He also developed The Jackie Gleason Show , which maintained high ratings from the mids through Justice in the Smokey and the Bandit series from into the early s co-starring Burt Reynolds. Throughout the s and s, Gleason enjoyed a prominent secondary music career, producing a series of best-selling " mood music " albums.
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His first album, Music for Lovers Only , still holds the record for the longest stay on the Billboard Top Ten Charts weeks , and his first 10 albums sold over a million copies each. Gleason remembered Clement and his father having "beautiful handwriting".
He used to watch his father work at the family's kitchen table, writing insurance policies in the evenings. On the night of December 14, , Gleason's father disposed of any family photos in which he appeared; just after noon on December 15, he collected his hat, coat, and paycheck, and permanently left his family and job at the insurance company. After his father abandoned the family, young Gleason began hanging around with a local gang, hustling pool. Other jobs he held at that time included working in a pool hall, as a stunt driver, and a carnival barker.
He performed the same duties twice a week at the Folly Theater.
Gleason was 19 when his mother died in of sepsis from a large neck carbuncle that young Jackie had tried to lance. The family of his first girlfriend, Julie Dennehy, offered to take him in; Gleason, however, was headstrong and insisted that he was going into the heart of the city.
The booking agent advanced his bus fare for the trip against his salary, granting Gleason his first job as a professional comedian. Following this he would always have regular work in small clubs. Gleason worked his way up to a job at New York's Club 18, where insulting its patrons was the order of the day.
Gleason greeted noted skater Sonja Henie by handing her an ice cube and saying, "Okay, now do something. He also had a small part as a soda shop clerk in Larceny, Inc. Robinson , and a modest part as an actor's agent in the Betty Grable — Harry James musical Springtime in the Rockies. During World War II , Gleason was initially exempt from military service, since he was a father of two.
However, in the US started drafting men with children. Gleason reported to his induction where the doctors discovered that his broken left arm had healed crooked, the area between his thumb and forefinger was nerveless and numb, a pilonidal cyst existed at the end of his coccyx , and that he was pounds overweight.
Gleason was therefore classified 4-F and rejected for military service. Gleason did not make a strong impression on Hollywood at first; at the time he developed a nightclub act that included comedy and music.
At the end of , Gleason and Lew Parker led a large cast of entertainers in the road show production of Olsen and Johnson 's New Hellzapoppin. His pals at Lindy's watched him spend money as fast as he soaked up the booze. Gleason's first significant recognition as an entertainer came on Broadway when he appeared in the hit musical Follow the Girls Gleason's big break occurred in , when he landed the role of blunt but softhearted aircraft worker Chester A.
Riley for the first television version of the radio comedy The Life of Riley.
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William Bendix originated the role on radio but was initially unable to accept the television role because of film commitments. Despite positive reviews, the show received modest ratings and was cancelled after one year. Bendix reprised the role in for a five-year series. He was working at Slapsy Maxie's when he was hired  to host DuMont's Cavalcade of Stars variety hour in , having been recommended by comedy writer Harry Crane , whom he knew from his days as a stand up comedian in New York.
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When he responded it was not worth the train trip to New York, the offer was extended to four weeks. Gleason returned to New York for the show. Renamed The Jackie Gleason Show , the program became the country's second-highest-rated television show during the —55 season.
Following the dance performance, he would do an opening monologue. Then, accompanied by "a little travelin' music" " That's a Plenty ", a Dixieland classic from , he would shuffle toward the wings, clapping his hands and shouting, "And awaaay we go!
Ray Bloch was Gleason's first music director, followed by Sammy Spear , who stayed with Gleason through the s; Gleason often kidded both men during his opening monologues. He continued developing comic characters, including. In a interview, Gleason related some of his characters to his youth in Brooklyn. The Mr. The character of The Poor Soul was drawn from an assistant manager of an outdoor theater he frequented.
Gleason disliked rehearsing. With a photographic memory  he read the script once, watched a rehearsal with his co-stars and stand-in, and shot the show later that day.
When he made mistakes, he often blamed the cue cards. Gleason's most popular character by far was blustery bus driver Ralph Kramden.
Largely drawn from Gleason's harsh Brooklyn childhood, these sketches became known as The Honeymooners. The show was based on Ralph's many get-rich-quick schemes, his ambition, antics with his best friend and neighbor, scatterbrained sewer worker Ed Norton, and clashes with sensible wife Alice, who typically pulled Ralph's head down from the clouds.
Gleason developed catchphrases he used on The Honeymooners, such as threats to Alice: "One of these days, Alice, pow, right in the kisser" or "Bang! To the moon Alice, to the moon! The Honeymooners originated from a sketch Gleason was developing with his show's writers.
He said he had an idea he wanted to enlarge: a skit with a smart, quiet wife and her very vocal husband.
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He went on to describe that, while the couple had their fights, underneath it all they loved each other. Titles for the sketch were tossed around until someone came up with The Honeymooners.
