He is memorable because of the hilarious characters he portrayed. He’d twist up his pudgy face, cross his eyes and slur his words to become Crazy Guggenheim, appearing across the bar from Gleason who played Joe the Bartender. Crazy would always have an elaborate story that would drive Joe nuts. See a clip here.
But the real surprise came when Fontaine would be given a chance to perform a song. People expecting that high, funny voice were amazed when the velvet tones of a professional singer emerged.
Fontaine was good enough to make records. One of them consisting of old standards reached the Number One position on the Billboard LP charts in 1963.
I got a chance to meet Frank Fontaine in the late 1970s when I was playing in a band in Orlando, FL and he came to town to do a show. He needed a backing band and we were asked to do the show with him.
He did his comedy routine and then unleashed his deep resonant voice on a rendition of “White Christmas.”
I thought of Fontaine recently when I was passing by a record store in Asheville, NC (yes, Asheville still has record stores) and saw his Crazy Guggenheim character gracing the cover of album that was displayed in the window. The record was “Songs I sing on the Jackie Gleason Show” and it was the previously mention No. 1 record.
Fontaine was born this month in 1920 and died in 1978 at the age of 58. Happy birthday, Frank, wherever you are, and thanks for the memories.