Gleason, nicknamed ‘The Great One’, was known for his brash visual and verbal comedy style. His parents were Mae ‘Maisie’ (née Kelly), Farranree, Co Cork, and Herbert Walton ‘Herb’ Gleason, an Irish-American insurance auditor.
He was in such movies as ‘The Hustler’, ‘Requiem for a Heavyweight’, ‘Skidoo’, and the ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ series, ‘The Toy’, ‘The Sting II’, ‘Nothing in Common’. However, he will always be remembered as Ralph Kramden in the ‘The Honeymooners’, in which he starred with Irish-American, Art Carney.
Gleason’s father abandoned the family when Jackie was eight. Subsequently, his mother, died when Jackie was 16. His only sibling, Clemence, had succumbed to tuberculosis in early childhood, when Jackie was three. He spent much of his time with the Nomads, a Brooklyn ‘athletic club,’ an organisation that differed little from a street gang. He was a familiar figure in the neighbourhood, well-known for a sharp tongue, ‘dandy’ dressing, and virtuoso pool playing, qualities that would be features of his professional persona. Early in life, Gleason displayed a flair for the rough verbal play of the Brooklyn streets, and he seems to have set his sights on a career built around that talent.
In 1956, Jackie Gleason appeared on a British TV chat show with a drunk, Brendan Behan. Surprisingly, perhaps, the British liked Behan’s style and he gained a lot of valuable publicity for his writing. Gleason described the incident saying: ‘It wasn’t an act of God, it was an act of Guinness’.
Gleason died of heart failure on 24 June 1987, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and is buried at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Cemetery in Miami, Florida.
Photo: Jackie Gleason with Brendan Behan