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Jackie Gleason's hour-long variety show from 1962 to 1966 was a
must-see then, and still is today. Unfortunately, the powers that be
have seen fit to deprive the public of that rare treasure in either DVD
or VHS format. In the opening monologues, Gleason would do a few jokes,
drink booze from a coffee cup - "MMMMMMMMM-BOY, thats good coffee..."
or bulge his eyes out with "WOW!", choke on a cigarette - while
claiming "it pays to smoke the best!", and dance his way off the stage
with "a little traveling music, Mr. Spear! - AND AWAY WE GO!!!" The
next hour was an often riotous menagerie of mostly pantomime sketches
involving one of several of Gleason's brilliant characters. There was
"The Poor Sole", whom often easily wrenched audience hearts through
Gleason's amazing ability to generate pathos with his humor - the likes
of which can only be compared to Chaplin. Another character had a very
long, narrow mustache and a straw hat, and was constantly drunk. And of
course, who could forget the impeccable Reginald Van Gleason, a tuxedo
and top-hatted daredevil who would stub out his cigarette and put it in
his pocket before each stunt. Gleason introduced many famous comedians
on his show, as well. The first time many Americans saw Rodney
Dangerfield was on Gleason's December, '66 show. Gleason routinely took
the summers off, from June to September. He filmed his show in NYC at
first, but by series end had moved to Miami Beach, and boasted this at
the beginning of each show. The June Taylor Dancers would do a great
fan-dance at the beginning of each show and overhead shots of them
forming patterns like a kaleidoscope were routine. Gleason would
traditionally cap his show at the end with a skit involving "Joe the
Bartender" and a somewhat gassed and goofy patron called "Crazy
Gugenheim" - portrayed by the immortal Frankie Fontaine (who lived
about 2 miles from me, in my home town of Winchester, Massachusetts!)
At the end of the skit, Fontaine would sing a song that was often
moving and completely out of character - similar to Jim Nabors' "Gomer
Pyle" and his singing ability. In the summer of 1980, while Gleason was
still alive, he authorized half-hour segments of the original hour-long
shows to be rebroadcast for a very brief period. These were a real
treat to see, but chopping them up like that just didn't do them
justice. Also, unless one was very savvy and well-to-do, and had the
foresight to have purchased one of the earliest VCRs prior to that
airing, one would not have had an opportunity to capture the show. So,
public domain copies are probably extremely rare, if they exist at all.
To my knowledge, the entire show was filmed in Black and White. I am
not sure, but I think Gleason goes to color in 1967 with the return of
"The Honeymooners". During the 1967-70 shows, where they are doing the
Honeymooners again, Gleason and Art Carney take a break and do the most
marvelous impersonation of Laurel and Hardy I have ever seen. It was
utterly hysterical. Almost better than the original two!
I am pleading with the owners of the Gleason show copyrights to please allow us to see them once again in our lifetime - PLEASE RELEASE THE ENTIRE 1962-1966 series shows to DISK!!!! PLEASE RELEASE THE ENTIRE Honeymooners II 1967-1970 series shows to DISK!!!!
I saw a copy for this program in a video rental store and picked it up. It
immediately brought me back to Saturday nights in the early 60's. The
opening music with the good looking girls in tight dresses who introduced
the shows sponsors. Then the June Taylor dancers routine followed by
himself coming out to thunderous applause. The applause would die down
enough for Jackie to say "How Sweet It Is" which would get the crowd going
again. His introduction of his flashy dressed orchestra leader Sammy
One of his girls would bring him a cup of coffee? which he would take a
and then say "WOW" a few quick jokes and his trademark "A little traveling
music Sam...And Away We Go" There was even a skit with Frank Fontaine as
Crazy Guggenheim in Joes Bar. At the end of the hour Jackie would come out
and say "The Miami Beach audience is the greatest audience in the
world...Good night everybody"
There are no longer variety shows such as this on television. Perhaps this type format just wore it self out. Jackie Gleason is best remembered for his classic show "The Honeymooners" and to a later generation as the Sheriff in the "Smokey and the Bandit" films. For me any way it will always be for this show on Saturday Nights.
There is nothing like it on television today. There couldn't be. This
show, these types of shows were about something that's a lost art:
entertainment. And this is entertainment at it's best.
For those who are too young to remember Gleason's art was the art of vaudeville, where comedy and great comic acting depended more on characterization, timing, body movement, facial expressions, as opposed to clever dialogue or cutting edge subject. And Gleason was the master of this craft, and many of these skits are Gleason at his peak.
It is a lost form and if you can see it, do.
The show first aired from NYC and I was one of the girls in the tight dresses. It was an amazing time to work with the"Great One". I am sorry that they did not include the names/credits of the sexy girls in the tight dresses aka me, Sally Carter, Gretta Randall, Karen (?), Darlene Enlow, Anne ( sadly she moved to Paris and didn't do anything else. I have forgotten her name). Glad you enjoyed the show, I did
Prelude: Upon greeting both the studio and home audiences at his first
regular program in three years, Mr. Gleason (apparently spontaneously)
erupted with: "HOW SWEET IT IS!"; which became his tag-line.
