The Jackie Gleason Show

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The Jackie Gleason Show
Jackie Gleason show 1955.JPG
Gleason and June Taylor dancer Margaret Jeanne in 1955.
Genre Variety
Presented by Jackie Gleason
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 4
No. of episodes 156 (List of episodes)
Production
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time 47–50 minutes
Broadcast
Original channel DuMont (1950-1952)
CBS (1952-1957)
Picture format Black-and-white
Audio format Monaural
Original run

DuMont:
1950 (1950) - 1952 (1952)

CBS:
September 20, 1952 (1952-09-20) – June 22, 1957 (1957-06-22)

The Jackie Gleason Show is the name of a series of popular American network television shows that starred Jackie Gleason, which ran from 1952 to 1970, in various forms.

Cavalcade of Stars[edit]

Gleason's first variety series was aired on the DuMont Television Network under the title Cavalcade of Stars. The show's first host was Jack Carter, who was followed by Jerry Lester. After Lester quit the show in June 1950 (soon to become the star of NBC's first late-night series, Broadway Open House), Gleason—who had made his mark on the first television incarnation of The Life of Riley sitcom—stepped into Cavalcade on July 15, 1950, and became an immediate sensation.

The show was broadcast live, in front of a theater audience, and offered the same kind of vaudevillian entertainment common to early-TV revues. Jackie's guests included New York-based performers of stage and screen, including Bert Wheeler, Smith and Dale, and Vivian Blaine. Production values were decent but not spectacular, owing to DuMont's humble facilities and a thrifty sponsor (Quality Drugs, representing most of the nation's neighborhood drug stores).

In 1952, CBS president William S. Paley offered Gleason a much higher salary, with which DuMont could not compete. The series was retitled The Jackie Gleason Show and premiered on CBS on September 20, 1952. Paley used the show's position on CBS to showcase artists like Frankie Laine and Doris Day who were some of the bright stars of the Columbia Records roster, including a few newcomers such as teenage guitar prodigy Zane Ashton (AKA Bill Aken, Future Hall of Fame guitarist). [1]

While much of DuMont's programming archive was later destroyed after they ceased broadcasting,[2] a surprising number of Cavalcade of Stars episodes survive, including several episodes at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. At least 14 of the Jackie Gleason episodes survive at the Paley Center for Media, though the exact number of surviving episodes is unclear.

In his book The Forgotten Network, author David Weinstein mentions an unusual (for the time) aspect of the DuMont version. He notes that while Drug Store Productions was technically the sponsor, they in turn sold the commercial air time to various companies and products. Weinstein notes this as an early example of US network television moving away from the single-sponsor system typical of the early 1950s. He quoted former DuMont executive Ted Bergmann as saying the DuMont version as featuring six commercial breaks during the hour, with each break consisting of a single one-minute commercial.

Format[edit]

The show typically opened with a monologue from Gleason, followed by sketch comedy involving Gleason and a number of regular performers (including Art Carney) and a musical interlude featuring the June Taylor Dancers. (Taylor was Gleason's sister-in-law; he married her sister Marilyn in 1975.)

Gleason portrayed a number of recurring characters, including:

  • supercilious, mustachioed "playboy" millionaire Reginald Van Gleason III
  • friendly Joe the Bartender
  • loudmouthed braggart Charlie Bratten
  • Rum Dum, a hapless dipsomaniac with a walrus mustache
  • mild-mannered Fenwick Babbitt
  • bombastic Rudy the Repairman
  • a put-upon character known only as the Poor Soul, whom Gleason always performed in pantomime.

Gleason also occasionally portrayed Stanley R. Sogg, a late-night movie pitchman for Mother Fletcher's products ("No-Cal Chicken Fat"), similar to the later Art Fern character played by Johnny Carson in his "Tea Time Movie" skits on The Tonight Show.

The Honeymooners[edit]

Main article: The Honeymooners
Gleason and Audrey Meadows as Ralph and Alice Kramden, 1956.

By far the most memorable and popular of Gleason's characters was blowhard Brooklyn bus driver Ralph Kramden, featured originally in a series of Cavalcade skits known as "The Honeymooners", with Pert Kelton as his wife Alice, and Art Carney as his upstairs neighbor Ed Norton. These were so popular that in 1955 Gleason suspended the variety format and filmed The Honeymooners as a regular half-hour sitcom (television's first spin-off), co-starring Carney, Audrey Meadows (who had replaced the blacklisted Kelton after the earlier move to CBS), and Joyce Randolph. Finishing 19th in the ratings, these 39 episodes were subsequently rerun constantly in syndication, often five nights a week, with the cycle repeating every two months for decades. They are probably the most familiar body of work from 1950s television with the possible exception of episodes from I Love Lucy starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

The show's original variety format and title returned in September 1956 and continued until June 1957. Then, in October 1958, Gleason debuted a half-hour version of The Jackie Gleason Show, with Buddy Hackett as a sidekick, but it was short-lived, cancelled in January 1959.

