it was a common sight to see him hobbling around on crutches convalescing from a circus accident, eager to try his luck again" whilst performing there he married Sarah Toledano aka Daniels on 5 Aug 1869.

Newly wed, his performances through 1870 were confined to London, Manchester and other regions of England, notably a return to The Oxford Music-Hall, London and on 9 Apr 1870 whilst appearing at The Cambridge Music-Hall, London, lost his grip on the trapeze and fell crashing down, causing great alarm amongst the audience and a surgeon to be called, luckily he sustained only a bruised thigh and severe shock to the system, recovering enough to return by the 12th. 

*

On 6 Aug 1870 Frank Clifton placed an advertisement in the New York Clipper for a situation 'with a good Minstrel or Circus Troupe',

securing engagements which continued for almost thirty years, travelling back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean, sometimes several times in one year. Appeared with many prominent Circuses, Troupes, Teams & Outfits of the era, touring the length and breadth of the United States, on into Mexico and parts of South America with the likes of Adam Forepaugh, James T Johnson's Circus, Imperial Brazillian Circus, Mayberry, Pullman & Hamilton's Circus, Burke & Co Circus, Orrin Bros, Cross & LeRoy's, teaming with Thomas Clifford (reported to have been his brother), David B Lewis, Sam Ashton, Albert Gaston, Fox, Gloss, Lowanda, and he acted as Business Manager with John McMahon for four years whilst touring in Mexico. 

 

From 1893 and the marriages of his two sons and daughter in England, Frank Clifton ceased roaming and performing in the USA settling in San Francisco whilst continuing to perform back in the British isles, occasionally as Raslus with his Raslus Troupe, including 'The Raslus Troupe of Hawkeye Indians & Raslus, The Flying Man' 1884., Croueste's Circus, Edinburgh 1893, Ching's Circus, Douglas, Isle of Man & F. Ginnett;s Circus, Portsmouth 1895.

 

In 1893 Frank R Clifton began an association with Gustave Walter, Head of the Orpheum Circuit and in August of that year was appointed Manager of The People's Palace Varieties Theatre in San Francisco. 

In 1895 he became Manager of 'The Santa Cruz, Circus Royal, Venetian Water Carnival resigning his position due to his said wife's ill health, was also Leasee of The Eden Musee, a Dime Musuem in San Francisco, and in that year was named in the controversial coss-dressing 'Louisa Mateson' Legal Case.

In Jan 1897 Frank R Clifton sailed aboard the ss. 'Australia' bound for Hawaii to present the Veriscope for the first time there, in an Exhibition held on 26 Jan at The Hawaiin Opera House, Honolulu, leaving aboard the c.a.s.s 'Miowers in late Feb bound for Vancouver & Victoria. 

in that year he was transferred as Manager of The Orpheum, San Francisco to The Orpheum, Sacramento, previously named The Clunie Opera House

Interestingly in 1900 a Monologuist by the name of Frank Riley appeared performing in association with Tony Pastor, with whom he had worked with back in the 1870's.

 

On 9 Mar 1899 the press announced the death of Millie E Clifton 'wife' of Frank R Clifton in San Francisco. Later that year Frank R Clifton became Manager of 'The Cake Walk Carnival', San Francisco. 

At the US Federal Census of Jun 1900 Frank Clifton, a Circus Foreman was living at Market Street, San Francisco, California, declaring himself widowed, born Aug 1842, father born Canada & Mother born Ireland. Within a year Frank Clifton was back England with his wife Sarah and appears on the National Census of 1901 in Birmingham, Warwickshire.

A resident of that City for many years, Frank was a regular at The Oxford Gymnasium, Woodcock Street, Gosta Green, which was considered one of the very best amongst acrobats and gymnasts in all England, and was the rendezvous and practising ground of gymnasts, acrobats, wire-walkers and posturers etc, etc, where on Sunday mornings a number of notable performers used to assemble, for example, 'Ramza & Arno', when at the time nearly all gymnasts, acrobats and circus performers hailed from either Birmingham or Kingston-upon-Hull. 

 

Retired Gymnast Frank Lazarus died on 21 Mar 1904 from carcinoma of the larynx at Fern Cottage, Olton, Solihull, Warwickshire, England and was buried in temporary grave, presumably because family were away touring, whilst a plot was purchased by Mrs Flora Adele Hengerger aka Flora Adelaide Meers, daughter of the Gymnast Hubert William Meers the elder & Susan Carton. Two months later, the family by then assembled, his body was exhumed and reinterred at Yardley Cemetery, Birmingham on 23 May 1904. No evidence is found that ever a memorial was placed there for him and his resting place lies unmarked today, however the name Frank Lazarus is carved into his wife Sarah's gravestone at Witton Cemetery, Birmingham, Warwickshire, England.

