Dedicated to the History of Maine and the People and Places That Preserve It

Frank Carlos Griffith – Dixfield’s
Manager of Theatrical Stars

By Peter Stowell
Frank Carlos Griffith was a true Dixfield boy, born into one of the town’s earliest families and descended from one of the areas most noted Revolutionary War soldiers, Lt. John Stockbridge, a former Dixfield resident. Hismother was Azuba Stockbridge Griffith and his father was Amos Griffith. Amos Griffith was a violin player and furnished most of the music for the town in the mid-nineteenth century.

Born in Dixfield Village on December 30, 1851, Frank received his early schooling in the Village’s little red schoolhouse and early longed for the stage. Little did he know then that this interest would lead him to meet many great people of the world, including King Edward VII of England, the Princess of Wales, later to be Queen Alexandra of Denmark, and the Duke of York, later to be King George V of England.

As a child he went barefoot in summer, fished the local brooks, and did the family chores all children of the day were expected to do. With the advent of the Civil War, Griffith moved to Augusta with his family where his father made sleighs and carriages, a trade he had practiced in Dixfield as well. Later the Griffiths moved to Boston where Frank Carlos received the balance of his education.

As a young man there, he pulled the strings of a cousin to meet R. M. Field, the manager of the old Boston Museum where he was hired for the magnificent sum of $3 a week. He took an abbreviated form of his given name as a stage name, Frank Carlos.

Frank Carlos Griffith

He made his professional stage debut on August 21, 1871 as Twitch, the bailiff in the play Wild Oats. He was so excited he forgot towear the shoulder pads necessary to protect himself in a scene in which he received a caning from the play’s hero, played by William Barron. He went through with it anyway and received the requisite beating. When asked why he didn’t make his vulnerability known to Barron, he replied, “I didn’t want to spoil the scene.” Previous to this experience he had played as an amateur in the dramatic company called the Mercantile Library Association on Summer Street in Boston.

Soon after Wild Oats, his salary was doubled to $6 per week and he received better parts, all the time learning his craft and the organizational skills that went with it. He appeared with some of the foremost stage actors of the day, including John McCullough, Lawrence Barrett, and Dion Boucicault. These experiences led to him assuming the aspects of the executive side of the business.

Later he took over the entire operation of the railroad tour of the Company. He showed love of the railroads as well as a talent for details and after five years of acting, he signed on as a manager with the Southern Maryland Railroad. But the lure of the stage was too much for him, and in 1882 he once again assumed his duties as the road manager for the Boston Museum Company. Continuing in this position for six years, he had charge of such plays as The Silver King, and A Run of Luck.

At that time the famous English actress Lily Langtry, nicknamed the “Jersey Lily,” was on a tour of the United States and sent for Frank to come to New York to discuss with him the possibility of becoming her road manger. She reached him in Camden, New Jersey where he was in charge of a major production. He said later that “You can believe that I went fast, for she was at the height of her fame and this would be a big step up for me.”

Poland Spring Resort head librarian Frank Carlos Griffith and Janette (Nettie) Ricker in the library at the Maine State Building at Poland Spring. Griffith also was editor of the “Hill-Top,” the newspaper of the Poland Spring Resort. The Ricker family owned and operated the facility. Nettie Ricker ran the art gallery in the Maine State Building. Courtesy of the Poland Spring Preservation Society.
Griffith met her at her home on West 23rd Street where he found Lily Langtry as gracious and beautiful as he had imagined. The proper arrangements were made and Griffith was on with the next adventure in his career.

Mrs. Langtry began a tour of the west that year with Griffith as her manager. She starred in As a Looking Glass. In the winter she returned to New York City to perform in MacBeth. Hired at $60 a week, Griffith soon found his salary increased to $100 without even requesting it. Obviously, Lily Langtry liked the way this Dixfield native went about his work. When her tour was over, Lily was so impressed with his capabilities that she asked him to return to England with her as manager in her native country, an unusual step for an English actress to take. She asked him to book her for a 16-week tour to include both London and rural areas as well. Griffith couldn’t leave immediately and had no experience in English theater, a fact he concealed from her. Nonetheless, he booked the tour, all the while remaining in America, working out all the details by cable.

