Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Jackie Gleason Show 1966-1970

One of my Father's favorite TV series was THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW. In one form or another--including the now-classic HONEYMOONERS episodes, THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW had been on the air since 1952, making a perhaps surprising TV star of the chubby also-ran comic and small-time character actor. I didn't pay it much attention until 1966, however, when it was reincarnated for its final time from the JACKIE GLEASON AMERICAN SCENE MAGAZINE. Before that I have vague memories of the show--mainly the Joe the Bartender sketches with Frank Fontaine-- and have seen it in reruns. It's the color episodes from Miami Beach I remember though, every Saturday night.

Jackie was known as "The Great One." He had a reputation for being able to imbibe large quantities of alcohol without getting drunk. He was known to skip every rehearsal and yet know every line perfectly. He was also a composer with many very successful albums of romantic easy listening music. He was big, loud, boisterous and not always considered to be a nice person...and yet he was one of the most beloved TV stars of them all.

For the color incarnation of THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW, the star revived classic sketch characters like Reggie Van Gleason and The Poor Soul and brought back favorite supporting actors Frank Fontaine and Art Carney but the main attraction became the revival of THE HONEYMOONERS in what amounted ultimately to a brand new stage musical every week, often with big name guest stars of the day. Sometimes they were good, sometimes bad...but always big in the ratings.

As before, Jackie was bus driver Ralph Kramden and he lived in Brooklyn with his long-suffering wife Alice, now played not by Audrey Meadows but by musical star Sheila MacRae. His neighbor and sidekick was, as always, Ed Norton, one of the great TV characters of all time, played once again by Art Carney. Norton's wife Trixie was Alice's "partner in crime."

After finally leaving weekly television, Gleason went on to a successful film career that saw him co-starring with Burt Reynolds, Richard Pryor and Terence Hill among others. If anything, one can say that Art Carney did him one better, winning a Best Actor Oscar for the film HARRY AND TONTO and then starring in a number of theatrical and TV movies.

As far as my Dad was concerned, though, in the late sixties, Jackie Gleason was the biggest star on TV in more ways than one. That's what I grew up believing in our house and that's why I'll always remember my dad whenever I see Jackie.


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