Written by Meghan Gattignolo, Visitor Services Coordinator
Many actors will say that if they must leave this world, let it be on stage. Frank Sutton nearly did, meeting his end right before a live stage performance in 1974 at the Beverly Barn Dinner Theatre in Shreveport, Louisiana. The audience left the venue in shock and sadness after they were told of Sutton’s death and that they would have to cancel the night’s show.
Although Frank Sutton called Los Angeles and New York City home for much of his adult life, he was born in a little house on Second Street in Downtown Clarksville on October 23, 1923 – within a two-minute walk from the Museum, in fact. Frank Spencer Sutton grew up embedded within the community, his parents were both employed at The Leaf-Chronicle. Frank knew early that he was interested in acting, performing on stage as a young child and then while attending East Nashville High School. His first job was also in Clarksville – between graduating high school in 1941 and serving in the Army during World War II – as a radio personality.
Frank Sutton playing Sgt. Vince Carter
Photo from Visit Clarksville
Frank Sutton would go on to be famous as Sgt. Vince Carter on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., a spin-off of the beloved Andy Griffith Show. Starting in 1950, Sutton picked up several bit character roles in a variety of television shows – including an episode of The Twilight Zone entitled “The Dummy” – before landing his most iconic role. The show aired on CBS for five seasons from 1964 to 1969 and securely planted Sutton into the American television cultural landscape. Frank acted in many shows, movies and stage performances post-Gomer Pyle, but the world remembers him best as Sgt. Carter.
In the following years, Frank Sutton interspersed television acting with the stage – his first love. On the evening of his untimely death, Sutton was weeks into a run of an off-Broadway show entitled Luv! at the now-extinct Beverly Barn Dinner Theatre, which catered to the dinner and live show entertainment scene popular in the 1970s. The venue was also famous for touting well-known TV stars performing with regional actors. On June 28, 1974, Sutton prepared for that night’s production but passed away from a sudden heart attack in his dressing room. Luv! ended its run at the Barn with Sutton’s death. He was 50 years old.
As his most famous character, Sutton has been memorialized in statue-form on Franklin Street, just across from the Roxy Regional Theatre. Join the local community and share a selfie with Sutton on Facebook and Instagram and tag the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center. We love to see everyone interacting with local history!
Frank Sutton’s statue in Downtown Clarksville
Join us on the Historic Greenwood Cemetery Tour Saturday mornings in October, where we discuss Frank Sutton among other notable Clarksville residents whose final resting places are found in Greenwood Cemetery. Purchase tickets on our website or in Seasons: The Museum Store while they last. Space is limited. Masks are highly recommended for the cemetery tour and required to gain entry to Artifact Stories, an add-on exposition of artifacts related to the tour with Curator of Collections Anna Woten at the Museum. Email Meghan Gattignolo at email@example.com or call (931) 648-5780 ext. 2021 with any questions.
Meghan Gattignolo is the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center’s Visitor Services Coordinator and regularly contributes articles to the Museum’s blog. From a military family, Meghan has spent most of her life in Clarksville. She loves learning about Clarksville’s history and writing. Meghan holds a B.A. in History from Austin Peay State University, with minors in German and Political Science. She lives in Clarksville with her husband and two daughters.
Becky Wood, Technical Writer, edits each blog post. Maegan Collins, Media & Communications Coordinator, prepares photographs and visual images as well as prepares the blog posts for the web.