I’m sure some of us remember Frank Fontaine doing his Crazy Guggenheim character on Jackie Gleason‘s TV show many years ago, but I honestly don’t recall whether I found his silly drunk act funny at the time. (For the record, he was actually a non-drinker.) I do know that it seems pretty unfunny to me now, but since we’re mostly about music here I thought I’d write about Frank Fontaine the crooner.
The son of a couple who spent their lives as circus performers — one a trapeze artist and the other a ‘strongman’ — meant that young Frank Fontaine grew up as part of the entertainment industry. But he didn’t seem to make much of a splash himself until the late 1940s when he began showing up occasionally on radio and early TV in small comedic acting spots.
By the 1950s he’d managed to gain some momentum with regular appearances on various TV shows and even a few small parts in movies, mostly while developing his goofy-drunk persona. It was during his appearances with Gleason that he became best known, and it was there that he often showcased another side of his talent — singing. Gleason was known as a music lover, but he also knew audiences enjoyed seeing Fontaine transform himself from cross-eyed drunk to smooth crooner. (Unfortunately, the video clip below doesn’t show him singing.)
As it turned out, his singing ability helped keep his career going in subsequent years, as he not only made a number of solid records but also sang in his live appearances. Unfortunately, he collapsed and died from a heart attack in 1978 — ironically, while appearing at a benefit concert for heart disease. He was only 58 at the time.