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Appearances in the British Isles, Channel Islands, Isle of Mann & Ireland 1857-1895

 

Astley's Royal Amphitheatre, London, 1857.; Wilton's Music Hall, London, 1858; Royal Colosseum, Cardiff, 1858; Connell's Monster Saloon, Dublin, 1858, 1859; Grand Fete & Gala, Bristol & Clifton Zoo, 1858; Royal Colosseum, Liverpool, 1858; Theatre Royal, Plymouth, 1858; Jude's, Dublin, 1859; Colosseum, Belfast, 1859; Whitebait, Glasgow, 1859, 1865; Surrey Music Hall, 1859; Royal Alhambra, London, 1860; Hengler's Grand Cirque, Hull, 1865; Royal Agricultural Hall, London, 1865, 1866; Scotia Music-Hall, Glasow, 1865; People's Music-Hall, London, 1865; Royal Pavilion Hippodrome & Cirque, Brighton, 1866; Bell & Myers's American Circus, Guernsey, 1867; Crystal Palace, London, pre 1869; New Amphitheatre, Holborn, London, 1868; Royal Alhambra Theatre, Holborn, 1869; The Oxford Music Hall, London, 1868, 1869; Royal Amphitheatre, London, 1869; Alexander Music Hall, Manchester, 1870; The Marylebone Music Hall, London, 1870; Royal Cambridge Music Hall, London, 1870; The Fete, Basford Park, 1870; South of England Music Hall, Portsmouth, 1870; AMC Fete & Gala, Chesterfield, 1870; Chatsworth Fete, Derbyshire, 1870; Cirencester Oddfellows, 1870; Banburt Oddfellows, 1870; Spalding Gala, 1870; Sinclaire & Croueste's Grand Circus, London, 1870, 1871;Gordon Music-Hall, Southampton, 1870; New Adelphi Music Hall, Liverpool, 1870; McCollum's Royal Circus, Exeter, 1871; McCollum's Royal Circus, Bristol, 1871, 1872; Mechanic's Music Hall, Hull, 1872; Pullan's Music Hall, Bradford, 1872, 1873; Alhambra Music Hall, South Shields, 1872; Victoria Theatre Royal, West Hartlepool, 1873; Alhambra Music Hall, Sheffield, 1873; Royal Botanical Gardens, Belfast, 1874; Dundee Music Hall, 1874; Royal Pavilion Music Hall, Sheffield, 1875; Peele Park Gala, Bradford, 1876; Chester Music Hall, 1876; People's Music-Hall, Dublin, Ire, 1880; North Lodge Grounds Gala, Darlington, 1880; The Circus Company & Poole Troupe, South Shields, 1881; Clay Cross Floral & Horticultural Fete, Chesterfield, 1882; F. Ginnett's Circus, Portsmouth, 1884; Rotunda Theatre, Liverpool, 1886; Day Concert Hall, Liverpool, 1886; Grand Circus, Leamington, 1889; Elphinstone's Circus, Birkenhead, 1891; Bostock & Wombwell's Monster United Shows, Scotland, 1892; William Tudor's Circus, Blyth, Scotland, 1892; Perry's Circus, Barrow-in-Furness, 1893; Cheltenham Winter Gardens, 1893; Croueste's Circus, Edinburgh, 1893; Ohmy's Grand Circus, Douglas, Isle of Mann, 1893, 1894, 1895, 1899; Shepherds Fete, Wrexham, Wales, 1895; Grand Floral Fete, Wolverhampton, 1895. 

 

Appearances in the USA, Canada & Worldwide 1859-1891

 

McCollum's American Circus, S.A, India, Asia, Far East; 1859-1865; Cirque Napoleon de I'Imepratrice, pre 1869; Ciro de Price, Madrid, 1871; Amory Bruce & Co, 1871; James T. Johnson's Circus, USA, 1872; Imperial Brazillian Circus Hippodrome, USA, 1873; Langrishe & Glenn's Black Crook Company, Sacramento, 1874; Tony Pastor's Travelling Combination, USA, 1876; Maguire's New Theatre, 1874; Montgomery Queen's Circus & Menagerie, Sacramento, USA, 1875; Wilson's Palace Amphitheatre, California, 1875; Chiarini's Circus, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1876; International Music Hall, Philadelphia, 1877; Theatre Comique, Broadway, NY, 1877; Tony Denier's Pantomime Troupe, 1878, 1879, 1881, 1882, 1887; The New Theatre, Chicargo, 1879; Strickney's Imperial Circus & Menagerie, Pittseburg, PA, 1880; Dr. Jas. D. Thayer's Great Show & United Aggregation, 1880; Buckingham Theatre, Louisville, Ky, 1881; Nick Roberts' European Specialities Combination, 1881, 1882; Mayberry, Pullman & Hamilton's Circus, USA, 1882; Gorman's Pavilion, USA, 1882; Cole's Circus, 1882, 1887; Orrin Bros & Co Circus, Mexico, 1882; Burke & Co Circus, USA, 1884, 1885; Cross & LeRoy's Trans-Atlantic United Monster Railroad Show, Southern Tour, 1884; McMahon & Clifton Circus, Mexico, 1885; King, Burke & Co, 1885;  Frank Clifton & David B. Lewis, USA, Belize, Honduras, 1885; Lowanda & Clifton's Speciality Co, USA, 1886, 1887; Clifton & Fox, 1887; King & Franklin Monster Show, Chicargo, 1888; J. J. Sullivan's Black Thorn Co, New York, 1888; The Lyceum Theatre Comique, Minnesota, USA, 1890; McMahon International Hippodrome Circus & Menagerie, 1891.

