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WE KIDS OF the Ryan family grew up with Herbert John "Jackie" Gleason. His weekly visits on Saturday evenings were sort of like having a favourite uncle over for dinner. He did very much resemble one of our Dad's Brothers; both in mannerisms and physique; but only slightly so and in a non-exaggerated, non-caricatured version.
THERE IS NO argument that the segment of his weekly variety show that is best remembered today is THE HONEYMOONERS.* Ralph, Alice, Norton and Trixie will always live in the never ending eternity of the rerun channels ("Classic" if you please). But what about the others that are now seemingly either forgotten or unknown to our younger generations.
ON THE WEEKLY show, Mr. Gleason and company presented the viewing public and the lucky Studio Audience with what would easily be considered the equivalent of a new, live and original show every week.** But we came to know Gleason in many other guises than the familiar persona of the quick tempered Brooklyn bus driver, Kramden.
WHILE IT IS certainly a no-brainer that THE HONEYMOONERS indeed was what emerged as his signature production and role, in the beginning it was one of several rotating on going sketches that had continuity of characters and storyline. Those "Forgotten" characters having series within the series of THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW were:
REGINALD VAN GLEASON, overgrown spoiled rich guy and chronic
inebriate. Stovepipe Hat, Walrus Moustache and loud, brash
RUDY THE REPAIRMAN, general purpose handyman and bumbling craftsman
who worked with a midget assistant ("Whitey"), who spoke gibberish
only, but always understood 'Rudy.'
JOE THE BARTENDER, which Gleason did as a solo monologue with the
subjective camera's eye portraying the unseen, unheard bar patron,
THE LOUDMOUTH, Jackie as "Loudmouth" Charlie Bratton, whose
mission in life was to make things miserable for fellow diner
patron, "Clem" (Art Carney). An oft used gag featured the
infirm Carney character's attempting to eat, when Bratton would
invariably enter, slap him on the back with the interrogative of
"What's that slop you're eating, Clem?"
THE POOR SOUL, Gleason's tour de force in characterization.
Playing the skit in pantomime backed up with the well known
instrumental portion of the song "Tenderly", the mishaps
and innocent brushes with the law and other "comic"
situations that always seemed to engulf the Poor Soul
both brought us to laughter and tears simultaneously.
The only adjective applicable here is "Chaplinesque."
STANLEY BABBIT, a well meaning but bumbling sort of a
freelance do-gooder and Nebbish. Spoke in very NYC
THERE MAY WELL be some other characters that we didn't mention. But if that's true, let us know. We just want the world of today to be made aware of the depth of talent and versatility that Jackie brought to the small screen in those long gone "Paleolithic" days of early television.
NOTE: * THE HONEYMOONERS shows that are shown in perpetuity over so many TV stations are in fact segments culled from THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW and originally went out live.
NOTE ** This live, original format was also true of YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS (Sid Ceasar), TEXACO STAR THEATER (Milton Berle), THE RED SKELTON SHOW (Richard Skelton) and dramas such as CLIMAX, PLAYHOUSE 90 and WESTINGHOUSE STUDIO ONE.
NOTE *** Although we enjoyed Gleason's teaming with Frank Fontaine's "Crazy Googenheim" character in the 1960's American SCENE MAGAZINE/JACKIE GLESASON SHOW, the character originated as a monologue/one man show with only "Joe" appearing.
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