Monday, June 10, 2013

Crazy Guggenheim and the Weird Death of Frank Fontaine

I was always fond of the great funnyman Frank Fontaine, who appeared on The Jackie Gleason Show in the early-1960s as Crazy Guggenheim in the Joe the Bartender sketches, most of which ended with Fontaine singing a Tin Pan Alley song with that beautiful baritone voice of his.

His appearances on the Gleason show have been scrubbed from You Tube (aaaaaw) but here's a commercial he did in the 60s:



Here he is singing in that lovely voice of his:



In 2010 I conducted a bunch of interviews for an oral history I was working on. I've got hours of stories that I can't use for the book but you might find some of this stuff interesting.

In this audio excerpt I'm talking to musicians Tim Fowlar and Jack Salley who were in their early 20s when they were out with The Roy Radin Revue, a vaudeville-like troupe that performed all over the northern east coast in the 1970s.

The Radin tour, which went out by bus two times a year over an 8 year period, would take an unlikely collection of stars, most of whom were at the butt end of their careers, and present them to the people in community theaters, VFW halls and high school auditoriums.

Donald O'Connor, Milton Berle, Sheila McCrae, Pinky Lee, John Carradine, George Jessel, Stanley Myron Handelman, Jan Murray, Jackie Vernon, Godfrey Cambridge, Joe Boatner's Ink Spots, The Drifters, and dozens of others endured the grueling travel conditions and iffy venues; it was truly Vaudeville's last gasp.

They would travel from town to town, a show a night (at least) for a period of 6 weeks with a mere 2 days off. Tim Fowlar was the musical director for most of the Radin tours and Jack Salley played guitar for a few runs around the track; both went on to successful careers in the music business.

TV Blog / Crazy Guggenheim from the Jackie Gleason ShowThe two guys reminisce about Frank Fontaine, he went out on a couple of Radin tours and suffered a heart attack during a 1977 run; he died the year after. The story begins with Jack Salley talking.