John L.C. Silvoney

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John L.C. Silvoney

Postby LLeff » Thu Jan 05, 2006 1:46 pm

I've been hearing a lot of John L.C. Silvoney appearances on the show, and I want to reintroduce this for discussion.

The intent of the Silvoney character was to be a "professional drunk". Some people thought he was supposed to be mentally ill/feeble, and I'll admit that his manner of speaking makes me laugh because he sounds so much like an old friend of mine who has cerebral palsy (I can't help imagining Ron saying the lines...not laughing at Ron's limitations, but that Ron himself was so funny). But for those familiar with the Jackie Gleason show, Fontaine's Crazy Guggenheim character (substantially the same as Silvoney, plus singing) would always show up at Joe the Bartender's place. So he was definitely supposed to be a drunk.

Now, I've heard a lot of people are offended or put off by this character. I respect everyone's right to feel however they want, but tell me again...under the context that the character is a drunk, why is this? Phil talks about his boozing. Foster Brooks and Dean Martin played "professional drunks" as well, but I've not heard complaints about them other than general political correctness of "glorifying/making fun of alcoholism".

So please remind me...what's the deal here?
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Postby Clyde » Thu Jan 05, 2006 3:31 pm

Personally, I find the character quite funny and enjoy listening to the shows that feature him. It reminds me, though, of a comment I read many years ago in a film collector's magazine. Seems the writer was upset....VERY upset...about "The Thin Man" series because they, in their words, "glorified drunkeness". I think people need to lighten up just a tad and try to find some innocent humor in these things. Yes, public intoxication can be disgusting and even dangerous....but take these radio shows and films for the good-hearted fun they were intended for.
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Re: John L.C. Silvoney

Postby David47Jens » Thu Jan 05, 2006 3:34 pm

LLeff wrote:The intent of the Silvoney character was to be a "professional drunk". Some people thought he was supposed to be mentally ill/feeble... But for those familiar with the Jackie Gleason show, Fontaine's Crazy Guggenheim character (substantially the same as Silvoney, plus singing) would always show up at Joe the Bartender's place. So he was definitely supposed to be a drunk.


I haven't heard too many of the Silvoney appearances, but I think I can shed a tiny bit of light on the reaction to Fontaine's portrayal based on the Crazy Guggenheim character.

I was about four or five years old when Fontaine appeared in the Joe the Bartender sketches on Gleason's "American Scene Magazine" -- And oh, how I wish videos of those were as accessible as the ubiquitous Honeymooners epsiodes! -- and regardless of the barroom setting, I did see Crazy Guggenheim as "mentally ill/feeble," as you put it. Granted, my five-year-old self was nowhere near as discerning as I'd like to believe I am now, but still... He didn't "sound" drunk to me, exactly, and the "crazy" designation reinforced the impression I got of the character's being feeble-minded.

At that age, I loved the character. Keep in mind that I was still possessed by the young child's innate yet paradoxical mix of innocence and cruelty, that odd state of mind that then thought it was funny as all get-out to refer to someone as -- I shudder to recall -- a "ree-tard."

Whenever Fontaine sang, he played it straight, rather than in character as Crazy Guggenheim. This always bored me. My father, on the other hand, somehow thought his Guggenheim role was "ruining" Fontaine as a singer.

So anyway, based on the above, I'd have to guess that any objections about Silvoney are indeed based on the misconception that he was mentally challenged, as it were. My adult ears still don't perceive Silvoney (or Guggenheim) as a drunk; perhaps Fontaine's characterization was too unique in that it didn't resemble that of other actors or comedians doing a drunk routine.

I guess this is one instance where political correctness is indeed a good thing. I doubt Bill Cosby has done his "Special Class" routine -- where he compares such students to Mortimer Snerd -- for many, many years.
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Postby Radioman » Thu Jan 05, 2006 4:08 pm

I believe Silvoney made his first appearance when Jack gave a bum--what was it, a dollar? I forget how much. I didn't like Silvoney then and I liked him even less in all of his subsequent appearances.

In Laura's context, Silvoney is supposed to be a drunk. He sure doesn't sound drunk to me. To use modern PC language, he sounds like a slow adult, mentally challenged. I have no idea what he looks like, but when hear him, I picture him as Buddy Hackett as "Tennessee" in The Love Bug, who spoke and acted similarly. In the Love Bug, Tennessee acted like a mentally challenged adult. I have no idea if he was supposed to be.

Now I normally wouldn't care what the character's mental abilities are, but in the case of Silvoney, he is just soooooo annoying. I absolutely cannot stand to listen to his voice and character.

