G is for “The Great One,” Jackie Gleason

Gleason’s first album, Music for Lovers Only, still holds the record for the album longest in the Billboard Top Ten Charts

I recently noticed that actor/comedian Jackie Gleason would have turned 100 on February 26, 2016, and will have been dead 30 years come June 24, 2017.

When I was growing up in the 1960s, I used to watch his Saturday night variety show on CBS fairly regularly. Gleason played a variety of characters, including the snobbish millionaire Reginald Van Gleason III, the put-upon character known as the Poor Soul, and Joe the Bartender, who always greeted the bug-eyed “Crazy” Guggenheim (Frank Fontaine) before the latter would break into mellifluous song.

The show featured Sammy Spear and his orchestra, and the June Taylor Dancers, who were often shown in aerial pattern kaleidoscope formations, probably my favorite part of the show.

Before that show aired, there was The Honeymooners. Gleason was Ralph Kramden, on a series also starring Audrey Meadows (pictured with Gleason) as his wife, and Art Carney and Joyce Randolph as the apartment building neighbors. It is a classic 1950s TV program, though I didn’t much like it when I saw it in reruns as a child. The bus driver really bugged me with his rants such as “to the moon, Alice,” as though he were going to punch out his spouse. The Honeymooners was reprised in the 1960s with Carney, but with different actresses.

My mother had several albums of music with Gleason’s name attached. He lent his imprimatur to “a series of best-selling ‘mood music’ albums with jazz overtones for Capitol Records… Gleason’s first album, Music for Lovers Only, still holds the record for the album longest in the Billboard Top Ten Charts (153 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. These included the well-remembered themes of both The Jackie Gleason Show (‘Melancholy Serenade‘) and The Honeymooners (‘You’re My Greatest Love‘).”

Jackie Gleason had a decent movie career. I watched him, much after the fact, in The Hustler (1961) as pool shark Minnesota Fats. I saw him in the first two Smokey and the Bandit films, but not the third one. I recall enjoying his last film, Nothing in Common (1986), with an upcoming actor named Tom Hanks.

But perhaps the strangest thing in his career took place January 20, 1961: “‘You’re in the Picture‘ was a… replacement game show. Contestants would stick their heads through a cut-out board and guess what character they were. The first installment was so much of a failure that on the second week of the time slot Jackie Gleason came out, sat in a chair, and talked about how horrible the first show had been. He was hilarious.”

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

13 thoughts on “G is for “The Great One,” Jackie Gleason”

  1. Oh Roger! You’ve taken me back again! I remember my parents watching The Honeymooners and I used to watch along wondering about this man who told his wife, “To the moon, Alice!” Then the Jackie Gleason Show was de rigeur in our household and we watched and laughed. I didn’t know that he wrote those two songs, though. I must have a listen. Thanks for sharing – another great one!

    Leslie
    abcw team

  2. I didn’t grow up watching any of Jackie Gleason’s shows, so I didn’t become acquainted with him until I was a young adult. I had a girlfriend in college who loved “The Honeymooners,” so I started watching him through reruns and video tapes of his show. I also read or heard somewhere that The Flintstones, which I did watch as a child, was loosely based on the latter. Thanks for the interesting information!

  3. Ann Chin wrote (and for some reason it wouldn’t post): What if a person couldn’t read or write, but can tell a great story? I am thinking of “Gleason could not read or write music; he was said to have conceived melodies in his head and described them vocally to assistants

  4. Have you seen Gigot? I don’t remember much of the story (I saw it as a teen) but I was taken by Jackie Gleason’s performance as a sweet mute man. He was brilliant and so different from his usual brash characters.

  5. I’m afraid I don’t know of this guy and his shows but the
    name sounds familiar, I guess his shows mustn’t have hit the
    UK. The first US programmes I remember are, I love Lucy Andy Williams Show, Lassie, Mr Ed the talking horse, Bonanza, Rawhide, The Big Valley, The High Chaperal, then later Dallas and The Rowan and Martin Laugh In…
    Golden days,
    Best wishes,
    Di.
    ABCW team.

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