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Posted by on Jul 27, 2006 in At TMV | 10 comments

Comedy Greats: Jackie Gleason

Jackie Gleason was as big a comedy genius as television ever produced. And that is NOT a comment on his size.

Today, he’s mostly remembered for being the star of The Honeymooners in his lifetime role as blustery, every-losing bus driver Ralph Kramden. But he was MUCH more.

Aside from being an excellent actor (watch him as Minnesota Fats in The Hustler), his show in the 1950s (when TMV was a small kid) featured him in a variety of roles. Click on the You Tube post below and you’ll see him as Reginald Van Gleason III, a rich playboy who is allergic to work. You’ll see Art Carney, who played his neighbor Ed Norton in The Honeymooners, as his bearded dad. You’ll also see Audrey Meadows, wife Alice in The Honeymooners, as his girlfriend Monica.

You’ll also note:
–For a big man he was quite agile and athletic.
–He spent a LOT on his sets. CBS gave him some money and he had no hesitation about putting a lot of it for his one-shot 1950s special effects (shows aired live, then vanished…forever until the advent of cable, VCRs, and DVDs).

If you’re an older reader, you’ll remember Gleason fondly.

If you’re a younger reader, you need to watch him to see a true showman who filled the screen with his pizazz and charisma (he was also the role model for Fred Flintstone, just as Carney’s Ed Norton was the role model for Yogi Bear).

If you’re interested in comedy you MUST start studying Gleason, his comedy timing and the way he created a whole bunch of characters and catchphrases.

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Copyright 2006 The Moderate Voice
  • My parents took us to Mardi Gras sometime in the late 1970’s (quite a change in culture, Wichita to NOLA) and Gleason was the Grand Poobah or whatever that year. My enduring memory is of him just walking around shaking hands with people. He was a huge man, and seemed utterly unaware of the people worshipping him.

  • MichaelF

    Joe Gandelman said :

    If you’re an older reader, you’ll remember Gleason fondly.

    Ouch. Some of us not so old people think to too. But those who are not familiar with the Honeymooners can buy the boxed set of every single episode. It is well worth the take.

    Gleason was much more than a comedian. He was a lover of music and even had a series of instrumental albums.

    Although he was best known for Minnesota Fats in The Hustler, he also had other dramatic roles. I enjoyed his work in Soldier In The rain as well as Requiem for a Heavyweight.

    He was an expert at pool and a fairly good puilist . Gleason is certainly one of the all time greats .Thanks for adding a much needed light moment on the blog

  • Joe

    I have to say — and I may do another post tomorrow on him and say it — that Gleason is what made me want to get into some rung of show business. I was all set to go and my parents convinced me it was a tough road, so I got a BA in Political Science from Colgate University and then my masters in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism…and did my SECOND LOVE. Then I tossed all that away to go back to what I wanted to do, although in a different form. I still consider him the greatest comedy talent I had seen — and I loved him more than any performer. I was in Florida with my foster son on the day he died. I also heard many wonderful things about him from people who had met him. In Florida they talked about the fact that he was a longtime insomniac and on the phone with some talk show hosts from time to time. The TV critic on the San Diego Union used to talk very highly of Gleason, based on his interviews with him. I just think the diversity of his characters, his timing, etc. was one of the most impressive in show biz history. It’s still hard to track this stuff down — the REAL Gleason dvd offering sketches with his characters has not been compiled yet. But you can find it in bits and pieces.
    As I said, I’ll have more to say on this for tomorrow’s blog and probably at a future date to. I put this stuff on TMV because I do NOT view it as “nostalgia” but as a way to keep a comedy heritage alive and if someone is interested in comedy and peroforming they really could benefit by watching and studying him. Good comedy is NOT stuck in time; it can be enjoyed over and over, even after the people doing the comedy are gone from the scene. I’ll be trying to add another tomorrow (there are also a couple of bits I added some time ago with some others that I may repost because I love them so much).
    Here’s a Gleason story to close with. When I got into the Big Brother program I showed The Honeymooners to my Little Brother, who later became my foster son (and I was best man at his wedding and am very close to him and his family even today). He loved Gleason. So I wrote Gleason and told him how much a new, young fan loved him and how much I did. Within A WEEK autographed photos for both of us arrived from Miami. I showed them to the TV critic of the San Diego Union, where I was then working as a staff reporter. He said: “Yes, that’s Jackie’s handwriting. He never forget his fans.”