The Honeymooners first was featured on Cavalcade of Stars on October 5, , with Carney in a guest appearance as a cop Norton did not appear until a few episodes later and character actress Pert Kelton as Alice.
Darker and fiercer than the milder later version with Audrey Meadows as Alice, the sketches proved popular with critics and viewers.
As Kramden, Gleason played a frustrated bus driver with a battleaxe of a wife in harrowingly realistic arguments; when Meadows who was 15 years younger than Kelton took over the role after Kelton was blacklisted , the tone softened considerably. When Gleason moved to CBS, Kelton was left behind; her name had been published in Red Channels , a book that listed and described reputed communists and communist sympathizers in television and radio, and the network did not want to hire her.
Gleason reluctantly let her leave the cast, with a cover story for the media that she had "heart trouble". At first he turned down Meadows as Kelton's replacement. Meadows wrote in her memoir that she slipped back to audition again and frumped herself up to convince Gleason that she could handle the role of a frustrated but loving working-class wife.
Elaine Stritch had played the role as a tall and attractive blonde in the first sketch, but was quickly replaced by Randolph.
Comedy writer Leonard Stern always felt The Honeymooners was more than sketch material and persuaded Gleason to make it into a full hour-long episode. In Gleason gambled on making it a separate series entirely. These are the "Classic 39" episodes, which finished 19th in the ratings for their only season.
A decade later, he aired the half-hour Honeymooners in syndicated reruns that began to build a loyal and growing audience, making the show a television icon. Gleason went back to the live format for —7 and short and long versions, including hour-long musicals. Audrey Meadows re appeared for one black and white remake of the '50s sketch, "The Adoption", telecast January 8, One special from was shelved. The Jackie Gleason Show ended in June In , Jackie discussed the possibility of bringing back the Honeymooners in new episodes.
Throughout the s and s Gleason enjoyed a prominent secondary music career, producing a series of best-selling " mood music " albums with jazz overtones for Capitol Records.
Gleason believed there was a ready market for romantic instrumentals. His goal was to make "musical wallpaper that should never be intrusive, but conducive". Gleason reasoned, "If Gable needs music, a guy in Brooklyn must be desperate! Gleason's first album, Music for Lovers Only , still holds the record for the longest stay on the Billboard Top Ten Charts weeks , and his first 10 albums sold over a million copies each.
Gleason could not read or write music; he was said to have conceived melodies in his head and described them vocally to assistants who transcribed them into musical notes. Biographer William A. Henry III wrote in his book, The Great One: The Life and Legend of Jackie Gleason , that beyond the possible conceptualizing of many of the song melodies, Gleason had no direct involvement such as conducting in making the recordings.
Red Nichols , a jazz great who had fallen on hard times and led one of the group's recordings, was not paid as session-leader. Cornetist and trumpeter Bobby Hackett soloed on several of Gleason's albums and was leader for seven of them. Asked late in life by musician—journalist Harry Currie in Toronto what Gleason really did at the recording sessions, Hackett replied, "He brought the checks". Jackie knows a lot more about music than people give him credit for. I have seen him conduct a piece orchestra and detect one discordant note in the brass section.
He would immediately stop the music and locate the wrong note.
It always amazed the professional musicians how a guy who technically did not know one note from another could do that. And he was never wrong. The composer and arranger George Williams has been cited in various biographies as having served as ghostwriter for the majority of arrangements heard on many of Gleason's albums of the s and s.
In Gleason revived his original variety hour including The Honeymooners , winning a Peabody Award. It took Gleason two years to design the house; it was completed in His next foray into television was the game show You're in the Picture , which was cancelled after a disastrously received premiere episode, but was followed the next week by a broadcast of Gleason's  humorous half-hour apology, which was much better appreciated.
In , Gleason resurrected his variety show with more splashiness and a new hook: a fictitious general-interest magazine called The American Scene Magazine , through which Gleason trotted out his old characters in new scenarios; including two new Honeymooners sketches. He also added another catchphrase to the American vernacular, first uttered in the film Papa's Delicate Condition : "How sweet it is!
Each show began with Gleason delivering a monologue and commenting on the attention-getting outfits of band leader Sammy Spear. Then the "magazine" features would be trotted out, from Hollywood gossip reported by comedian Barbara Heller to news flashes played for laughs with a stock company of second bananas, chorus girls and dwarfs.
Comedian Alice Ghostley occasionally appeared as a downtrodden tenement resident, sitting on her front step and listening to boorish boyfriend Gleason for several minutes.
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After the boyfriend took his leave, the smitten Ghostley would exclaim, "I'm the luckiest girl in the world! Helen Curtis played alongside him as a singer and actress, delighting audiences with her 'Madame Plumpadore' sketches with 'Reginald Van Gleason. The final sketch was always set in Joe the Bartender's saloon, with Joe singing "My Gal Sal" and greeting his regular customer, the unseen Mr.