 

 

     Business Partnerships, Managerial Positions & Employment in USA

 

Cross & Le Roys Trans Atlantic United Monster Railroad, Aviary & Wonders Show, Equestrian Director, 1884;

McMahon & Clifton's North American Circus, (Prop. John S. McMahon & Frank R Clifton)1885;

Leased a Refreshment Saloon from Signor Faranta, 1885;

Southern Pacific Railroad, Bill Clerk, 1887;

J. J. Sullivan's 'Black Thorn Co', Business Agent, 1888;

McMahon International Hippodrome Circus & Menagerie, Press Agent, 1891;

People's Palace Varieties Theatre, San Francisco; 1893

Eden Musee, Market Street, San Francisco, Manager; 1894

San Francisco's Great Music-Hall, The Orpheum; 1894

Grove Street Theatre, San Francisco; 1894

The Orpheum, Sacramento, California, Assistant Director, 1894;

Santa Cruz Circus Royal & Ventian Water Carnival, 1895;

Vitascope Presentation, Honolulu, Hawaai, Pacific Representative for Dan A. Stuart of Veriscope Company, 1897;

Clunie Opera House, Sacramento, Manager, 1897;

The Orpheum, Sacramento, Lessee & Manager, 1898;

The Co-Operative Shoe Company, Sacramento, Agent, 1899;

 

 

Law Suites in USA

Mrs Emma Moulton, Champion Club Swinger & Frank Clifton Elopement, 1879;

Louisa Mateson Case, 1895;

Ginsberg Suite, Sam Ginsberg v Frank Clifton, 1899.

 

Sources

Birmingham Historical Forum, Circus Historical Society, Circus World Museum, Baraboo, WI, USA.,

Olympians of the Sawdust Circle, CHS, British Music-Hall Society, The National Archives, GOV.UK,

British Newspaper Archive, Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection, Bandwagon Archives, The Era Archives,

The Stage Archives, New York Clipper Archives, New York Public Library, California Digital Newspaper Collection, 

The Circus Collection, Harry Ransom Centre, University of Texas, Austin, USA

Trove Archive, National Library of Australia. State Historical Newspaper Collection, USA,

The Times, India, NewspaperSG SingaporeGov.

 

Bibliographical Sources

Signor Faranta's Iron Theatre.,  by Boyd Cruise & Merle Harton.

Comedians of the Frontier: The Life of Actor/Manager Jack Langrishe, 1825-1895.,  by Margeret McCutcheon, Charles E. Lauterbach.

Love Lessons from the Old West: Wisdom from Wise Women.,  by Chris Enss.

The Acrobat: Arthur Barnes and the Victorian Circus.,  by John Stewart.

An Age of Equipoise?, Reassessing Mid-Victorian Britain, edited by Martin Hewitt.

The Rise of the American Circus, 1716-1899.,  by S. L. Kotar, J. E. Gessler.

A Complete History of the Amphitheatre & Circus from It's Earliest Date to 1861.,  by T. Allston via Circus History World.

Theatre West: Images and Impact., edited by Dunbar H. Ogden, Douglas McDermott, Robert Karoly Sarlos.

Bat Masterson's Emma., by Chris Penn

Arresting Dress: Cross Dressing, Law and Fascination in Nineteenth Century San Francisco., by Clare Sears, 2015

The Bloomington-Normal Circus Legacy: The Golden Age of Aerialists., by Maureen Brunsdale, Mark Schmitt

 

Acknowledgments for Contributions 

 

The late John Turner of The Circus Fairground Association & National Fairground & Circus Archive, University of Sheffield.

The late Edward Richard (Ricky) Kinane, Martin Price of Knoll Research, London, UK, Mrs Angela Goldman Heiss, The late Christopher Stone, The late Bob Monkhouse, OBE, The late Roy Hudd, OBE

The late Mr Kenny Cantor

.