To the last, Clayton McGran was giving of himself to help the theatre community he loved. In the weeks before making an unexpected trip to Houston for emergency heart surgery, the actor and indefatigable supporter of the stage fired off a letter to the members of the Austin Circle of Theatres (ACoT) asking them to make a donation to the umbrella before the end of the year. As the letter was making its way to those members' mailboxes last week, McGran was on the operating table at Houston's Methodist Hospital. It was there that he died, Wednesday, January 13. McGran came to Austin late in his life, after distinguished service in the Air Force during World War II and a full career in dentistry in his home state of Connecticut, but given the way he threw himself so totally into the life of Austin's theatre community, you'd never know he spent time anywhere but here. He jumped onstage at every opportunity, taking roles in such productions as Different Stages' 1992 staging of Johnny on a Spot (for which he was voted the B. Iden Payne Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Comedy), the Sam Bass Theatre Association's 1993 revival of Light Up the Sky, and Ken Johnson Productions' 1996 world premiere of Jesse's Closet, for which he received a Payne Award nomination in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama category. In 1993, he fearlessly took part in the very first FronteraFest, performing a self-penned monologue titled My Son, John. And he took an aggressive role in ACoT's activities, joining the board in 1994 and serving until failing health forced him to curtail his involvement. However, as soon as he felt up to it, he jumped back in with both feet, attending meetings and prodding his fellow directors to do their share for the organization. His share routinely involved writing fundraising letters, appealing to members, potential members, physicians, dentists, whoever -- to lend their help. His solicitations were always good for an extra thousand dollars or two in support, and no doubt the most recent missive will do the same, if not better. Without question, McGran will be remembered for his vigorous performances and his invaluable involvement with ACoT, but it's safe to say that the thing for which he may be best remembered -- the quality that made him a beloved figure on the theatre scene -- was his good humor, a mischievous wit that rarely failed to generate a chuckle or good will. A favorite stunt of McGran's was to wait in the theatre lobby after he'd seen a performance and as the cast filtered out from the dressing room, he'd circulate from actor to actor, pulling each one aside as if he had some deep secret to impart, then he'd whisper conspiratorially, "Really, you were the best." And he'd maintain such a deadpan insistence about it that it would crack you up. At least, it always affected me that way. In fact, the last note I received from the man was a thank-you message he sent to the Chronicle after the 1997 Payne Awards ceremony which said simply, "Re: the Payne Awards Evening -- You were the best!" McGran was the kind of man who believed in thank-you notes. In the minutes of a 1995 ACoT Board meeting, then-secretary Roxy Becker noted, "Clayton reminded us of the importance of letting people know that we appreciate their contributions." Turnabout is fair play: Clayton, wherever you are, we appreciate all you gave us. Rest in peace.
A service for the late actor was held Monday, January 18 at St. Theresa Catholic Church. His friends at ACoT are developing a memorial fund in his honor. For information, call 499-8388.