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THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW-(A Hour Long Comedy-Musical-Variety Show)
Produced by the CBS Television Network which ran from 1952-1971. First
Telecast of the Program: September 20, 1952 Last Telecast of the
Program: September 12, 1971 The Black and White Episodes: 1952-1966 The
Color Episodes: 1966-1971
Announcers: Jack Lescoulie (1952-1959) Announcers: Johnny Olsen (1962-1971) Theme: "Melancholy Serenade" by Jackie Gleason(written in 1953)
This was one of the longest running variety shows ever produced in the history of television,and for that longer length of time this was in fact a Saturday Night featurette that ran on the CBS-TV network for more than 20 years which was the network's second successful show opposite the long running "The Ed Sullivan Show",which ran for 23 years on the same network. The first "Jackie Gleason" original CBS variety hour,done live from New York,bore a stronger similarity to a show that he did during his routine on "The Cavalcade of Stars",which was on the DuMont Network since the summer of 1950 before he went over to CBS,but with a larger cast and a larger budget. His co-star and second banana,Art Carney,made the move with him along with the June Taylor Dancers and the music of the Ray Bloch Orchestra. Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph were added to the cast of regulars,primarily in "The Honeymooners" sketches and most of the characters that Gleason had developed on DuMont were honed to perfection on CBS,and from there became timeless classic that will forever be a tribute to the golden age of television. It was from there the sketch parody of "The Honeymooners" was made into a weekly series which ran for one season from 1955-1956,producing 39 episodes.
Among the characters that were created by Jackie Gleason in addition to "The Honeymooners",among them Ralph Kramden,were The Poor Soul,Joe The Bartender,The Loudmouth,Reggie Van Gleason III,Rudy the Repairman, and Fenwick Babbitt. The Great One,as Jackie was called,opened each telecast with a monologue and then led into the first sketch with his classic line "And awa-a-aay we go",as he left the stage. His other catchphrase,used in reaction to almost anything at was,"How sweet it is!" This became a national catchphrase. The original "Jackie Gleason Show" ran for three seasons and was replaced,for the 1955-1956 season with a half-hour situation comedy version of "The Honeymooners" which ran for one season. But despite very low ratings the following fall and with the chemistry that made it shine during the 1956-1957 season wasn't there anymore since Art Carney was replaced by Buddy Hackett as Jackie's second banana. And from there production of the original "Jackie Gleason Show" came to a grinding halt after the network CBS cancelled it in January of 1959. But that wasn't the last the network executives have heard from Jackie Gleason. Gleason went on to produced a quiz show "Your In The Picture" in 1959,and in 1961 had a talk show format titled "The Jackie Gleason Show". Both were dismal failures.
In September of 1962,Jackie Gleason returned with a lavish-full scale hour long variety show-"The Jackie Gleason Show:The American Scene Magazine". New cast members were added including Frank Fontaine(as Crazy Guggenheim in Joe The Bartender sketches)who could sing quite well when not in character and released a number of moderately successful record albums during his tenture with Gleason. Not only were most of Jackie's standard characters in evidence,but a new format titled "Agnes and Arthur" sketch about two love horn tenement residents which featured Alice Ghostley as Agnes was added as a semi-regular feature. Others that were added to the show were the beautiful "Glea-Girls",which introduce Barbara Heller as "Christine Clam",were still in evidence introducing the segments of each show,but there was a considerable turnover in the supporting cast. There was more topical satire on this show too,just to point out that you got to see a galaxy of special guest stars that appear on the show each week including numerous special guest appearances by former "Honeymooners" Art Carney and Audrey Meadows. In keeping with the title of the show,there were entire episodes that were done as musical comedies with book,lyrics,songs,dances,and sketches reflecting "The American Scene". At the insistence of Jackie Gleason himself,the entire production moved from New York to Miami Beach before the start of the 1964-1965 season,and remained a Florida-based show throughout the remainder of its run,ending in the fall of 1971. During the start of the 1964-1965 season,a feature was added to the show with a nationwide talent hunt,in which George Jessel traveled the country auditioning young performers who would get their first national exposure on Jackie's variety show.
The 1966-1967 season,brought a basic change in format,a modified title,and a different supporting cast,and this time around was in color. The title was shortened to "The Jackie Gleason Show". Art Carney was back with Gleason on a regular basis after a nine-year absence,and Sheila MacRae and Jean Kean were the only other cast regulars. In addition,"The Honeymooners" was brought back as the principal source of material. There were still variety shows with sketches and guest stars,special shows devoted to single subjects like circuses or tribunes to show-business greats,and book musicals,but throughout the last four-year run over half of the telecasts were full-hour "Honeymooners" episodes. Sometimes they were done as either musical comedies with songs and production numbers. They took place in Brooklyn,around New York,and in different locations around the world,and sometimes they were done with or without guest stars,but the constants were there,like the Kramdens and the Nortons,which were the specialty highlight of the entire series,which ran for more than 20 years. The final episode of the series,which aired on September 12,1971 left with only a whisper,never to be heard from again.
