Publicity photo from "The Hustler"

LifeTimeline

Jackie Gleason

    • FEB 26

      Birth

    1916
    • Love At First Sight...The Day Jackie Discovered Show Business

    1922
    • Onstage at the Halsey

    1931
    • Married

    1936
    • It's a Girl!

    1940
    • And Away He Goes... to Television

    1949
    • JUL 08

      Back to New York... and TV again, but this time...

    • JUL 15

      Birth of a Team

    1950
    • OCT 05

      Birth of the Honeymooners

    1951
    • SEP

      Gleason Catches the CBS Eye

    1952
    • MAY

      Seriously... He's An Actor, Too

    1953
    • Entire Production Supervised by Jackie Gleason...

    1954
    • OCT 01

      The Honeymooners Premiere

    1955
    • And the Tony Award Goes To...

    1959
    • JAN 20

      Bombed Before, But Never Like This...

    1961
    • SEP

      The Great One Redeems Himself

    1962
    • "Miami Beach Audiences Are The Greatest In The World!"

    1964
    • And Away He Went...

    • Finally

    1970
    • Eureka! There's Gold In Them There Kinescopes!

    • Together Again... One Last Time

    1985
    • JUN 24

      So Long, Pal

    1987
    • AUG

      Ralph, Eternally...

    2000
  • Source: Wikimedia Commons

    Birth

    Brooklyn , New York
    Herbert John Gleason is born to Herbert Gleason, a struggling insurance clerk, and his wife, Mae, who nicknamed her son Jackie. The Gleasons lived on Chauncey Street; the same street that would be home to Ralph and Alice Kramden on "The Honeymooners."

    Jackie was the Gleason's second child. He was only three when his brother Clemence died of meningitis at 14.
    By Robert Waldman
  • 2

    Love At First Sight...The Day Jackie Discovered Show Business

    Brooklyn, New York
    Jackie was six years old when his father took him one afternoon to a vaudeville show at Brooklyn's Halsey Theatre. That visit began a love affair that lasted to the end of Jackie's life. He vividly recalled the experience on the Arthur Godfrey Show in 1958. (To view the segment, click on the video and go to 8:03 for the story).

    Unfortunately, it was one of the few good memories Jackie had of his father. On December 15, 1925, Herb Gleason walked out on his wife and son, never to return.

    By Robert Waldman
  • Onstage at the Halsey

    Brooklyn, New York
    Jackie was only 15 when he became M.C. at the Halsey Theatre, the same place where he fell in love with show business.
    By Robert Waldman
  • Married

    Brooklyn, New York
    Dancer Genevieve Halford agreed to marry Jackie after he vowed to change his big spending, let's-have-a-ball ways. It was a vow he found impossible to keep.
    By Robert Waldman
  • It's a Girl!

    United States
    Jackie's first child, Geraldine is born. Jackie's second daughter, Linda arrived two years later. But Jackie is "an absentee father," wrote biographer William A. Henry III, "for decades to come, sending big checks and making lavish purchases, but rarely investing much of his time. He told colleagues from Art Carney to agent Sam Cohn that he considered himself a failure at fatherhood."
    By Robert Waldman
  • And Away He Goes... to Television

    Hollywood, California
    After getting his foot in show business through local amateur nights in Brooklyn and dives in New Jersey, Jackie was noticed by movie mogul Jack Warner while appearing at the Club 18 in New York and signed to a Warner Brothers contract. In Hollywood, he was a bit player by day, a club performer at night. His career was going nowhere until actor William Bendix was prevented from appearing on television by his movie studio. Hired to replace Bendix in the TV version of Bendix's radio series, "The Life of Riley," Jackie thought this could be his big break.

    He was sadly mistaken. Jackie's version of "The Life of Riley" was canceled after only one season.
    By Robert Waldman
  • Back to New York... and TV again, but this time...

    New York, New York
    The low budget DuMont Television network got word that Jackie was knocking them dead at Hollywood's Slapsie Maxie's nightclub and thought that he might be a good MC for their "Cavalcade of Stars" variety show. The show offered Jackie $750 a week for a two-week trial. The Not Yet Great One declined. If he had to travel all the way back for a TV show, they would have to give him at least four weeks on the air. DuMont said yes.

