THE GREAT ONE by William A. Henry


The Life and Legend of Jackie Gleason
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 Third life of Gleason in recent months and by far the best--as well as one of the best celebrity bios of recent memory, written with richness and brio by two-time Pulitzer-winner (for journalism) Henry (Visions of America, 1985), who's also a culture critic for Time. Deeply researched and taking nothing for granted, here's a book that gives us a Gleason whose warts match his ego, a man whose imagination was ever hog-wild on alcohol and, as with many active drinkers, whose better nature was often drowned by mean- spiritedness. Henry's Gleason, contrary to the legendary Gleason of thousands of interviews and news stories, is an utterly private, self-enclosed man fearful of revealing his deep-seated insecurities and blackly depressing childhood. He would always move back his mother Mae's death by three years when talking of it, having her die when he was a Dickensian waif of 16 rather than an earning entertainer of 19. His father had abandoned the family during the Depression, and his brother had died when Gleason was a child, leaving the future comedian overprotected by Mae. Despite his freewheeling, big-handed way with money and his many gifts to friends and strangers, Gleason apparently used money to bolster his power over CBS and did not think twice about cruelly uprooting some New York subordinates and replanting them in Florida so he could refine his golf game while producing a new version of his TV show. His famed musical genius and so-called conducting skills evidently were zilch, although his mood-music recordings made zillions. Typically, Henry points out, his buddyship with fellow farceur Art Carney was invented for the papers and did not exist. Though Gleason's extravagances were bottle dreams made real, he died of cancer and not from the drink, gluttony, and chain-smoking that should have killed him. A deep-delving bio for Gleason-lovers. (Twenty-four b&w photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-385-41533-8
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1992