Frank Fontaine

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Frank Fontaine
Frank Fontaine 1971
Fontaine in 1971.
Born(1920-04-19)April 19, 1920
DiedAugust 4, 1978(1978-08-04) (aged 58)
OccupationComedian, vocalist, actor
Years active1948–1975
Spouse(s)
Alma Clair Wakeham
(m. 1937; his death 1978)
[1]
Children11[2]

Frank Fontaine (April 19, 1920 – August 4, 1978) was an American stage, radio, film and television comedian, singer and actor.

Early years and personal life[edit]

Born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fontaine came from a family of entertainers. His father, Ray Fontaine, of French-Canadian descent was a popular vocalist, whose career in Canada resulted in his being compared to Bing Crosby.[3] His mother, Anna McCarthy, of Irish and Scottish descent, performed as a dancer, and he had a brother who also became a singer. Fontaine left school and married at age sixteen. Two days before his 17th birthday, he married his childhood sweetheart Alma Clair Wakeham and moved to Medford. He went right to work as an all‐purpose singer‐dancer‐comedian in Boston area supper clubs. After Pearl Harbor he spent three years in the Army.[4][5]

He had a reputation as a family man, known for being devoted to his wife and children. He would rearrange his schedule so that he was never away from them for too long.[6] In addition, he was well known for the size of his family: he and his wife Alma had two daughters and nine sons.[7]

Career[edit]

Fontaine is best known for his appearances on television shows of the 1950s and 1960s, including The Jack Benny Program, The Jackie Gleason Show, The Tonight Show, and The Ed Sullivan Show. One of his earliest appearances was on the radio version of The Jack Benny Program.

During an episode which aired on April 9, 1950, Fontaine played a bum (named "John L.C. Silvoney") who asked Benny for a dime for a cup of coffee. The smallest coin Benny had to offer was a fifty-cent piece, so he gave it to him. The story Benny told about this event became a running gag during later shows. Fontaine's goof ball laugh and other voice mannerisms made a hit with the audience, and Benny brought him back for several more radio shows between 1950-52. He also later appeared on four of Jack Benny's television shows between 1951-61.

On The Jackie Gleason Show, he played the always-inebriated character "Crazy Guggenheim" during Gleason's "Joe the Bartender" skits. His trademark was a bug-eyed grin and the same silly laugh he had done on Jack Benny's radio show. At the end of his Guggenheim sketch, he would usually sing a song, demonstrating a surprisingly strong baritone voice.[8]

In 1963, he released an album Songs I Sing on The Jackie Gleason Show, with a collection of some of those songs, which reached number one on Billboard magazine's Top LP's chart in 1963. Actor Lennie Weinrib imitated the "Crazy Guggenheim" character on The Dick Van Dyke Show episode "The Sam Pomerantz Scandals". He also was the voice of Rocky the Rhino in Walt Disney's The Jungle Book until Disney cut the creature from the picture. Fontaine was a lifelong non-drinker in his private life.[citation needed]

Legacy[edit]

Stan Freberg's voice characterization for Pete Puma, a would-be nemesis for Bugs Bunny in the 1952 cartoon short Rabbit's Kin, was based on Fontaine's character voice, along with Daws Butler's voice for Sam the Cat in the Sylvester cartoons Trick or Tweet in 1958 and Mouse and Garden in 1960 and Barney Gumble from The Simpsons.[9]

Fontaine received mention in satirist Tom Lehrer's 1965 song "National Brotherhood Week", from the album That Was the Year That Was.[citation needed] In the live show, Lehrer mentioned National Make-Fun-of-the-Handicapped Week, "Which Frank Fontaine and Jerry Lewis are in charge of, as you know". He was credited in Bobby Rydell and Chubby Checker's song "Jingle Bells Imitations", which was the flipside of their Jingle Bell Rock record.[citation needed]

Death[edit]

Fontaine died of a heart attack on August 4, 1978 in Spokane, Washington. He had just completed a live stage benefit show, having accepted a check for $25,000 which he planned to donate for heart research, when he collapsed and died.

He was interred at Oak Grove Cemetery in Medford, Massachusetts, near his last residence in Winchester, Massachusetts, a substantial house on Highland Avenue, now the home of Winchester Community Music School.[10]

Filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1950 Nancy Goes to Rio Masher
1950 Stella Don
1950 Hit Parade of 1951 John L.O. 'Bingo' Sevony
1951 Call Me Mister Sergeant
1951 Here Comes the Groom Crazy Gugenheim Uncredited
1951 The Model and the Marriage Broker Mr. Hjalmer Johannson
1953 Scared Stiff Drunk on Pier Uncredited
1975 The Godmothers Don Palermo (final film role)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Fowle, Farnsworth. "FRANK FONTAINE, 58, DIES AFTER BENEFIT".
  2. ^ "Lakeland Ledger - Google News Archive Search". news.google.com.
  3. ^ Bob Thomas. "A Cinderella of the Films", (Little Rock) Arkansas Democrat, May 23, 1950, pg. 16.
  4. ^ Yowp (30 November 2016). "Tralfaz: The Not-So-Crazy Frank Fontaine".
  5. ^ Aline Mosby. "Stork is Foe of Divorce, Says Hub's Papa Fontaine", Boston Traveler, May 21, 1951, pp. 1, 5.
  6. ^ "Frank Fontaine: Family Man in Big, Loving Way", Little Rock Arkansas Democrat, March 10, 1963, pg. TV-11.
  7. ^ "Comic Frank Fontaine Dies After Performance." Lexington (KY) Herald, August 6, 1978, pg. 32.
  8. ^ Billboard, February 9, 1963, page 1.
  9. ^ Rhodes, Joe (2000-10-21). "Flash! 24 Simpsons Stars Reveal Themselves". TV Guide.
  10. ^ aspegman@wickedlocal.com, AbSpegman. "Winchester music school marks building's centennial".

External links[edit]