    Before boarding the Super Chief to head East, Jackie told his Hollywood friends, "See ya in a couple of weeks." But he didn't come back for years. With Jackie starring, "Cavalcade of Stars" became DuMont's biggest hit. Here's an early episode from August 26, 1950.
    By Robert Waldman
  • Birth of a Team

    New York, New York
    The second week Jackie headlined "Cavalcade of Stars," he needed an actor to play a photographer in a sketch. His writers suggested a guy appearing on another DuMont Show, 32-year-old Art Carney.

    Jackie was so impressed by Carney's performance that he asked him to return the next week, and told his producer, "Find something for him. He's great."

    A team, some call it the greatest comedy duo since Laurel and Hardy, was born.

    Said Carney of Gleason: "He was the only star I ever worked with who said, 'Go for more.' If you got a laugh that was fine. If you got two laughs, that was better. He didn't worry about me upstaging him or showing him up--although when it came to being spontaneously funny, he was pretty damn fast on his feet, let me tell you."

    From 1951, here's one of the earliest clips of Gleason and Carney working together.
    By Robert Waldman
  • Birth of the Honeymooners

    New York, New York
    Early on, Jackie realized that he couldn't carry a show just by being himself, so he developed sketch characters like The Poor Soul, man about town Reginald Van Gleason, show-off Charlie Bratton and Joe the Bartender.

    Early in the second season of Cavalcade of Stars, Jackie had an idea for a pair of new characters. In his 1956 biography of Jackie, The Golden Ham, Jim Bishop recounted the script conference that gave birth to the Honeymoooners:

    "One afternoon, [writers] Joe Bigelow and Harry Crane were trying to write a sketch with the star, and Gleason said that he had an idea for a sketch that would revolve around a married couple--a quiet, shrewd wife and a loudmouthed husband.

    "You got a title for it?" asked Bigelow.

    "Wait a minute," said Crane. "How about 'The Beast'?"

    Jackie got to his feet. "Just a second," he said. "I always wanted to do this thing, and the man isn't a beast. The guy really loves this broad. They fight, sure. But they always end in a clinch."

    Bigelow shrugged, "It could be a thing."

    "I come from a neighborhood full of that stuff. By the time I was fifteen, I knew every insult in the book."

    "Then let's try it," said Bigelow.

    "But not 'The Beast,'" said Jackie. "That's not the title."

    "Why not?"

    "It sounds like the husband is doing all the fighting. We need something a little left-handed as a title. You know, this thing can go and go and go."

    "How about 'The Lovers'," said Harry Crane.

    "That's a little closer, Harry," Gleason paced the floor. "A little closer, but it could mean they're not married. We need something that tells at once that they're married."

    "'The Couple Next Door'?"

    "No. How about 'The Honeymooners'?"

    "I got the opening line,' Bigelow said. "The guy comes home tired. He worked all day. He's beat. He walks in, mad at the whole world, and his wife says, 'Don't take your coat off. Go downstairs and get me a loaf of bread,' and the guy gives her a look that would split a grapefruit and he shakes his head sarcastically and says, 'I'm not getting anything. I worked all day. What did you do?' And we're off to the races."

    "That's the general idea," Jackie said. "Make it real. Make it the way people really live. If it isn't credible, nobody's going to laugh. The guy at home has got to the be able to look at it and say, 'That's the way my old lady sounds.'"

    From 1951, here is one of the earliest Honeymooners sketches (and featuring the original Alice, actress Pert Kelton.)






    By Robert Waldman
  • 2

    Gleason Catches the CBS Eye

    New York, New York
    By 1952, Jackie was well aware of his star potential and wanted to leave the bargain basement Dumont network for what was then known as the Tiffany Network, CBS. Though Jackie drank his way through his first meeting with the CBS brass, the network signed him. William Paley, the head of CBS had been away at the time, and when he was told of the deal with Jackie, he said, "Who's he?"

    It wasn't long before Paley would do anything to keep Jackie happy at CBS. The Jackie Gleason Show zoomed to number two in the Top 10, just behind "I Love Lucy."