Later he crossed the Atlantic for the first time to attend to the final details in England and to transport Lily’s famous collection of jewels, turquoise, and strings of pearls, black, white, and pink. This task made him quite nervous as their value was immense. He was suspicious of all his fellow passengers, including John D. Rockefeller, whom he met on board. Frank thoroughly enjoyed his tour of Great Britain and was able to visit Edinburgh Castle in Scotland where he briefly sat on the throne of the King of England. Whenever Lily was performing at the St. James Theater in London, royalty were in attendance at certain times. Frank had the privilege of greeting them personally and escorting them to the head of the staircase that took them to the royal box above.

Frank managed Lily Langtry for three years until she contracted a lingering illness in 1891, forcing her from the stage. He returned to the United States and for a short time became the manager for the tempestuous actress Margaret Mather. This obligation was shortlived, however, and in 1893 Griffith became the manager of Minnie Maddern who later became known as

Minnie Maddern Fiske, or simply Mrs. Fiske.

This job proved to be the longest of Griffith’s career, lasting until he retired at age 65 in 1916. Having quit the stage upon her marriage to Mr. Fiske, Minnie resumed her career in what she called her “second reincarnation.” She was an actress of considerable distinction, appearing in dozens of plays across the nation over her long, illustrious career.

Mrs. Fiske insisted on an absolutely quiet theater, no squeaky floors, rapping steam pipes, especially no noisy children. This meant that Frank often spent a considerable amount of time with theater management assuring that food, such as peanuts were absolutely forbidden in the audience. She seemingly could hear these sounds from a mile away, making Frank’s task more difficult in keeping the offending items away from many distinguished patrons who had paid handsomely for the privilege of seeing the acclaimed actress perform. Small children especially presented her with distress, and it was Griffith’s job to banish them from the audience.

Lily Langtry. Courtesy of Langtry Estate & Vineyards.

Lily Langtry. Courtesy of Langtry Estate & Vineyards.
As for babies, “I sometimes thought she felt their presence, for I have gotten notes from the stage — goodness knows when she got the time to write them — to the effect that there was certainly a baby in the house,” Griffith has said. “She thought two or three rows from the front in the left hand section of the balcony. She was never mistaken.”

Always drawn to his native State of Maine, Griffith assumed the position of librarian at the Poland Spring Resort during summers off from managing. He increased his involvement there after his retirement, concentrating on building up the quality of the library alongside Nettie Ricker, whose family owned the resort. His workplace was the former Maine State Building which had been built for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Frank worked diligently to honor the significance of this building and in time, assembled a library for Poland Springs patrons of over 14,000 volumes.

“I was the librarian there and built up the library from 175 volumes to what has been called the largest hotel library in the world.” He also was in charge of the artifacts and the paintings in the library, assisted in the process by Miss Ricker.

While managing Lily Langtry, Griffith came in contact with many royal British personalities. “The Prince of Wales was often accompanied by the Princess of Wales,” said Griffith.

"He always paid more than the scheduled rate. Behind the two royal boxes at the St. James Theater the Prince had his own private lounge where he and the gentlemen with him smoked. We supplied this room with the very best Scotch whisky — only Scotch — and the finest cigars. The prince always went behind the scenes to see Mrs. Langtry and other members of the company." Rumors had long circulated that the Prince and the actress were having an affair. “Oh, yes, I know the stories about Mrs. Langtry and the Prince, but I never saw anything but the greatest dignity and good taste in their conduct.” Griffith was married to the former Catherine Lee, noted in her own right as the author of the Mary Catherine stories, autobiographical vignettes written for young schoolage girls.

In the early 1930s, Griffith suffered a stroke and gave up his librarian duties at Poland Spring. In addition to all his other accomplishments, Frank Carlos was also a playwright and an author, bringing The Golden Butterfly to the stage and writing The Man for Maine, and Mrs. Fiske, the latter an autobiographical account of his work with the actress. Mr. Griffith died in Middleboro, Massachusetts on May 8, 1939 at age 87. He was a man of distinction and accomplishment, and he was a native of Dixfield. He is buried in the Greenwood Cemetery alongside his beloved wife Catherine Lee.

Lily Langtry. Courtesy of Langtry Estate & Vineyards.