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Tony Fontane

Updated on December 20, 2011

The Biography of Tony Fontane

Tony Fontane (1925-1974) was a popular recording artist in the 1940s and 1950s who, following a near-fatal car accident in 1957, gave up his popular career to pursue one as a gospel singer. Thanks to his high, clear tenor voice and unrelenting sense of purpose, he became one of the world's most famous gospel singers, performing in concert halls and churches around the globe and recording many quality albums for RCA.

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The Early Life of Anthony

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Early life

He was born Anthony Trankina on September 18, 1925 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the son of Joseph and Raphaella Trankina. His father, a railroad worker for the Michigan Central Railroad, converted to Christianity in 1929 and a few years later moved the family to Grand Forks, North Dakota, where he operated a mission. The family lived in poverty, and young Tony Trankina grew up despising the mission and its work. It was during this time that he developed a strong hatred for all things religious, a hatred that later developed into full-fledged atheism.

From an early age he showed an interest in singing. He became so accomplished that he frequently sang in church services at the mission and, while still in high school, won the Dakota State Achievement award in a vocal contest. He was offered a musical scholarship with the state university, but Tony-exhibiting the powerful urge to escape his surroundings-ran off with a dance band wearing a mascara mustache to disguise his age. Six weeks after a statewide alarm was issued, the youth was returned home.

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The Popular Career of Tony Fontane

He lied about his age to join the Coast Guard

Popular career

He was allowed to move to Chicago to live with an aunt, and it was here that he tried unsuccessfully to break into show business while still in high school. But World War II beckoned, and at 17 he lied about his age to join the Coast Guard. After the war, he assumed the stage name of Tony Fontane and hit the streets of New York looking for work as a singer, but success was slow in coming and the young man nearly starved. Persistence, and his soaring, lyric tenor voice, snagged him a spot on the Major Bowes Original Amateur Hour, which he handily won. Fontane became an instant sensation and was one of only two performers on the Amateur Hour to ever be called back for an encore – the first being Frank Sinatra.

Moving once more to Chicago, Fontane enjoyed great success on television shows such as "Teen Town", "The Tony Fontane Show", and "Top Tunes With Trendler". He appeared on the shows of Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen, Paul Whiteman, and Eddie Bracken, and became a sought-after nightclub and Las Vegas act. A recording contract with Mercury Records led to his hit single, "Cold, Cold, Heart" (Mercury 5693) in November 1951. While Tony Bennett took the song to #1 on the pop chart that year, Fontane's version of the song reached #28 on the Hit Parade, surpassing the version by Hank Williams, who wrote the song.

Fontane married actress Kerry Vaughn on May 2, 1950 and toured with her in Australia in the musical comedy, "Zip Goes A Million". Vaughn, a golden-haired beauty who once performed as a stand-in for Lana Turner and appeared in the now cult classic "Prehistoric Women" became known in Australia as a second Marilyn Monroe. She and Fontane were enormously popular abroad and appeared on the covers of many magazines. The couple had a daughter, Char Fontane (born Jan. 12, 1952; died April 1, 2007).

Tony Fontane sings in an early television appearance

Tony Fontane sings in an early television appearance
Tony Fontane sings in an early television appearance

The Love of a Gypsy

The Love of a Gypsy
The Love of a Gypsy
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Near-death experience and conversion

He had a vision that God came to him and offered him one more chance

Near-death experience and conversion

On the afternoon of September 3, 1957, Fontane finished a rehearsal for a television special at NBC and was driving to his home in Canoga Park, Los Angeles, California, when another motorist ran a red light and plowed into the driver’s side of Fontane’s sports car. It took rescue workers more than 2½ hours to extricate the singer from his vehicle; one person on the scene took his pulse and declared that he was dead. He was, in fact, alive—just barely—and was rushed to the hospital where he hovered in a coma, on the brink of death, for 30 days. His injuries included two broken legs, a crushed chest, massive head injuries, broken ribs, cracked vertebrae, and severe internal injuries.

Fontane later wrote that while he was in his coma, he had a vision that God came to him and offered him one more chance. When he came out of his coma, Fontane not only gave up his atheism but converted to Christianity. When he abandoned his popular career and refused to sing anything other than gospel music, he was sued by the William Morris Agency for breach of contract and lost everything.

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Gospel career

Fontane got his break in the gospel music industry

Gospel career

Once again living in extreme poverty, Fontane made the rounds of churches asking to sing for them. Fontane got his break in the gospel music industry when Phil Kerr, organizer of the Monday Night Musicals at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, asked him to perform in concert, and from that moment on Fontane was one of the busiest gospel singers in the world. He recorded albums, made a film about his life's story, performed in churches, civic auditoriums, schools, military bases and concert halls, rarely turning down an invitation.