    One of the trademarks of the show was Jackie's entrance after the June Taylor Dancers did a lavish opening number worthy of the Rockettes. In 1955, he joined Jack Benny to make fun of it all and himself. (To view, click on the picture icon bottom right. The segment begins at 14:41)

    By Robert Waldman
  • Seriously... He's An Actor, Too

    New York , New York
    During his first season on CBS, Jackie made his dramatic acting debut on the network's drama anthology series, Studio One. In a classic case of art imitating life, "The Laughmaker" starred Jackie and Art Carney in the saga of a brash comedian on his way up.

    By Robert Waldman
  • Source: Getty Images

    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."

    By Robert Waldman
  • The Honeymooners Premiere

    New York, New York
    The talk of show business in 1955 was Jackie's $11 million dollar deal with Buick and CBS to make two years of "The Honeymooners" -- 78 episodes that would run over 39 weeks. It would be a filmed situation comedy instead of a sketch on his live variety show.

    It may come as a surprise today, but when "The Honeymooners" premiered as a standalone series, neither the reviews or the ratings were all that good. Newsday TV Critic Jo Coppola wrote, "The foibles of the Kramdens and the Nortons now seem on a par with what passes for comedy on a dozen other situation comedies roaming the channels."

    Years later, TV Guide would rank the initial Honeymooners episode, "TV or Not TV ", #26 on its 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time list. You can watch that episode to the right.

    Suprisingly, by the end of the show's first season, Jackie's spot in the ratings had dropped from Number 2 to 20.

    Jackie announced he wouldn't do a second season because he felt they were running out of ideas. The following season he returned to a live variety show featuring the Honeymooners in original musical episodes. The 39 episodes that aired as that first season are now known as the Classic 39.

    By Robert Waldman
  • And the Tony Award Goes To...

    United States
    While Jackie never received an Emmy Award for his work on TV, he did win a Tony Award for his performance as Uncle Sid in "Take Me Along," a musical version of Eugene O'Neill's "Ah Wilderness."
    By Robert Waldman
  • Source: Wikimedia Commons

    Bombed Before, But Never Like This...

    New York , New York
    In 1961, Jackie starred in his first TV series in three years as MC of a game show called "You're In The Picture." The object of the game was for celebrity contestants to put their heads through holes in a picture then ask questions to Jackie to figure out what scene they were in. If it sounds terrible, it's because it was. The week after the premiere, Jackie came on the air and apologized:

    "Last week we did a show that laid the biggest bomb--it would make the H-bomb look like a two-inch salute."
    By Robert Waldman
  • Source: Wikimedia Commons

    The Great One Redeems Himself

    New York , New York
    In the early '60s, Jackie's reputation as a dramatic actor was burnished by his performances in as a boxing manager in "Requiem for a Heavyweight", as Minnesota Fats in "The Hustler," for which he was nominated for an Academy Award, and in "Gigot" where he starred as a mute in Paris. Around the same time, CBS lured him back to do another variety series in his old time slot at 8 on Saturday night. "Jackie Gleason & The American Scene Magazine" was pretty much like his old show, featuring Jackie once again as the Poor Soul, Reggie Van Gleason and Joe the Bartender. Best of all for Gleason fans, the Honeymooners would be back whenever Art Carney was available to play Ed Norton. Over the next few years, Alice and Trixie would be played by different actresses including Sue Ann Langdon, Sheila Mc Rae, and Jane Kean, but Jackie knew he could never replace Carney as Norton. "Every move he made, " said Jackie, "was the right one."

    Robert Waldman
    Here's Jackie in "Gigot"(1962). He not only starred, he also wrote the original story the film was based on, and composed the score. Gene Kelly directed.
  • Source: Wikimedia Commons

    "Miami Beach Audiences Are The Greatest In The World!"

    Miami , Florida
    When Jackie decided he wanted to play golf year round, he persuaded CBS to pick up the tab to move his show and the show's staff to Miami Beach. The Miami Beach Auditorium would be converted in to one of the largest television studios in the world with thousands clamoring every week for tickets.
    In 1966, the show, like the rest of the CBS lineup, began broadcasting in color, leading to what is now known as "The Color Honeymooners"; a remake of the Kramdens and Norton's 1956-57 musical travels through Europe.

    By Robert Waldman
  • Source: Getty Images

    And Away He Went...

    Miami Beach, Florida
    In the early 1970s, CBS cleaned house, getting rid of long running shows that attracted older, more rural, less affluent viewers. Along with Red Skelton and Ed Sullivan, Jackie was given the ax.