In old time radio, a character was partially identified by his voice, partially by personality, partially by name. Every time that character made an appearance or a line, his name was mentioned. That was what made radio so "dramatic." And every character in JB had a unique voice that was not exaggerated (even, apparently, Mr. Kitzel. Laura, tell me if I'm wrong, but I've read that was his real voice) but was strong and unique. You didn't have to be reminded who was who. You knew Don when he spoke. You knew Phil also. But Silvoney had a cartoony"super dumb guy" voice, "Duh, which way did he go, George" kind of voice. It's irritating to me and embarrassing to listen to.

If he was supposed to be drunk, I had no way of knowing. With Phil, it was constantly alluded to that he was a drunk, but he was never drunk on the show, slurring, mumbling, etc. Sure he fell down now and then, but his drunkenness was more of a joke than anything he actually ever exhibited on mic. For the most part, he was perfectly competent and a fun to listen to guy.

And that's where the difference his. Phil talked about drinking, Silvoney actually was (supposed to be but I could never tell) drunk.

To make matters even worse with Silvoney, he could never just do the joke and get out. His bits went on and on and on. "You know what I did? You know what I did? You know what I did?" Then he'd make that noise I can't even spell. Oh, it was so awful. And the audience laughed and laughed.

Whenever he comes on, I fast forward through his bits until he finally leaves.

In the case of Foster Brooks, I've never seen his act, but I have seen commercials for his live comedy tapes. I can't laugh at these. The audience finds them histerical, but it just sounds like some drunk guy trying to tell jokes. And he isn't even drunk, he's just acting the part. Totally unfunny and kind of pathetic.

Hope this wasn't too long a post. Silvoney is a character that I've been wanting to talk about for some time now.

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Postby LLeff » Thu Jan 05, 2006 5:25 pm

Radioman wrote:I believe Silvoney made his first appearance when Jack gave a bum--what was it, a dollar?....

(even, apparently, Mr. Kitzel. Laura, tell me if I'm wrong, but I've read that was his real voice)...

To make matters even worse with Silvoney, he could never just do the joke and get out. His bits went on and on and on. "You know what I did? You know what I did? You know what I did?" Then he'd make that noise I can't even spell. Oh, it was so awful. And the audience laughed and laughed.


Silvoney asks for a dime and Jack gives him 50 cents. This is such a beloved show (despite the fact that many folks feel as you about Fontaine's character) that at some point I got into the habit of leaving two quarters (instead of a rock) at Jack's grave whenever I visit

Oh gracious, Kitzel was by no means Auerbach's real voice. Auerbach has completely straight bit roles in many shows. *Looking for an example* OK, here's a real good one. Check out 10-5-47 right at the beginning, and you'll hear a couple checking into a hotel by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Donald Farnsworth. Donald is Artie Auerbach in his regular voice. And for you trivia buffs in the audience, Mrs. Farnsworth is played by Jeanette Eyemann, the script secretary.

I think part of the reason that the audience is cracking up over Fontaine is more than just laughing at the bit...there's a later appearance where Jack goes off the script and says, "I can't look at him! I can't look at him!" when he's supposed to respond to a Fontaine line. So I think Jack himself may have been breaking up over Fontaine's antics, which takes us back into the discussion of the Si-Sy routine and part of what makes that funny.

You've made a very, very good point that the pacing of the Silvoney stories is completely different than anything else I can think of on the Benny show. Jack or Rochester may have long pieces of monologue where they're effectively talking to themselves to further the action (e.g., "Well, I'd better dust these bookshelves....what's this?...oh look, it's Mr. Benny's diary...I wonder if I should read it..."). However, they're very directional and not repetetive (e.g., Silvoney: "I was doin' nothin, just sittin' around the house, I didn't feel like doin' nothin', just sitting around doin' nothin'..."). Combing my brain, the only thing I can think of that goes on like that is Mel Blanc doing the Maxwell, with a crescendo of coughing, hacking, and hiccuping. Of course, there was a visual with that as well, and I'm sure people were laughing at least as much at *seeing* Mel do it than at *hearing* Mel do it. OK, and Jack yelling at the Sportsmen Quartet to "WAIT A MINUTE!", although that too has an increasing crescendo that Silvoney lacks.

And I'll take a crack at spelling that sound: EEEEEYYAAAGHHHHHHH. :)
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Postby David47Jens » Thu Jan 05, 2006 5:47 pm

Just for the record, here are two pictures, one of Crazy Guggenheim, and one of the "real" Frank Fontaine.

Image

Image

Again, I'm guilty of judging Silvoney by the better-known (to me) Crazy Guggenheim, but when I hear the voice of the Silvoney character, this is what I see. To me, he doesn't look drunk as much as goofy.
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Postby shimp scrampi » Fri Jan 06, 2006 7:13 am

Strangely enough, the Silvoney character doesn't grate on me too badly, and it is exactly the kind of character that generally would. Ordinarily I hate that kind of "baggy-pants" mugging, dumb-guy schtick of the Buddy Hackett or Jerry Lewis school. Maybe I'm charitable because I had always (incorrectly) assumed that the voice was the same as Stan Freberg's Pete Puma from the WB cartoons, which I thought was impossibly hilarious as a kid. ("How many lumps do you want?")

