Fontaine in 1971.
April 19, 1920|
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||August 4, 1978
Spokane, Washington, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Alma Clair Waltham (1937-?) (11 children)|
Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 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 goofy laugh and other voice mannerisms made a hit with the audience, and Benny brought him back for several more radio shows between 1950 and 1952. He also later appeared in several of Benny's television shows.
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 good singing voice. 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.
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, as was Daws Butler's voice for Sam the Cat in the Sylvester cartoons Trick or Tweet in 1958 and Mouse and Garden in 1960. Fontaine received mention in satirist Tom Lehrer's 1965 song "National Brotherhood Week", from the album That Was the Year That Was. 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 also was the voice of Rocky the Rhino in Walt Disney's The Jungle Book until Disney cut the creature from the picture. He was also credited in Bobby Rydell and Chubby Checker's song "Jingle Bells Imitations", which was the flipside of their Jingle Bell Rock record.
Fontaine died of a major heart attack on August 4, 1978 in Spokane, Washington. He had just completed a live stage benefit show, had accepted a check for $25,000, which he planned to later donate for heart research, when he collapsed and died. He was married and had 11 children.
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.
- Scared Stiff (1953)
- The Model and the Marriage Broker (1951)
- Here Comes the Groom (1951)
- Call Me Mister (1951)
- Hit Parade of 1951 (1950)
- Stella (1950)
- Nancy Goes to Rio (1950)
- Billboard, February 9, 1963, p. 1.