Fontane continued his brutal performance schedule throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s, even traveling several times to Vietnam to sing for American troops stationed there. He also performed for four U.S. Presidents -- Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon. But his life began to unravel in 1973 when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and given only a year to live. Despite undergoing several unsuccessful operations, he continued to sing. Four days before his death, he went to an Orange County, California, church where two men—one on each side of him—helped stand him up for his last concert. He sang “Just As I Am.” Two days later his pancreas ruptured and he was rushed to a Canoga Park hospital.

On June 30, 1974, Fontane died at the age of 48. His funeral at Forest Lawn Memorial Park was attended by upwards of 10,000 people.

See the Video of Tony Fontane, Peace Like A River - Fontane got his break in the gospel music industry

Gospel career

Once again living in extreme poverty, Fontane made the rounds of churches asking to sing for them. Fontane got his break in the gospel music industry when Phil Kerr, organizer of the Monday Night Musicals at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, asked him to perform in concert, and from that moment on Fontane was one of the busiest gospel singers in the world. He recorded albums, made a film about his life's story, performed in churches, civic auditoriums, schools, military bases and concert halls, rarely turning down an invitation.

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Kerry Vaughn Fontane

Her mother's name was Charlotte M. Stucke.

Kerry Vaughn was born on January 29, 1927, in Houston, Texas. Her mother's name was Charlotte M. Stucke.

Sometime in 1944, when producer Walter Wanger was looking for "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" for his upcoming Salome Where She Danced, she was chosen as one of the seven Salome Girls.

In January of 1945, she was among seven starlets selected as the "best bets" for screen stardom in 1945. The others are Karen Randle, Daun Kennedy, Kathleen O'Malley, Barbara Bates, Poni Adams, and Joan Trent.

She became a dancer, a stand-in for Lana Turner, and in 1949 she was married to Yugoslavia-born Universal contract player Peter Coe.

Kerry Vaughn married 24-year-old singer Tony Fontane on May 2, 1950.

January 1951, Kerry and co-star Joan Shawlee stopped in Milwaukee during a promotional tour for Prehistoric Women. The two had lunch at the Schroeder Hotel.

Kerry accompanied her husband on tour with "Showboat" in Australia and Europe; then after returning to the states, they settled in Canoga Park, California. On January 12, 1952 Tony and Kerry Fontane had a baby daughter; they named her Kerry Char'ae; she was born in Los Angeles, California.

On September 3, 1957 after a nearly fatal automobile accident in the San Fernando Valley, where Tony was declared dead, both Kerry and Tony committed their lives and their careers to Christ; after Tony recovered from the accident, they become gospel singers.

The Fontanes produced the autobiographic The Tony Fontane Story, featuring Tony, Kerry, and Char'ae Fontane in 1963. Their daughter, Char "Kaci" Fontane married Sergio Consani. Then on June 30, 1974 Kerry became a widow, when Tony died at age 48 in Los Angeles of prostate cancer. Her mother died at age 80 in Los Angeles on February 19, 1983.

Kerry died on November 20, 1996 (age 69) in Nashville, Tennessee, USA.

Kerry Fontane is known as a golden-haired actress and singer who toured with husband Tony Fontane in Australia with the musical comedy "Zip Goes a Million". They became a popular couple in Australia, she as a Marilyn Monroe type. Kerry was known for the following movies:

Prehistoric Women (1950)

The Tony Fontane Story (1963)

Scarlet Street (1945)

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

Storyline

"The Tony Fontane Story" is a dramatization of the life of teen singing idol, recording star and television personality Tony Fontane. It chronicles his rise to stardom, his splashy Hollywood lifestyle and his marriage to glamorous film actress Kerry Vaughn. The film focuses on the 1957 auto accident that nearly killed him and, consequently, resulted in his conversion to Christianity and abandonment of his popular career for one as a gospel singer.

Kitty Silver Bullet

Kitty Silver Bullet
Kitty Silver Bullet

Prehistoric Women (1950)

Prehistoric Women (1950)
Prehistoric Women (1950)

Scarlet Street (1945)

Scarlet Street (1945)
Scarlet Street (1945)

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

Kerry Charae Fontane

Born as Kerry Charae Fontane, to Tony and Kerry Fontane

Char "Kaci" Fontane (January 12, 1952 - April 1, 2007) was an American actress and singer.

Born as Kerry Charae Fontane in Los Angeles, to singer Tony Fontane and his wife, actress Kerry Vaughn Fontane.

Her first role was portraying her father as a young boy in the 1963 production The Tony Fontane Story. The movie told about her father's rise to popularity as a teen idol and his subsequent tragedies and successes. She also played herself as a child in the second half of the story.

