Frank Fontaine (1920-1978), also billed as Frankie Fontaine, was a comedian and singer, who became best known for his TV work with Jackie Gleason as Crazy Guggenheim beginning in September, 1962. A few months before, however, Fontaine had been part of the ensemble cast playing international correspondents in the comedy/variety show pilot Mad Mad World, shot in April 1962 and co-starring Jim Henson's Muppets.
Fontaine spent his early showbiz career on the club circuit, as an emcee as well as a comic, and toured for a time with Vaughn Monroe. His act combined impressions (including Ed Sullivan) with routines using character voices, most notably one as a nervous nitwit with a goony voice who won a sweepstakes. This character would become known as John L. C. Sivoney (although spelling varied). Although he had early opportunities on TV in 1948 and 1949, Fontaine didn't gain true national prominence until he appeared on radio's The Jack Benny Program on April 9, 1950, playing the Sivoney character. This led to several repeat visits with Benny, and a contract with CBS that November, appearing on other CBS radio and TV venues, including his own radio series The Frank Fontaine Show (1952) and a regular TV stint on Patti Page's Scott Music Hall (1952-1953). He also briefly had his own syndicated TV show.
Although Fontaine enjoyed some notable film cameos in this period (including his Sivoney character as an airplane passenger in Bing Crosby's Here Comes the Groom and a drunk in the Jerry Lewis film Scared Stiff), his prominence began to wane as the 1950s wore on. Then in the fall of 1962, Fontaine appeared on The Jackie Gleason Show: The American Scene Magazine. Here, Fontaine essentially reprised the John L. C. Sivoney character as a bar drunk, now renamed Crazy Guggenheim, in regular routines with Gleason as Joe the Bartender. His tenure with Gleason lasted through 1966 and occasional specials later on. The skits ended with Fontaine showing off his excellent singing voice and led to a second regular career as a recording artist, with straight singing. He even had a #1 album in 1963, called Songs I Sing on the Jackie Gleason Show. This boost kept Fontaine fairly active on the TV guest circuit for the rest of his career and life.
- The voice of Lew Zealand was modeled after Frank Fontaine, as Jerry Nelson revealed in multiple interviews: "I think Lew was my tribute to Frankie Fontaine. He had that dopey voice, but he could sing beautifully. We never did that part of it on the show, but just the idea of this guy who had a boomerang fish act.". Nelson repeated the statement in another online interview, remembering Fontaine "as a comedian who worked with Jackie Gleason, Jack Benny and The Tonight Show."
- The "Mr. Callahan" UK skits on Muppets Tonight were based on the Jackie Gleason "Joe the Bartender" skits, where Joe (Gleason) would greet and address the unseen customer Mr. Dunahy, while Joe and Fontaine's Crazy Guggenheim bantered, and would conclude with Fontaine singing in his normal voice. Clueless Morgan served as Crazy Guggenheim's counterpart.
- ↑ Toughpigs.com - "A Chat with Jerry Nelson, Part 2." December 10, 2009
- ↑ Muppet Mindset. "Interview with Legendary Muppeteer Jerry Nelson, Part 2." December 7, 2010.