Fontaine in 1971.
April 19, 1920|
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||August 4, 1978
Binghamton, New York, U.S.
|Occupation||Comedian, vocalist, actor|
|Spouse(s)||Alma Clair Waltham (m. 1937; his death 1978)|
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
Born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fontaine came from a family of entertainers. His father Ray was a popular vocalist, whose career in Canada resulted in his being compared to Bing Crosby. His mother performed as a dancer, and he had a brother who also became a singer. Frank Fontaine left school and married at age sixteen. He and his wife moved to Medford at that time. 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. In addition, he was well-known for the size of his family: he and his wife Alma had two daughters and nine sons.
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 and 1952. He also later appeared on four of Jack Benny's television shows between 1951 and 1961.
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. 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. Comedian/Voice actor Lennie Weinrib imitates 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. Along with fellow film and television "professional drunks" Jack Norton and Foster Brooks, Frank Fontaine was a lifelong non-drinker in his private life.
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. 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 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 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)
- Bob Thomas. "A Cinderella of the Films." (Little Rock) Arkansas Democrat, May 23, 1950, p. 16.
- Aline Mosby. "Stork is Foe of Divorce, Says Hub's Papa Fontaine." Boston Traveler, May 21, 1951, pp. 1, 5.
- "Frank Fontaine: Family Man in Big, Loving Way." (Little Rock) Arkansas Democrat, March 10, 1963, p. TV-11.
- "Comic Frank Fontaine Dies After Performance." Lexington (KY) Herald, August 6, 1978, p. 32.
- Billboard, February 9, 1963, p. 1.
- Rhodes, Joe (2000-10-21). "Flash! 24 Simpsons Stars Reveal Themselves". TV Guide.