I'll offer the third opinion here, whatever he was intended to be, he doesn't really come off as either drunk or 'feeble' to me, but more like a vaguely deranged maniac. They did call him "crazy" Guggenheim after all, not "sloshed" Guggenheim or "Dumb" Guggenheim. But the fact that he is so irritating makes it funnier that Jack can't seem to shake loose from him.
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Postby WaltP » Sat Jan 07, 2006 11:35 pm

I remember Crazy from the Gleason show also, and really like the character. But I never saw a drunk. Feeble is not quite right, either. Not the brightest bulb in the lamp, but not feeble. Odd, definitely. Crazy, for sure.

The first time I heard him on JB brought me back to the Gugenheim character. Almost the exact same guy. Only minor changes from the character I remember.
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Postby Gerry O. » Sun Jan 08, 2006 5:28 am

WaltP wrote:I remember Crazy from the Gleason show also, and really like the character. But I never saw a drunk. Feeble is not quite right, either. Not the brightest bulb in the lamp, but not feeble. Odd, definitely. Crazy, for sure.

The first time I heard him on JB brought me back to the Gugenheim character. Almost the exact same guy. Only minor changes from the character I remember.


I don't think that Fontaine ever did the "John L.C." character on Jack's television show, but if he had, I imagine that it would have been a LOT funnier than on the radio....especially if Jack stood there and reacted to the character.

A big part of the "Crazy Guggenheim" humor on the Gleason show was Gleason (as Joe the Bartender) reacting as straight man.....Gleason would lean against the bar, stare at the camera and/or roll his eyes as Crazy would go on and on with some stupid, pointless story. Seeing a straight man getting frustrated and reacting with "I can't BELIEVE this idiot!" looks makes Crazy's material even funnier....and Jack would have done a hilarious job of reacting in a silent, deadpan manner.
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Postby David47Jens » Sun Jan 08, 2006 9:18 pm

Gerry O. wrote:A big part of the "Crazy Guggenheim" humor on the Gleason show was Gleason (as Joe the Bartender) reacting as straight man.....Gleason would lean against the bar, stare at the camera and/or roll his eyes as Crazy would go on and on with some stupid, pointless story. Seeing a straight man getting frustrated and reacting with "I can't BELIEVE this idiot!" looks makes Crazy's material even funnier....


You said it, Gerry! Over forty years after seeing these episodes as a five-year-old, I can still recall Gleason's reactions. Crazy would often be talking about someone in one of his rambling anecdotes, and make a remark to the effect of "He's a real nut," "What a loony," etc., and Gleason would bob his head, open his mouth in a silent laugh, point at Crazy with the thumb of one hand while "hiding" that gesture from Crazy with the other hand, all as if to say "Ha! Look who's talking!"

I have to wonder, after having read a lot of stuff in the intervening years about Gleason's ego, whether this was to help the sketch's comedic value, or whether it was an attempt to... well... not to "upstage" Frank Fontaine exactly, but remind all concerned (cast members, audience, CBS execs... ) that Jackie Gleason was in the sketch as well. Probably both, I suspect, for regardless of his ego -- which in its own way was quite deserved, of course -- the man knew what worked.

Gleason was said to remind people that he was indeed "The Great One," but I must also add that I have personally heard or read interviews with Gleason where he would openly acknowledge the talents of his co-stars, notably Art Carney and Audrey Meadows. His praises of Carney's comedic and serious acting talents were lavish indeed.

and Jack would have done a hilarious job of reacting in a silent, deadpan manner.


Oh, definitely! Everyone "here" on the Forum knows that Jack never worried about who was getting the laughs on the Jack Benny program. The "silent, deadpan manner" you refer to would have been the perfect "icing" on Fontaine's proverbial "cake."
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Postby LLeff » Sun Jan 08, 2006 10:18 pm

Gerry O. wrote:I don't think that Fontaine ever did the "John L.C." character on Jack's television show, but if he had, I imagine that it would have been a LOT funnier than on the radio....especially if Jack stood there and reacted to the character.


Actually...he did Jack's SECOND television show in the Silvoney character. Now if we can just get a copy of that circulating, we can all see if the theories expressed here translate to the visual.

I heard a show where Ronald Colman imitates Silvoney. Talk about a study in contrasts.
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Postby David47Jens » Sun Jan 08, 2006 11:05 pm

LLeff wrote:
Gerry O. wrote:I don't think that Fontaine ever did the "John L.C." character on Jack's television show, but if he had, I imagine that it would have been a LOT funnier than on the radio....especially if Jack stood there and reacted to the character.