She made guest appearances on several popular TV shows during the 1970s, including Love, American Style, Barnaby Jones, and The Love Boat. One of her most memorable performances was as a prostitute in the 1978 ABC television miniseries, Pearl. She had a small role in the 1989 action film The Punisher, which starred Dolph Lundgren and Louis Gossett, Jr. She also appeared Broadway in several productions, including Grease.

Fontane was married to musician Roy Yeager, a notable drummer who worked with several successful recording artists, including the popular 1970s group Lobo and country superstar Ronnie Milsap. He was also the drummer for the Atlanta Rhythm Section for several years.

She had one child, Shaun Fontane, a son born to her and her first husband, Sergio Consani.

Char Fontane died at age 55 on April 1, 2007, in Marietta, Georgia from breast cancer.

Char Fontane

Char Fontane
Char Fontane

Kerry Charae Fontane

Kerry Charae Fontane
Kerry Charae Fontane
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Obituary for Char Fontane

She is survived by her only loving son, Shaun Fontane

Char Fontane (Kaci to her longtime friends) passed from this world in

Atlanta, Ga., on April fool's Day 2007, her last jest to mankind.

She was predeceased by her father, Tony Fontane, an R.C.A. Victor religious recording artist, in 1973; and by her mother, Kerry, a Universal Studios starlet, in 1996.

She is survived by her only loving son, Shaun Fontane, and by her devoted husband, Roy Yeager (former drummer with the Atlanta Rhythm Section).

Kaci was a consummate actress and comedian. She possessed a truly beautiful voice, which she came by honestly, being the daughter of Tony Fontane. Her credits included the role of Marty in the Broadway show "Grease," a starring role in the television miniseries "Pearl," her own Los Angeles-based television sitcom, "Joe and Valerie," and various other television and movie productions where she played opposite many movie and television greats. But her main love was music and particularly vocals. She was associated with several faith-based ministries and could sing a spiritual with the true power of a believer. She fought a brave battle with breast cancer and kept it at bay for several years, but in the end she succumbed to the insidious disease. We will all miss her vivacious and funny personality, her biting wit and comedic genius, and of course, her captivating voice. Truly today there is a new star in the heavens and unfortunately for us, heaven's gain is our great loss.

Tony Fontane Christmas favorites

Tony Fontane Christmas favorites
Tony Fontane Christmas favorites

Supertrain Char Fontane

Supertrain Char Fontane
Supertrain Char Fontane

The Tony Fontane Story - Hollywood lifestyle

Storyline

"The Tony Fontane Story" is a dramatization of the life of teen singing idol, recording star and television personality Tony Fontane. It chronicles his rise to stardom, his splashy Hollywood lifestyle and his marriage to glamorous film actress Kerry Vaughn. The film focuses on the 1957 auto accident that nearly killed him and, consequently, resulted in his conversion to Christianity and abandonment of his popular career for one as a gospel singer.

Tony Fontane sings "Peace Like A River"

The late gospel singer Tony Fontane sings "Peace Like A River,"

Most of his records are no longer available, although some have survived on vinyl.

You can still purchase "Tony Fontane sings Peace Like" from Amazon Books

The late gospel singer Tony Fontane sings "Peace Like A River," with photos from his career.

If you would like to see the Tony Fontane Story, here is my advise:

As far as I know, The Tony Fontane Story is long out of print, and sometimes shows up in VHS tape form on eBay. Good luck in your search!

This is my Guestbook: Did you know Tony Fontane? - The late gospel singer Tony Fontane sings "Peace Like A River"

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      In 1976 Kerry was to share the story and film of their life story at burbank Four square Church The projector broke

      So she asked the Pastor if she could pray for people .She stated she had been gifted with the gift of healing. In that service my wife was healed of cystic fibrosis 7 opperations had failed

      And my young wife at that time preferred death to another operation . I look forward to seeing them when we pass to any of their remaining family , I pray your well

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I knew Tony he stayed at our house when he was in Phila. I also was with him in 1960 at the Full Gospel Businessmens Convention in Miami Fl

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Joseph Russo Jr

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I shall always remember spending a day with Tony in Denver while I was an associate pastor of Calvary Temple Church. We were playing golf at Welshire Country Club and got so engrossed talking about God we quit playing golf and sat on the bank of an irrigation canal and talked! He was genuine and real--a real friend!

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      Hello Harry,

      I am contacting you because I discovered your photos of the Fontane family at http://www.flickr.com/photos/harryandcc/ in a search

      My name is Robert Mitchell. I was once married to Tony Fontane's daughter (Char'ae) and would like to contact with Shaun Fontane.

      I have recently discovered that I have some personal mementos items of Char's, Karie's and Tony's that I would like to return to him.

      If you have his contact information, I would very much appreciate you forwarding this email to him.

      Thank you,

      Robert Mitchell

      650-741-3691 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 650-741-3691