    Not long after, the network offered him the starring role in a new situation comedy based on a show from England. Jackie read the script and detested it.

    "Jackie was furious with CBS for canceling him" wrote Gleason biographer William A. Henry III. "He still wanted to do a variety show. He considered the new series a degenerate version of The Honeymooners...and not funny."

    Yes, Jackie Gleason had turned down the chance to star as Archie Bunker in "All In The Family."
    By Robert Waldman
  • Source: Getty Images

    Finally

    Though legally separated since the 1950s, Jackie's wife Gen didn't grant him a divorce until 1970. On July 4th that year, Jackie married Beverly McKittrick, a secretary for a country club. But as Jackie later admitted, "It was another mistake. She didn't like my friends and didn't understand show business." In 1975, they divorced. A few weeks later, Jackie married the love of his life (see LifeQ's for the complete story).
    By Robert Waldman
  • Eureka! There's Gold In Them There Kinescopes!

    New York, New York
    By the late '70s, reruns of the classic 39 filmed episodes of "The Honeymooners" had attracted generations of viewers too young to have ever seen the series in its original run. The popularity of the reruns led to ABC bringing back Jackie as Ralph Kramden, Art Carney as Ed Norton, and Audrey Meadows as Alice Kramden in a series of four one-hour specials between 1976 and 1978.

    Compared to the original series, the specials were disappointing. What fans longed for was seeing more of the Kramdens and Nortons in their 1950's heyday.

    In 1985, Jackie gave them what they had hoped for. "Somebody asked," he told Playboy, "if I might have any of the kinescopes of the [Honeymooners] sketches we did on the Du Mont Network, and afterward, on CBS. I said, 'Yeah, we got a bundle of them in an airconditioned vault in Miami.' I had been getting annoyed paying the air-conditioning bills, anyway."

    Jackie made a bundle selling the rights to these "lost" episodes to Viacom, which initially aired them on its Showtime cable network. Fans rejoiced when it was announced there was enough material to add another 68 episodes of vintage Honeymooners to the classic 39.

    "I guess [the Honeymooners] lasted for a couple of reasons,' said Jackie. 'One, the show was funny. That usually helps. Two, you like the people. If an audience likes you, you're home free."

    Click on the video to see a rarity: the original closing for one of the Classic 39 Honeymooners episodes(1955-56) complete with Jackie doing a commercial for Buick.






    By Robert Waldman
  • Together Again... One Last Time

    United States
    Thirty-five years after they first worked together, Jackie and Art Carney teamed up one last time for the made-for-TV movie, "Izzy & Moe," based on the true story of two vaudevillians who became Prohibition agents. True to his old ways, Jackie refused to rehearse; he and Art met on the set moments before the cameras rolled.

    By Robert Waldman
  • Source: Getty Images

    So Long, Pal

    Lauderhill, Florida
    Jackie passed away, "quietly and comfortably," said his wife Marilyn, at his Florida home on June 24, 1987. The cause was terminal colon cancer which had metastasized to his liver. He was 71.
    Ned Berke
    Just the day before his 100th birthday, it was reported that the home in which he died is up for sale for a mere $299,000.

    "The house filled with Gleason's personal furnishings, including a billfish that he caught and a meat slicer that he used for his home-cooked hams. It also contains a massive library with impressive law and reference books that Gleason never read, as well as a billiard room designed by famous pool shark Willie Mosconi, who was a technical advisor on Gleason's 1961 film "The Hustler."

    "Near the master bedroom is a private sauna. There is also a dining room that looks like a restaurant where Gleason entertained many of his famous friends.

    "'President Gerald Ford was here, as well as Frank Sinatra,' owner Ashley Lawrence said.

    "Gleason apparently loved to drink. There are five bars in the home."

    The attached image is his billiards room, though the pool table has been removed.

    http://www.local10.com/entertainment/j/.../ill-home-for-sale
  • Source: Wikimedia Commons

    Ralph, Eternally...

    New York, New York
    Jackie lives on as his most famous character, bus driver Ralph Kramden not only in reruns, DVDs, and on YouTube. Since 2000, a statue of Jackie as Ralph has greeted bus riders at New York's Port Authority Bus Terminal.

    By Robert Waldman