Actually...he did Jack's SECOND television show in the Silvoney character. Now if we can just get a copy of that circulating, we can all see if the theories expressed here translate to the visual.


Wow, the above was posted while I was doing a search for Frank Fontaine on IMDb!

Between Gleason's show, and Benny's show, and elsewhere(!), it appears Fontaine made the most of his Silvoney/Guggenheim characterizations. IMDb -- which I'll be the first to admit has lots of errors in its efforts to be all-knowing -- lists him as playing "Crazy Guggenheim" on Gleason, and four times with Jack, from 1951-1961, listed variously as "John L.C. Sivoney" or "John L.T. Savonie"... but who knows if the differences in the listings are the fault of the programs' writers or IMDb's contributors? In fact, they list Fontaine as having played "John L.O. 'Bingo' Sevony" in "Hit Parade of 1951" which was released in... er... 1950? (Don't ask.) He also played "Crazy Gugenheim" (not "Guggenheim") in 1951's "Here Comes the Groom!" (And again, I'm not sure if the spelling is correct as listed on IMDb.)

Man, this is worse than the whole Livingston/Livingstone thing!

Also: The trivia section claims that Stan Freberg's "Pete Puma" voice was based on Carzy Guggenheim, btw. Shimp Scrampi ought to sleep better knowing that! :wink:

One last private joke for Laura: Like Fred Allen, Frank Fontaine was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts... which is near Boston!
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Postby Gerry O. » Mon Jan 09, 2006 4:35 am

David47Jens wrote:I have to wonder, after having read a lot of stuff in the intervening years about Gleason's ego, whether this was to help the sketch's comedic value, or whether it was an attempt to... well... not to "upstage" Frank Fontaine exactly, but remind all concerned (cast members, audience, CBS execs... ) that Jackie Gleason was in the sketch as well. Probably both, I suspect, for regardless of his ego -- which in its own way was quite deserved, of course -- the man knew what worked.

Gleason was said to remind people that he was indeed "The Great One," but I must also add that I have personally heard or read interviews with Gleason where he would openly acknowledge the talents of his co-stars, notably Art Carney and Audrey Meadows. His praises of Carney's comedic and serious acting talents were lavish indeed.



Jackie Gleason was a great "reactionary" comedian, and it's a strong possibility that Fontaine was hired because Gleason had planned on using Crazy Gugenheim as a source for Joe the Bartender's reactions from Day #1. As you mentioned, that's not taking anything away from Fontaine and the character, but Crazy WAS a natural for Gleason to bounce comical reactions off of.

In James Bacon's excellent biography of Gleason, "HOW SWEET IT IS: THE JACKIE GLEASON STORY", Bacon tells of a vaudeville comedian named Chaz Chase. Chase's entire act consisted of eating inedible objects.....flowers, pencils, rubber bands, shirt collars, cigarettes, lit matches, etc.....he would just keep shoving this stuff in his mouth and munch away! (Chase can be seen doing this in a couple of 1930's Vitaphone short subjects). During the 1940's, vaudeville was pretty much dead, and Chase started appearing in nightclubs. One nightclub gig was in Chicago, and the M.C. of the floor show just happened to be a very young Jackie Gleason. As Chase would do his "eating weird stuff" routine, Jackie would stand next to him and do the most hilarious "reaction takes". Gleason would watch Chase eat away, and Gleason's eyes would bug out in disbelief, he would look out at the audience and do that great bit where he would appear nauseated and do that famous "silent belch" of his, where he fought to keep his dinner down.

The combination of Chaz Chase and young Jackie Gleason was a big hit, and people who saw them appear together raved about the act for years afterwards. When Chaz Chase appeared solo, his act was funny....but when he was teamed with Jackie Gleason, the act was hysterical!

It's interesting to note that even though Gleason would do "reaction takes" with Art Carney, Gleason used to back off just a bit....as if he realized Carney's true genius and just let Art "do his thing".
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Re: John L.C. Silvoney

Postby Shemp » Wed Jan 11, 2006 7:32 am

David47Jens wrote: -- And oh, how I wish videos of those were as accessible as the ubiquitous Honeymooners epsiodes! ---


MPI Home Video's recent DVDs include flyers for upcoming releases. Listed on the flyers are "The Color HONEYMOONERS" and "The Best of THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW." Reportedly, these will hit shelves sometime in late 2006, and I assume/hope that some of Fontaine's work in 'Joe the Bartender' sketches will be included.

(Also reportedly, they will be a little expensive... MPI is working through music licensing issues to get these DVDs on the market.)
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Postby LLeff » Mon Jan 16, 2006 1:39 pm

Hey kids...

Seems that Frank Fontaine was Amos n Andy's 1952 summer replacement. Anyone know what those shows were like? Was he sustanting the John L.C. Silvoney character, or was it more like Gleason where multiple characters move in and out?
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