The great one, Jackie Gleason, was the center of this show. He always
had great support with Art Carney for years one of the best and most
under rated second bananas in history. When you watched this show,
Gleason was the glue.
The show would always open with Sammy Spear & his Orchestra playing a number, with the June Taylor Dancers on screen doing a major dance including those now often copied ceiling shots down on them in formation. Jackie would then always come out on stage, usually in his bath robe. He would do some monologue comedy which Gleason was good at, and would always finish it with "Let's have a little traveling music Sammy....And Away We go..." Then we'd go into the delightful worlds of Gleason comedy. There was a lot more to this program than just The Honeymooners. Gleasons range went from that to the Poor Sole doing silent comedy, to Reginald Van Gleason. Usually most shows would feature a stop to see Joe the Bartender (Gleason) who along with Frank Fontaine (Crazy Gogenheim) would regal the viewers into a comfort zone only Gleason could create.
There were guest stars who would work with Gleason, sometimes more music & dancing. Regardless who was on, the variety found on Gleason almost always was sure to please. The 1960's revival got too dependent on the Honeymooners towards the end and got away from the variety format.
One thing sure, Gleason proved over & over again on his variety show how talented he was & what a range he had. All that and he never won an TV Emmy award. It amazes me that the TV academy never gave him a lifetime achievement award even now because Gleason made major contributions to early television becoming accepted into peoples homes. Without Gleason, Red Skelton, Lucy and Ed Sullivan, I am not sure CBS would have survived any more than the Dumont network which fell apart when Gleason left it.
And now it's been 60 years, more or less, since the peak of the Jackie
Gleason Show. I don't know how many geezers in 1954 pined for the good
old days of Harrigan & Hart, and it seems odd that the present day
senior citizens cackle at their memories of Jackie Gleason. In 1954,
there was no videotape of the 1890s which the old folks could refer to
for a cold splash of reality and maybe put an end to their babbling.
But now there is a filmed record of the early 1950s TV shows of
Gleason, Jimmy Durante, the Ritz Brothers, Eddie Cantor, Milton Berle
et al, and you can watch most of them on Youtube. Painfully dumb is the
only way to describe most of it. I just finished watching a 1951 clip
featuring Reggie van Gleason, III. The Three Stooges are high art in
If I could reach into a barrel of all of Gleason's skits and pull some out at random to create a complete show, I would find:
At the top of the show, he recites verbatim the Mutt & Jeff cartoon from the previous Sunday funnies.
Ralph: One of these days Alice, Pow! right in the kisser.
Charlie Bratton: Hey Clem, what's that slop you're eating? Clem: Some day I'm going to kill that man.
Fenwick Babbit unbuttons and rebuttons a sweater with about 30 buttons and says "You're a nice man".
Reggie: Mmm boy are you fat.
Stanley Sogg: Tonight's movie is brought to you by Mother Fletcher.
Weirdo: I'm with you. Jackie: Oh no you're not!
I can't find any Rudy the Repairman quotes and you needn't look for any on my account. This show may have been a landmark of early television but it has very little entertainment value today.
They don't do TV like this anymore. No. Seriously. That was not meant as a cliché. They literally don't do TV like this anymore. And that is in spite of the fact that much of what Gleason developed in the course of this show has been borrowed, copied, and shamelessly imitated by hundreds of current writers and producers over the last half-century. No matter whether he won any awards at the time. No matter that, when the show finally went off the air, CBC paid him more money NOT to work anywhere else than had ever been paid before. (Much like when Johnny Carson woke up one day and realized that his show was NBC's largest cash cow, and demanded a new contract, NBC correspondingly paid HIM more than any other "host" had ever seen). Gleason's greatest creation, the Honeymooners, has been spiffed and riffed moreso than any other concept you can think of. The Bugs Bunny people even did an entire cartoon, played by "mice" versions of Gleason and Carney. If you are lucky enough to get a chance to see a Honeymooners episode (many were stripped out and played on their own for years after) you will (or should be) astonished at how much punch the actors got, considering the sets were cardboard and the props were something from a lawn sale. Which is not to take away from Gleason's other talents or even his other creations, like the Poor Soul and the Bartender, but Honeymooners was the top of his craft. At the end of each show, after telling jokes, acting, and dancing, Gleason often needed a towel because he was pouring in sweat. You don't see that anymore today either. If by any chance you only know Gleason from forgettable walk-ons in films like Cannonball Run, and never saw this show, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
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