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

Claribel's song ends. Fredgie grabs the microphone and moves around the makeshift stage area, kicking his legs outward in a now-familiar two-step. "Hey, Opa! It's time to learn a new word. Opa! Opa!" He circles the room with his portable microphone, urging the invalid children and their handlers to say Opa. He briefly considers engaging the group in a game of Simon Says, but wisely opts against this course. A conga line appearing equally unadvisable, he calls Claribel back for an encore.

Finally, he simply starts introducing people. One is Solomon King, a fading crooner who works PR for the Miami Kids Show, a "consumer-oriented" trade event in Coconut Grove at which Fredgie will appear the following week. A towering man with a crown of white hair and a bulbous belly, King snatches the microphone and begins singing in a deafening baritone. His rendition of "God Bless America" signals an end to the performance.

Fredgie invites Claribel and her brother to ride back to the Four Ambassadors in his limo. "You did a great job today," he tells her.

Then he falls silent for a time, winding down from the show. "I really think I made a connection with that kid on the stretcher," he says.

"Fredgie's cool," Claribel whispers to her brother, popping a Coke from the fully stocked bar. "Fredgie rides in a limo."

As of last month, Fredgie is also tight with the Clintons.
"I got a call from the White House today, and they want us to cover the meeting of all the presidents. The World Economic Summit, or whatever. So I'm going to be starting a whole new thing, Fredgievision News, for kids. It's going to be me with my crazy hats and, like, 5000 other reporters. I've got dinner with the First Lady on Friday. Then on Saturday I'm slated to be the grand marshal for the Candy Cane Parade in Hollywood Beach. Then I've got to head out to L.A. One of my agents wants to put me together with potential advertisers. I'm telling you, it's all going to another level. But I've got some time on Tuesday night. We'll do sushi. You like sushi?"

Fredgie answers the door in a turquoise shirt and jeans. A caravan of boxes runs from the entranceway clear across the living room. All are filled with Fredgie products. (He has recently added Nerf balls, beach balls, shoelaces, pom poms, and maracas to his stock.) "I call this the Fredgie Corn-E-Fono. You fill it with popcorn, see, then you pop out the bottom and it becomes a megaphone," Fredgie says, lifting a small plastic cone contraption to his mouth. "Opa! Opa!"

Other signs of Fredgie abound. His trademark oversize hats are stacked like sequined logs on a director's chair. Dozens of bright, embroidered dinner jackets hang in his wardrobe closet. An army of videotapes encircles the TV, as if preparing to advance. Beyond these, three guitars and a collection of drums stand at the ready, should musical inspiration strike Fredgie, who, as his boosters point out on a regular basis, won a Grammy in 1988 for a children's song he co-wrote called "Hippopotamus Rock."

"Would you like some herbal tea?" Fredgie asks. He has been a devotee of homeopathic remedies since his recovery from cancer. Among the items on his kitchen counter: bee pollen, vitamins, and something called Colon Cleanse.

More difficult to spot are the relics from the Time Before Fredgie. There is a slim volume of poetry penned by Frederick Kramer 30 years ago, a delicate foil from his days as a fencer, a vintage photo album. Fredgie flips through the pages of the album, pausing at a picture of a young couple stiffly flanking a woman with a pale bouffant. "This is me with my ex-wife and Pat Nixon," he notes. "I was working on a book about the White House Rose Garden. That photo was taken in August 1973, during the whole Watergate gestalt. Nixon and Haldeman are meeting in the Oval Office behind us. You can't see them." He pauses. "It's funny. There I was with the president as a young author, and here it is twenty years later and the president is coming down to Miami and I've come back as a clown." He flips to another page. "Oh, that's me with Xuxa." The shot shows Fredgie leaning into a frame at whose center is the former pinup girl and current Brazilian television superstar. Fredgie has tremendous respect for Xuxa.

"Hey, did I tell you I'm going to be grand marshal of the Candy Cane Parade up in Hollywood? Yeah, I just went to Publix and bought five boxes of candy canes. You want a candy cane?" He grabs a box, rips it open. "Being grand marshal doesn't pay anything, but it's good exposure."

This disclosure, coming as it does in a relatively luxurious apartment brimming with Fredgienalia, raises a nagging question. How exactly does Fredgie afford his lifestyle? This, however, is a topic handled obliquely, with jokes about surviving on credit, or vague allusions to outside investors bankrolling his vision.

"I'm trying to treat this whole first year as an investment," Fredgie stresses. "Sure, it's expensive. TV is an expensive industry. But look what I've accomplished. You know, I went to the NATPE (National Association of Television Producers and Executives) conference here last year and I looked around at all the shows and I swore I was going to have my own booth by this year. Well, that's what I've done. Did you know that I've got 26 shows in the can?" He leans forward. "That's product. Product that can be sold to markets in Latin or South America, or Yuma, Arizona, for all I care."

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