FOR WHATEVER THE reason, our TV sets were minus "the Great One" for about three years. Having started his run with his own comedy/variety show on the old Dumont Television Network's CAVELCADE OF STARS, Jackie Gleason quickly moved his act to the Columbia Broadcasting System and a much more lucrative $ituation for the newly rechristened "THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW."
HIS ABSENCE WOULD seem to be a puzzler for us to understand; but of course what seemed like an eternity to a child then (only 3 years), is a very short period of time to those of us former "boomers". Now of course, we are graybeards who are definitely "long in the tooth!"
THERE WAS EVEN some talk that Gleason and Art Carney had a falling out and parting of the ways. Although later developments would certainly seem to disprove this story, Jackie's return without his former comic foil appeared to support this in our minds then.
UPON THE INAUGRAL of this new series dubbed JACKIE GLEASON'S American SCENE MAGAZINE it was obvious that there was a definite attempt to make his new show more "hip" and even "relevant." There seemed to be a greater influx of guest starring singers, movie actors and comedians of both the veteran and green rookie varieties.
THERE WAS INCREASED inclusion of non continuity comic sketches. Ralph, Norton & the wives were nowhere to be found. Of the "old crowd" of characters, REGINALD VAN GLEASON, JOE THE BARTENDER and THE POOR SOUL fared the best. Instead, a large portion of the typical show featured short, musically accompanied, non verbal "blackouts" that most often had the old sight gag; which had been resurrected from the Days of the Silent Screen.
THE USE OF video taped sequences allowed a greater latitude in constructing and (now) editing a show. Many a sketch would begin with Gleason (as Joe the Bartender) reading from some article in the fictional American Scene Magazine. A favourite ploy was a reference to an advice column entitled "DEAR MISS BARE FACTS"; which would seem to be a sort of titillating double meaning.
IN MAKING UP for the absence of Art Carney (who was doing well on the legitimate stages of Broadway), Jackie Gleason brought in Frank Fontaine and practically turned over the JOE THE BARTENDER sketch to him. He also made good use of veteran comics such as Sid Fields and Stan Ross (he of the "I'm with you!" tag-line); as well as newcomers such as a very young Rip Taylor.
HE NEVER DID abandon such trademark elements as the gallery of beauties doing the informing at show's introduction and opening production numbers by the now famous JUNE TAYLOR DANCERS.
GLEASON'S GREAT LOVE for music was still much in evidence with the use of "Alley Cat" and some such similar instrumental in his short blackout sketches; as swell as some of his own original compositions. Although Jackie lacked formal musical training and reportedly could not read music, he did compose some instrumental pieces. Both "THE HONEYMOONERS THEME" and the show's long used opening with "MELANCHOLY SERENADE" were done by "Irisher" from Brooklyn.*
NOTE: * Jackie Gleason was in good company here; as others who had great successes with musical composition and selection were: Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney and Ernie Kovacs.
I remember this program very well. It aired on Saturday nights and it
was one program that the entire family enjoyed. I was only 8 when I
first saw this program and since this series is not available on DVD
(and was never available on VHS), which is downright criminal, I am
limited to memories that are over 45 years old, so details may be vague
if not downright erroneous.
The series followed pretty much the same format, which worked like a charm. The show began with Jackie Gleason drinking a cup of coffee, and boy, it must've been one cup of coffee judging by the way he praised it! Then came the dancers whose numbers were quite a spectacle. Next, came the skits and numbers with Jackie Gleason and his guests. The show closed with a scene with Jackie Gleason portraying his role as Joe, the bartender tending bar. In came Crazy Goggenheim, plastered to the gills, (played by Frank Fontaine)with his jokes which were always hilarious! He never failed to leave us all in stitches! Joe would then yell "C'mon, sing us a song!" which he did. As the title of one of Frank Fontaine's albums stated,"Frank Fontaine sings like crazy!" And he did! But it was Frank Fontaine's "Crazy Guggenheim" that I enjoyed the most!
C'mon! Release the series on DVD, or at least release a "Best of..." compilation so we could once again enjoy the comic brilliance of Crazy Guggenheim, one more time!
Gleason,, when playing Ralph Cramdon on the Honeymooners actually never rehearsed that I have read about. Of course everyone else rehearsed and rehearsed and when it came to start taping Jackie rarely made mistakes. I imagine he ad-libbed quite often which to me made it funnier. At the end of his career he ended up playing a dimwit policeman in those horrible Smokey and the Bandit flicks, too bad because I to this day feel he could have played much better parts. That was Jackie Gleason.When someone asked him "Why were the Honeymooners so very popular and still in reruns?" He answered very quickly and honestly "Because they were funny" and that is Jackie Gleason. Also when growing up in NYC I have read he was actually a very good pool player making a living by hustling pool. LOL The story goes that Lucy gave Jackie the nickname "The Great One", and that IS Jackie Gleason.
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