Entire Production Supervised by Jackie Gleason...
New York, New York
That was the credit at the end of every one of Jackie's shows, and it was no joke. He even composed the show's opening theme, Melancholy Serenade, as well as the music that began each and every Honeymooners.
When it came to rehearsing, however, Jackie was a big believer in Less is More, driving his fellow cast members and crew crazy. The late Broadway producer, Alexander Cohen was an eyewitness as a press agent for one of Gleason's sponsors in the '50s. In this never-before-published interview, Cohen describes Gleason at work... or not :
"Jackie would arrive, usually about five minutes before the rehearsal was ready to go on camera downstairs. And he would come up on the elevator to his dressing room. There was a monitor sitting on a nondescript table. Jackie would sit down and watch the monitor.
Jack Hurdle -- they called him producer, but he was his stand-in -- was doing Gleason's lines, imitating what the boss would be watching upstairs on screen. The key to all of this is that Gleason, never, ever, once rehearsed anything, period.
At about 7:15, the valet would come upstairs and Jackie would get dressed, having showered, shaved, with a little massage. He would arrive on the deck at about 90 seconds in front of 8 o'clock. And the last thing they would do was to determine whether he would wear a red or white carnation. The valet would say 'red or white?' And Jackie would say, 'Red.' And as they finished pinning it, you'd hear the band begin to tune up. 30 seconds later, you were on the air.
And he'd go out there. He had made every correction in his mind; he knew what was wrong; he knew what line wasn't being delivered; he knew how to get a performance or how to get a laugh. Never once during the entire season, did I ever see him miss a trick."
For Jackie's writers, working with their star wasn't easy.
In his early days in TV, Neil Simon wrote for Jackie. After a few weeks on the job, he asked, "When do I meet Jackie?" "You don't," was the reply. According to Gleason biographer, William A. Henry III, "Many of Gleason's writers told of having to slip their scripts under the door for him to read, rather than getting the opportunity to deliver them in person." Gleason's treatment inspired Simon to become a playwright. As he struggled writing his first play, the thought that kept Simon going "was the thought that I did not want to be a middle-aged man waiting for the phone to ring so I could go to work writing gags for some abusive, unappreciative shit like Jackie Gleason. It was my personal vision of hell."
And yet, another of Jackie's writers, Leonard Stern (who later produced Get Smart), told Henry, "Gleason's trust in his writers was ultimately unequaled in my experience. To rehearse that little means that you basically go out and do the material as written. And although Jackie could be mean and loud and uncommunicative, I never felt there was deep animosity. Plus, I know for a fact that he paid a little better than everyone else, because he wanted our loyalty. That was important to him, even if he had to buy it."