Tears of a Clown

Fredgie's quest for kids' show success hasn't exactly been a barrel of laughs -- but then again, it sure is a funny business

Fredgie struggles to his feet. Like a child toppled from a jungle gym, there is a tense vanity to his movements. His head swivels from side to side, gauging how many have seen. His mirrored sunglasses gone, his small brown eyes register wonder at how one unscripted tumble can shatter an imagined world.

Faced with such naked humiliation, children weep. But Fredgie, a consummate pro after half a day in existence, turns to the startled tourist. "That's part of the act," he barks. "Don't worry. Were you scared? Why were you scared?" He draws closer, stamps out a self-conscious soft-shoe.

"If you want to be a clown," Fredgie announces to the tourist, "the first thing you have to know is how to fall."

Nearly every public appearance by Fredgie is, like his April 1993 debut, preserved on videotape. He gives away these cassettes incessantly, for promotional purposes mostly, but also as gifts. He enjoys watching them with others.

Above all, the footage represents raw material, the dramatic ore from which Fredgie mines product. The product, in Fredgie's case, comprises episodes of Fredgie El Maximo's International All Star Latin Music Dance Festival, the show he expects will carry him to the crest of international fame and ensure him the sponsorship deals he so richly deserves. Affectionately known as El show de ni*os, the program airs Saturday mornings from 9:30 to 10:00 on local cable.

While Fredgie attributed the project's genesis to the kids, the energy, et cetera, there is a more polished official version, set down in the Fredgie Promotional Video Brochure: Frederick Kramer, mild-mannered composer of children's songs from Peterborough, New Hampshire, falls terminally ill, travels to Brazil to seek alternative therapies, recovers, and vows to share his newfound love for life by helping children interested in the arts start careers. To this end, he launches his own TV show and organizes Fredgie workshops specializing in, among other disciplines, yoga, mime, watercolor, and "temple dance."

The actual history is a bit more complicated. Kramer did grow up in New Hampshire, the son of a successful lumberyard owner and builder. He attended private schools, then the University of Pennsylvania. He married and fathered three children, taught, dealt art, kept his hair well trimmed, and wore, on occasion, a pinstripe suit. But his normalcy circuits kept misfiring, shorts invariably sparked by some theatrical pipe dream. An off-Broadway play. Tap-dance lessons. Open-mike vaudeville routines. He drifted from job to job, divorced. In the late Seventies, he was diagnosed with cancer, a disease he had battled throughout his late twenties. This time the cancer, an affliction of the tear ducts, required surgery that left him with prominent facial scarring. He departed for Rio de Janeiro soon after with his common-law wife, a Brazilian.

It is difficult to extract from Kramer what he did at any given time to support himself in Brazil. At some point, though, he became the sidekick to Kate Lyra, a leggy blonde who starred

in her own English-language talk show. In a nod to native inflection, Freddy Kramer became Fredgie, and, in a flourish of irreverence, declared himself a professional tourist. In 1991 he returned to the States. He felt lost, and battled a deep depression, which, like his cancer, he is reluctant to discuss. His rejuvenation came in the form of a West Palm Beach TV personality named Jintsy James, who Fredgie describes, charitably, as a combination of Carol Channing and Phyllis Diller. Happening upon her one day on the tube, Fredgie phoned her and was soon associate producer and cohost of her show, Talk of the Town.

In these early roles, Fredgie's function was limited primarily to interviewing glitterati. Though he was establishing his character as somewhat outside the chat-show realm (his clothing, for instance, was already showing clownish leanings), it took the romp across France for his vision to coalesce.

The idea of incorporating children into his act may well have been rooted in his medical recovery. Fredgie, however, is less elaborate in noting a rationale: "I showed the Paris tape to some friends and they said, 'Why don't you do a kids' show?'"

Last May he made contact with Roni Goodrich, a curly-haired Miami woman whose talent agency, A Star Is Born, specializes in "child talent." The pair quickly came to terms. Goodrich would supply the kids, Fredgie the venue -- El show de ninos.

The first thing a clown must know is how to fall. The second thing, as Fredgie would have it, is how to promote. Anyone, after all, can dress up in silly clothing and film himself goofing around with little kids. And anyone can pay a cable company $200 a week to air these shenanigans. "The key to attracting sponsorship opportunities," Fredgie observes, "is getting your name out there."

And so it comes to pass that this previous September, amid a collision of colognes and questionable hors d'oeuvres, Fredgie holds a press bash to honor his new show. While drawing little in the way of actual reporters (one) to the lobby of the Four Ambassadors, off Brickell, the event assembles an intriguing rabble of self-promoters, aspirants to fame, and Fredgophiles.

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