  • Mike P.

    The Jackie Gleason Show with the Honeymooners (mid-late 60s variety version) holds the honor of being the first color TV I ever saw. Terrific show, in B&W or color! Who could forget the June Taylor Dancers and their kaleidoscopically leggy display?

    He was in a made for TV movie – he played a homeless mute who kind of adopted a small girl as I remember… All I know is that it was critical that my mother see that movie when it aired, and we did.

  • Chippedchips

    Ahhh yes…the Honeymooners, and the Satureday nite straight from Miami Jackie Gleason Variety Show with the June Taylor dancers.

    Black and white TV, on live with live audience, no chance to edit out screw ups, no canned laughter there like on the Uncle Milty show.

    Weekend and week nights were filled with laughter and music, from Gleason, Burns and Allen, Ed Sullivan, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Jack Benny and Rodchester, Ozzie and Hariett, Red Skelton, Milton Berle, I Love Lucy, and a host of other stars and shows from that wholesome time…

    No back to back every day multiple channels cop after cop after cop program back in those Jackie Gleason days. No Law and Order in all its many forms burning up TV screens hour after hour six to seven days and nights each week. No weekly NCIS, no JAG, no police greatest chases, no Judge Judy, no forensic doctor programs, no Court TV channel. No interuptions of programming to show a live police chase of a truck with thousands of idiot civilians lining Interstate 20 like last weekend etc. etc.; all these things that’s has been dulling minds for over a decade, and getting people used to the idea and fact of living in a government/police/court controlled nation state; people sitting in from of their TV’s munching on popcorn and snacks taking it all in; people taking it all forgranted; taking is as a normal way of life today; brainwashed; the sign of our time.

    Yeah….gimme Gleason any day.

    Have I said WAKE UP PEOPLE before?

  • michaelF

    Great story Joe. I look forward to reading more. I strongly agree with you that this is more than nostalgia. The great comediannes,dancers and all around show men owe an allegiance to vaudeville. The movies, radio, and TV are all part of a continuation of a great American Art form. As a ventriloquist IM sure you appreciate the great Edgar Bergin.Now consider that this man was able to translate that form of comedy to the radio! Simply amazing!

    As a small aside, I came to have a pen pal friendship with the great boxer Joe Louis as a result of sending him a letter. Who would think the great Brown Bomber would care so much about a 10 year old boy.

  • JTD


    Another good post …

    I watched the Honeymooners when I was a young adult, but I remember the variety show most fondly … It was a Saturday night staple to tune into (and rushing through dinner if necessary) …

    One note, Frankie Fountain, who played Crazy Guggienhiemner (spelling?) was from here (Boston/Cambridge) and every once and awhile we’d see him here in town (his hangout was a now long-gone restaurant, Simione’s, in Central Square)


  • Joe

    My father had a boat and Frank Fontaine showed up with some friends there one day in the late 60s to early 70s. I remember my father’s impression: BOY did he like to EAT.

  • michaelF

    Hmm. This has gotten me to thinking that a great thread might be one dedicated to old time celebrities we all met. I am in a position now where I meet lots of the current ones. But because of my dads avocation, we met some of the more offbeat guys. I missed a day when Emil Sitka and two of the 3 Stooges came to the house. My mother had no clue who these people were but for several days she would break into laughter as the result of recalling something the guys had said. She would laugh so hard it would worry me. You would have to know Mom to understand why this was so unusual . Also , she never found the 3 stooges to be funny. I will always regret missing that day.

  • Holly in Cincinnati

    I remember the show well, particularly the flowers created by the June Taylor Dancers were fascinating for this young girl!

    “The Jackie Gleason Show with the Honeymooners (mid-late 60s variety version)…Who could forget the June Taylor Dancers and their kaleidoscopically leggy display?”

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