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Jackie Gleason

actor, songwriter, arranger, conductor

Jackie Gleason

Herbert John Gleason was born into a poor family in Brooklyn, New York, on February 26, 1916. After his alcoholic father abandoned the family when he was nine, his over-protective mother all but locked the youngster in the house and kept him on a very short leash. He dropped out of school at about the age of 12 in order to help support his mother financially. At age 15 he became a vaudeville emcee at the Halsey Theater in Brooklyn, where, as "Jumpin' Jack" Gleason, he became known for his spirited exchanges with hecklers. He spent the next several years supporting himself as a pool hustler, carnival barker, stand-up comic, and even professional boxer. He even did a brief stint as a contract player at Warner Brothers.

Gleason's professional career began in 1949, when he was signed to play the title role in the television adaptation of the popular radio series The Life of Riley. Unfortunately, the moralistic tone of the sitcom's plots was unsuited to Gleason's style, and the show was not renewed for another season.

In 1950, Gleason replaced Jerry Lester as host of DuMont's Cavalcade of Stars, a comedy-variety show that featured comic monologues interspersed with short comedy sketches and musical numbers. It was on this show that Gleason first debuted some of his most notable characters, including Reginald Van Gleason III, the Bachelor, Joe the Bartender, and Ralph Kramden. It also marked the beginning of what became a life-long association with Art Carney, a member of the show's regular cast.

In 1952, Gleason was lured away from DuMont to CBS with the promise that he could have complete control over his own television show. The Jackie Gleason Show debuted on CBS that same year, and by 1954 he was second only to Lucille Ball in ratings.

The Honeymooners, the television show for which Gleason is best remembered, actually began as a series of skits on Cavalcade of Stars and The Jackie Gleason Show. Wanting to get away from the variety show format, Gleason repackaged those skits and replaced the first half-hour of The Jackie Gleason Show with The Honeymooners; he contracted with the Dorsey Brothers for a big-band musical program for the second half of his alloted time slot. A total of thirty-nine episodes were filmed and aired between 1955 and 1956. The show's characters were based on people from his real-life childhood, and the set was an almost exact replica of the apartment in which he grew up. Although the show was very popular in its day, and continues to be shown in syndication around the world, Gleason never won an Emmy for The Honeymooners.

scene from The Honeymooners

Gleason's subsequent televsion career was a series of short-lived variety shows, a one-episode game show the concept of which proved so bad that he personally apologized to his viewers for having aired it, and an equally-ill-conceived one-on-one talk show. His movie and music careers, however, more than made up for his television failures.

Of his many movie roles, Gleason is probably best remembered for his portrayal of Minnesota Fats in The Hustler, for which he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1961. His pool shark role was also featured in The Sting and The Sting II. Other fans undoubtedly remember him as Sheriff Bufford T. Pusser in the Smokey and the Bandit movie series.

Although Gleason couldn't read music, he was also an accomplished songwriter, arranger and conductor. In 1952, he cut a deal with Capitol Records in which he agreed to cover any losses if his first album sold less than 60,000 copies, a seemingly unreachable goal in those days. Capitol never had to take Gleason up on his promise, however, since more than 500,000 copies of Music for Lovers Only were sold. Gleason went on to release more than 20 albums between 1953 and 1969. He also wrote the theme songs for The Honeymooners ("You're My Greatest Love") and The Jackie Gleason Show ("Melancholy Serenade"), and even scored the musical Gigot.

Jackie Gleason died of colon and liver cancer on June 24, 1987, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.


Genevieve Halford, 1936-1971 (divorce) -- two children, Geraldine and Linda
Beverly McKittrick, 1971-1974 (divorce)
Marilyn Taylor Horwich, 1975-his death


Navy Blue (1941)
All Through the Night (1941)
Steel Against the Sky (1941) uncredited
Lady Gangster (1942)
Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1942)
Larceny, Inc. (1942)
Escape from Crime (1942)
Orchestra Wives (1942) uncredited
Springtime in the Rockies (1942) uncredited
The Desert Hawk (1950)
The Hustler (1961)
Gigot (1962)
Requiem for a Heavyweight
Soldier in the Rain (1963)
The Time of Your Life (1963)
Papa's Delicate Condition (1966)
Skidoo (1968)
How to Commit a Marriage (1969)
Don't Drink the Water (1969)
How Do I Love Thee? (1970)
Mr. Billion (1977)
Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
Smokey and the Bandit II (1980)
The Toy (1982)
Sting II (1983)
Smokey and the Bandit III (1983)
Mr. Halpern and Mr. Johnson (1983) TV
Fools Die (1985)
Izzy and Moe
(1985) TV
Nothing in Common (1986)

Stage Roles

Hellzapoppin' (1938)
Keep Off the Grass (1940)
Artists and Models (1943)
Follow the Girls (1944)
Along Fifth Avenue (1949)
Take Me Along (1959-1960)
Sly Fox (1978)

Television Series

Life of Riley (1949-1950)
Cavalcade of Stars (1950-1952)
The Jackie Gleason Show (1952-1955) [3 episodes only]
The Honeymooners (1955-1956)
The Jackie Gleason Show (1957-1959)
You're in the Picture (1961) a game show that only aired for one episode
The Jackie Gleason Show (1961) a one-on-one talk show
Jackie Gleason and His American Scene Magazine (1962-1966)
The Jackie Gleason Show (1966-1970) a comedy-variety show [15 episodes]

Musical Recordings

Music For Lovers Only (1952)
Lover's Rhapsody (1953)
Music to Make You Misty (1954)
Tawny (1954)
And Awaay We Go!
(1954) features his only vocal performances
Lonesome Echo
Music, Martinis, and Memories (1954)
Romantic Jazz (1955)
Music to Remember Her (1955)
Music to Change Her Mind (1956)
Night Winds
Merry Christmas
Music for the Love Hours (1957)
Velvet Brass
Jackie Gleason Presents "Oooo!"
The Torch With the Blue Flame (1958)
Riff Jazz
That Moment (1959)
Take Me Along (1959)
Aphrodisia (1960)
Opiate D'Amour (1960)
Lazy Little Love (1961)
The Gentle Touch (1961)
A Lover's Portfolio (1962)
Love, Embers and Flame (1962)
Gigot (1963)
Champagne, Candlelight & Kisses (1963)
A Lover's Portfolio (Music for Sippin' & Dancin') (1963)
A Lover's Portfolio (Music for Listenin' & Lovin') (1963)
Last Dance For Lover's Only (1964)
Silk 'N' Brass (1965)
How Sweet It Is For Lovers (1966)
A Taste of Brass For Lovers Only (1967)
Tis the Season
Doublin' in Brass (1968)
The Now Sound
Romantic Moods of Jackie Gleason


Antoinette Perry Awards (Tonys)
1960 -- Best Actor, Musical -- Take Me Along

Laurel Awards (Golden Laurel)
1962 -- Top Male Supporting Performance -- The Hustler

National Board of Review, USA
1961 -- Best Supporting Actor -- The Hustler

Peabody Awards
1956 -- Personal Award for Television Entertainment -- shared with Perry Como

1952 -- TV Guide Best Comedian of the Year
1986 -- inducted into the Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame
Television Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 6310 Hollywood Boulevard
the 5th Avenue Bus Depot in Brooklyn was renamed the Jackie Gleason Bus Depot in his honor
the Miami Beach Auditorium was renamed the Jackie Gleason Theater


Internet Movie DataBase
The Museum of Television Broadcasting
Space Age Music Maker

See Also

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

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This page was last updated on 09/25/2018.