HOW SWEET IT IS: The Jackie Gleason Story by James Bacon

HOW SWEET IT IS: The Jackie Gleason Story

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

The life of The Great One once over lightly but as well told as need be, by an old Hollywood drinking buddy (sometimes in fact called Gleason's ""evil companion"") and written with Gleason's cooperation. After two triple bypass operations in recent years, Gleason still chain-smokes six packs a day and has a foodless lunch of six double scotches. He vows he is no alcoholic. ""An alcoholic doesn't know why he drinks,"" he explains. ""I do. I drink to get bagged, and besides, booze removes all warts and blemishes, not from you but from the broad you are drinking with. Waiter, more wart medicine."" Gleason's early life in Brooklyn in Depression days was his model for the tone of argument that dominated his immortal ""The Honeymooners,"" sketches of life with Ralph and Alice Kramden and Ed and Trixie Norton (Gleason himself designed the Kramdens' apartment with its uncurtained window and pan catching the icebox drippings). The elder Gleasons argued (about money) just like the Ralph and Alice--and were heavy drinkers just like Jackie. When Jackie was three, his 14-year-old brother died; one December payday in 1925, when Jackie was nine, his father disappeared (triggering Jackie's compulsive eating) and has not been heard from since; when Jackie was 19 his mother died on the living-room couch, of erysipelas, while Jackie and friends were playing cards in the kitchen. After that he was on his own, began working his way into club dates in New Jersey, then doing burlesque steadily as the house solo comic. Aside from his many triumphs, as the King of Television, on screen as pool shark Minnesota Fats in The Hustler, on stage in Take Me Along, and in his serious dramatic performances (including a recent two-character TV film with Laurence Olivier), plus his many, many million-selling records of mood music conducted by himself (though he can't read a note), he has also scored heavily in the recent commercial blockbuster series about Smokey and the Bandit ($60-million gross) as well as in The Toy with Richard Pryor ($43 million). But Bacon spends as much space herein on Gleason at play as he does on Gleason at work, and play was decades of alcoholic pranks played by himself and Frank Sinatra on restaurateur Toots Shor, the only man alive who could drink The Great One off his bar stool. As celebrity bios go, a little less solid than a Ritz cracker--but once you start you can't stop.

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1985
Publisher: St. Martin's