This is an online encyclopedia of personalities of Old Time Radio. It is designed for educational and entertainment purposes.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Jackie Gleason (1916-87)

Herbert John Gleason was born February 26, 1916, in Brooklyn, New York. Jackie's childhood was extremely sad. His father, John Herbert Gleason, an insurance auditor, abandoned the family. His brother, Clemence, died at the age of 13, when Jackie was three, of tuberculosis. Jackie attended Bushwick High School in Brooklyn, but dropped out before graduation. His mother, the former Mae Kelly of Ireland, died when Jackie was 19. He was all alone in the world.

Jackie first made a mark for himself on Broadway in Follow the Girls. In just a few years, he was making movies in Hollywood. First working at Warner Brothers, they gave him the name, Jackie C. Gleason. He next went to Columbia Pictures and then to 20th Century-Fox. Probably his best known role in all this time was as the bass player for the Glenn Miller orchestra in Orchestra Wives (1942).

In 1944, he began working on radio. He began a shared program in August... The Jackie Gleason-Les Tremayne Show on NBC. He was a guest on many other radio shows but radio was on the way out and television was the newest thing.

He started out on TV as Chester A. Riley, Sr., on the Life of Riley. William Bendix, who portrayed the character on radio was unavailable due to motion picture commitments. Eventually, Gleason quit and Bendix was able to be Riley. He next did a variety show which came and went. Then came the part he will always be remembered for:

The Honeymooners began as a sketch on Jackie's variety show. It became a staple on the fledgling Dumont Network and then it moved to CBS. There were several changes in the cast, but the cast most folks remember were:
  • Jackie Gleason as Ralph
  • Audrey Meadows as Alice
  • Art Carney as Ed
  • Joyce Randolph as Trixie (Thelma)

The American Forces Radio Service would not have television for soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen stationed overseas until 1968. So the audio portion was recorded and adapted to be played on radio.

Jackie also did other TV shows, including the one this blogger remembers best, Jackie Gleason's American Scene Magazine.

There were also movies, lots of movies: Soldier in the Rain, Gigot, Smokey and the Bandit, The Hustler, Papa's Delicate Condition, and Nothing in Common, among many others.

Unbelievably, even though he couldn't read music or play a musical instrument (he played around on the vibraphone), Jackie composed several songs. He would sing the songs to a musician who transcribed them into notes and Jackie would offer suggestions as it was being played.

Family life: He married Genevieve Halford in 1936. They had two children, Geraldine and Linda (actress Linda Miller). They separated in 1954, hoping to never divorce, which they did do in 1970, so Jackie could marry Beverly McKittrick. And they divorced in 1974. His third marriage was to Marilyn Taylor, the sister of June Taylor (remember the June Taylor Dancers on Jackie's variety shows?)

Jackie died in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, of colon and liver cancer, on June 24, 1987. He was 71 years old.

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