Have you ever seen the mural in downtown Springfield and asked, “who is that?” Maybe you’ve seen the same man pictured in those larger than life vaudeville posters on display at the Clark County Historical Society, or those for sale at Heart of Ohio Antique Center. You might be surprised to know that 100 years ago he was one of Springfield’s most famous residents.
Born in Toledo, Ohio in 1868, not much is known about Gustave Ferdinand Klotz’s early life. By 1889 he had assumed the stage name “Gus Sun” and was working as a juggler for the Summerville and Lee Circus of Chicago, IL. Carefully studying all aspects of the circus, it was during this time that Sun developed his show business acumen. By 1898 Sun had disbanded from the circus and was touring with his own group, the newly formed Gus Sun American Minstrels.
Sun took a liking to Springfield, Ohio during a stopover for his minstrel show. The city’s booming industry, large population, ideal location and the near lack of entertainment options were all Sun need to know this would be the perfect spot to begin his own show business empire. He moved to Springfield in 1904 and by 1906 had formed his own vaudeville booking agency. In 1908 he purchased property and built the first theatre to bear his name, The New Sun Theatre.
Never settling and wishing to expand his showbiz empire in Springfield, Sun decided to build a grand theatre which could not only feature live acts, but the latest craze: the motion picture. He would see his dream come true with The Regent Theatre, which would feature one stage and two tiers of seating. Opening August 16, 1920, that night’s visitors were treated to a live show before a screening of Yes or No starring silent movie star Norma Talmadge. With thanks to its dual stage and screen, the Regent would prove one of Springfield’s most popular theatres for decades. Its second floor would also become home to Gus Sun Booking Agency’s main office.
While Gus Sun Booking Agency was largely considered the bottom rung on the Vaudeville circuit, its popularity was undeniable. Sun was responsible for giving Hollywood legends such as Bob Hope, Mae West and Will Rogers their start in his shows. He created the “split week,” which saw an act spend the first half of the week in one city, the second half in another; allowing his patrons more variety. Sun made such an impact on the entertainment world that in 1947 Warner Brothers was in talks to make a movie based upon his to life.
Sun passed away in 1959 and was interred at Ferncliff Cemetery. Fifty years later, local artist Jason Morgan memorialized Sun with the 6,000 square foot mural on the back of the Regent Theatre. Springfield’s own Turner Foundation continues to renovate The Regent, recently placing a new roof and renovating the front. When visiting the Regent or viewing those magnificent posters, you have to stop and wonder who might have performed on that stage, who that poster might have helped get their “big break.” Sun might have operated in Springfield, but his influence went much further.