JACKIE GLEASON: An Intimate Portrait of the Great One by W.J. Weatherby

JACKIE GLEASON: An Intimate Portrait of the Great One

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Pleasant but lightweight life of fat Ralph Kramden's creator, by the author of Salman Rushdie (1990), James Baldwin (1989), etc. Weatherby apparently twisted a scotch bottle dry with Gleason a number of times, starting back in Gleason's heyday, 1961, when the comedian was already questioning the value of gaining the world and would solemnly quote Shakespeare at length. Orson Welles dubbed Gleason ""the Great One"" and hoped someday to direct him as Falstaff, while Gleason tried to talk Welles into making Citizen Gleason. Weatherby has nailed the right interviews (Art Carney, Audrey Meadows, Milton Berle, Frank Sinatra, Mickey Rooney, Paul Newman, and others), but even so one can feel paste at the joins. Abandoned at nine by his father and an orphan at 19, Bushwick-born Gleason was stage-struck at seven, working as a stand-up comedian in his teens. Early marriage to a fellow Catholic he could not divorce brought him two daughters and long pain. Gleason bloomed in bistros, especially Toots Shor's, and always picked up the check, even when broke. Ralph Kramden, with his Depression-era kitchen, was the longest-running in a stable of Gleason creations, and when the comedian decided to stop doing Kramden at the height of his glory, CBS was stunned. Gleason said he feared running dry, as good an explanation as any. As a character actor, he enjoyed a mostly successful film career (e.g., as pool-shark Minnesota Fats in The Hustler) and did some hit stage turns. Late in life, the release of 120 ""lost"" early episodes of The Honeymooners he'd kept in an air-conditioned vault brought him renewed fame. Gleason died of cancer in 1987 at age 71. Gleason is an ever-compelling major comedian who still awaits the serious biographical attention given Keaton, Chaplin, and Laurel and Hardy.

Pub Date: April 6th, 1992
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Pharos--dist. by St. Martin's