The World of Jackie Gleason
Jackie Gleason – The Great One: On an ordinary day, on the 26th of February 1916 in Bushwick, NY, Herbert Walton Gleason was brought into the world. The baby would be baptized John Herbert Gleason and would come to be known as “The Great One”.
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Jacke, as his mother Mae called him, lived a pained childhood wrought with abandonment and grief. Jackie’s older brother, Clement, died of Meningitis at the age of 14. Jackie was only 3 years old. During these early years Jackie lived with his mom and dad. He especially enjoyed spending time with his dad who would regularly take him to famous Vaudeville theaters. It was these experiences that caused little Jackie Gleason to decide he wanted to spend his life before an audience. He truly cherished these times with his father. When Jackie was just 9 years old, his dad left home suddenly, never to return again.
The young Gleason never took much to school, and in high school instead of studying, he became a notorious prankster. After just a little over a year he dropped out of high school for good. Jackie Gleason’s sense of humor and ability to improvise made him a quick learner as he watched comics perform at nearby venues.
Work as a Comedian
Before long Jackie was able to secure jobs as a comedian. He began to play some local theaters in New York and New Jersey. Soon he was getting jobs all over as his comedy show was in demand.
As talented as he was, it wasn’t long before he got a call from CBS television studios who enlisted him to host his own variety program, The Jackie Gleason Show. This show aired in the early to mid 1950’s on Saturday nights. One of the skits on the show featured a bus driver by the name of Ralph Kramden, his wife Alice, and their neighbors Ed and Trixie Norton.
The Jackie Gleason Show
The Jackie Gleason Show was so popular, it became the second highest rated show on television and Gleason was coined “Mr. Saturday Night”.
Click the animation below to read our article on The Honeymooners
The Honeymooners, the half hour situation comedy television show that Gleason became known for, was based on the Kramdens and the Nortons and was born out of the shorts from The Jackie Gleason Show. The Honeymooners aired on September 20, 1952 for the first time. The first of The Honeymooners shows that were filmed and released in 1955 and 1956 became known as “the classic 39”.In 1985 Gleason eventually released dozens of “lost” Honeymooners episodes.
Over drinks one night, Orson Welles gave Jackie the nickname “the Great One ” because he was so inspired by how accomplished Gleason was in so many different areas. In addition to being a brilliant comic and show man who could dance and sing, he was a popular television celebrity as well as a Broadway performer. He played in such productions as: The Life of Riley, Follow the Girls, Keep Off the Grass, and even won a Tony Award for his role in Take Me Along.
Additionally, Gleason was a screen actor and starred in such famous movies as The Hustler and The Smokey and the Bandit series.
A little known fact to his fans, Jackie Gleason also wrote and performed many of the songs for his shows. His first album, Music for Lovers Only released in 1953 was the longest running album in the Billboard Top Ten Charts with 153 weeks in a row. Jackie was the orchestra conductor for his album, Music to Make You Misty, released in 1955. Both albums were gold records. Also, let’s not forget his role as the lovable mime in Gigot (1962). Masterful!
Though Gleason was primarily a comedic style actor he did star in a dramatic role in an HBO special. It was a 2 man special by the name of Mr. Halpern and Mr. Johnson, and Jackie played opposite Lawrence Olivier.
Fans knew little of Gleason’s serious side, however, just as he could be charming and charismatic he could be equally angry and bitter, and could be known for being a bully.
Jackie suffered from bouts of depression due to abandonment issues from when his dad walked out when he was only 9 years old. He also struggled with various fears such as a deep seeded fear of flying which began after a flight he was on had to make an emergency landing. Gleason never flew again after that.
Jackie was getting tired of all his fans stopping him so he said to a friend “Lets go to Havana, nobody knows me there.” After a day, he said to his friend “Lets go home, nobody knows me here.”
Jackie was married 3 times and has 3 daughters.
Jackie Gleason died June 24, 1987 due to many health issues, including terminal colon cancer. He is buried in Lauderhill, Florida. Etched on the stairway leading up to his sarcophagus are the words, “And Away We Go”, a famous line from his act.
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