Frank Clark (Francarro)
Much of this biography is a collaborative effort of Frank and Ruthie Clark.
Born in Chicago, Illinois on Oct. 15, 1929, the oldest child of Gertrude (Hutton) Clark and Frank Clark Sr. They had one other son, William Hutton Clark, born Oct. 11, 1934.
Frank’s High School years were spent at St. John’s Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin. He then attended the University of Illinois, and later enlisted in the Army. After discharge he enlisted in the Army Reserve. A year or so later, Frank was called up from the Reserves, and sent to Korea for 13 months during that conflict.
Frank Sr. hoped that Frank would follow in his footsteps and become a Metallurgical Engineer, like he was. But Frank became more and more drawn to the world of performing and the Circus Arts in particular. Not having the advantage of being born into this world, he had to be determined to find a way to learn all he could on his own and from others who would help him to learn.
He started attending a school to learn gymnastics, tumbling, dance, in particular, adagio with a partner. Excelling at all of these, landed him his first job in Show Business. Performing with a Dance Group in a stage production, which included other Variety acts or performers, that toured all the major cities of Canada and USA during the summer of 1952. During this time, he met other performers, and learned whatever he could from them asking multitudes of questions, and always being eager to help out in any way possible, so as to learn.
Seeing this young, handsome, athletic and enthusiastic fellow, prompted the “Noble Trio” to offer him work in their act, since one of the members of this Trio was leaving. “Noble Trio” was a “Parallel Bar” act, and Frank easily learned the work necessary to become the third part of this trio, with the addition of doing the “comedy” in the act.
Frank performed with “Noble Trio” for eleven years. During this time, he decided that “Head Balancing on a Trapeze” was what he wanted to do! Well, a more difficult act than this would be hard to find. But, Frank was determined to excel at this, and he did! Frank says, "The first “Head-Balancing” trapeze act that really impressed me, was done by Mario Gaona. He climbed up to the rigging hand-over-hand. Did a perfect one-arm plange, stood on his head on the trapeze while it was swinging! Wow! I thought to myself, THAT is really something! The more I thought of it, the more I wanted to do that kind of work!" And, so the decision was made!
For seven years of the eleven he was with the parallel-bar act Noble Trio, he practiced Head-balancing, learning to stand on his head on a trapeze! On his own time, he designed and built his own rigging, transporting it from town to town. Putting it up to practice before, after, or in between performances with the Noble Trio.
Trial and error for seven years, practice, practice and more practice with more determination and finally, one day the boss of Noble Trio said to Frank, "I think you are ready to do a performance, I will get a booking for you!"
Frank’s first performance with this new Act of his, was on a Chicago TV Show called “Bozo's Circus” in 1963, and all went well!
Then the next was a big indoor Circus in Atlanta, Georgia. (Watch video)
Frank says: "My goodness, the rigging looked so HIGH! The spotlights! Such a huge audience! All the other performers watching to see my new act! Talk about nervous!! All I could think of was, get up on the rigging and START! So I literally RAN into the ring, climbed up, stood on my head and I could feel my legs shaking! But, I finished the act and everybody was clapping! Glad that one is over, the rest will all be easier!" Photos of act.
By this time Frank and Ruthie (Engford) were dating and becoming more and more fond of each other. In show-business, unless you are booked on the same shows together, time apart due to different contracts, is something that tests a relationship. Well, Frank was offered the most wonderful opportunity! A season (nearly a year) on Billy Smart Circus in England! This was a wonderful thing to happen for him. All those years of practice were worth it! So, of course, he went!
Him, his rigging, costumes he had designed and decorated himself, on the ship “USS United States” from New York to Southampton, England! What an adventure!
This season of 1964 went by. April, May, June, July, Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., the season ending on an extremely high note because of all the flurry surrounding the “Royal Show” in Blackheath, a City Park inside London. A special performance with Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon in attendance!
Then, the following Spring (1965) Frank began another season on Billy Smart Circus. Couldn’t get much better than this! That season, too went by and that next winter too, was spent in Paris. What fun. Doing something he loved doing, and more and more bookings coming his way as he became known in Europe for this fine act, “Francarro” Head-balancing trapeze or as it is called in Europe, “Trapeze Washington”.
Frank Clark, better known as Francarro, was a circus performer well known in Europe. His trapeze act was featured on "Billy Smarts' Circus" TV program in England and performed throughout Europe in the mid-1960's. (Watch videos)
But, a personal life is important too and as letters from Ruthie became more infrequent, personal life became more important. So, in February of 1966, he left all the enticing work offers behind, and flew back to America!! To pursue Ruthie, and his belief that their lives and careers be together.
Frank says: “I learned later that Ruthie had seen Bill and Trudy Strong perform their aerial act “The Pharaohs”. She was not only impressed with the artistic elements of their performance, but, the gorgeous entrance they made in beautiful, jeweled, full-length capes! Wow!! At once, she engaged Mayme Ward, a retired aerialist, and the Head of Wardrobe for Circus World Museum and the Great Milwaukee Circus Parade to create a duplicate set of these great capes, just “in case” she and I would someday do an aerial act together! Well you know the REST of THAT story!”
Ruthie and I performed our first aerial act together, underneath a flying helicopter (photos). This we did all across Canada in that summer of 1966. Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton and then London, Ontario where on Sept. 17, 1966, we were married underneath this flying helicopter! (photos)
For 35 years Frank and Ruthie performed together their aerial perch act “Frank & Estreleta”; Frank Clark performed this head-balancing trapeze act continuously from 1963 until 1980, at which time he replaced it with a foot juggling act “The Francarros”, and finally the comedy cannon act “The Brigadier”. They retired in 2000.
After retiring from this way of life that they both loved, Frank and Ruthie started working “behind the scenes” in the very different yet similar in its devoted participants world of Opera, Stage Plays and Musicals in Sarasota, Florida. A very logical transition from actually performing, to being a support to these performers. Understanding the “opening night nerves” and the demands of endless hours of practice and rehearsal needed to attain superior execution of these arts. Frank and Ruthie are still working in this “backstage” arena, and grateful to be involved in the world of entertainment in this manner.