The Jackie Gleason Show (1961 revision)[edit]

The Jackie Gleason Show
Genre Talk show
Presented by Jackie Gleason
Narrated by Johnny Olson
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 1
No. of episodes 8 (without the 2 You're in the Picture episodes)
Production
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time 24-25 minutes
Broadcast
Original channel CBS
Picture format Black-and-white
Audio format Monaural
Original run February 3, 1961 (1961-02-03) – March 24, 1961 (1961-03-24)

In 1961, Gleason began an ill-fated stint as host of a game show called You're in the Picture. which lasted only one episode, and was so bad that it led to Gleason offering an on-air apology to his viewers the following week. Committed to filling a quota of episodes, Gleason renamed the series The Jackie Gleason Show and turned it into a short-lived talk show, featuring one-on-one informal interviews with Art Carney, Jayne Mansfield, Bobby Darin, and other friends and celebrities.

American Scene Magazine[edit]

In 1962, Gleason returned to the tried-and-true variety format with his American Scene Magazine. The official title of the show was, again, The Jackie Gleason Show. In its first year, Gleason's ratings killed the competition: a revived comedy-western-variety program, The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show, on ABC and the legal drama Sam Benedict with Edmond O'Brien on NBC. American Scene was initially taped in New York City; after two seasons, production moved to Miami Beach (1964), on Jackie's insistence. (This caused some difficulties for announcer Johnny Olson, who had several other announcing jobs, including Match Game, in New York, and Olson commuted frequently back and forth from New York and Miami to do both jobs.)

Each week, Gleason would begin his monologue and be surprised by the flamboyant jackets worn by bandleader Sammy Spear. (Beholding Spear's animal-print blazer, Gleason quipped, "I've heard of Tiger Rag, but this is ridiculous!") Ralph Kramden, Reggie Van Gleason, the Poor Soul, and the rest of Gleason's comic characters were regular attractions. Frank Fontaine, as bug-eyed, grinning "Crazy" Guggenheim, starred in the Joe the Bartender skits, delighting fans with his nutty speaking voice and goofy laugh, and charmed by his surprisingly mellow singing voice. June Taylor's chorus girl routines revived for the TV generation the aerial pattern kaleidoscope formations made famous on film by Busby Berkeley.

Photo postcard in response to ticket requests after the show moved to Miami.

In the fall of 1966, the title once again became simply The Jackie Gleason Show (dropping the American Scene format), and would remain so until its cancellation in 1970. By this point the episodes included well-known guest stars and skits. A component during this period was the musical Honeymooners episodes, which had first been tried on Gleason's variety show during the 1956-1957 season. These were later collected as The Color Honeymooners, with Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean as Alice and Trixie. The regular cast included old sidekick Art Carney; Milton Berle was a frequent guest star. The show was taped at the Miami Beach Auditorium (today called the Jackie Gleason Theatre of the Performing Arts), and Gleason (along with the show's announcer, Johnny Olson) never tired of promoting the "sun and fun capital of the world" on camera. Hordes of vacationers took Gleason's advice, boosting Florida's economy. Later specials were taped at the Olympia Theatre's Gusman Center across Biscayne Bay, in downtown Miami). The shows began with the television camera in front of a boat speeding toward the shore of Miami Beach, and ended with Gleason bellowing, "Miami Beach audiences are the greatest audiences in the world! G'night, everybody!" — a line often used by Gleason imitators, along with his curtain-call introductions, in particular "Jane Kean!"[citation needed]

At the end of the 1968-69 season, The Jackie Gleason Show still garnered decent ratings, ranking at #25 in the Nielsens and CBS renewed it for an eighth season. The following year would bring a radical change to the series. In the spring and summer of 1969, Gleason went on a very stringent diet and lost an enormous amount of weight. When the show returned in September 1969, there was much publicity about Gleason's new slimmer look. To gracefully incorporate the Great One's weight loss into the show, especially in the Honeymooners episodes, it was explained that Ralph Kramden also had gone on a diet and lost weight. This proved to be somewhat of a detriment to the show. The jokes and wisecracks about Ralph Kramden's weight had always been a strong component of humor for the Honeymooners sketches. As a result, a skinnier Ralph didn't seem as funny to viewers and the overall ratings for the program began to slip. Coupled with the fact that CBS was concerned with demographics and wanted to change its image with more urban-oriented shows (to attract younger audiences), the network not only canceled Gleason's series in the spring of 1970, but also The Red Skelton Hour and Petticoat Junction as well. Beginning in late December, 1970, CBS began airing selected reruns of The Jackie Gleason Show (featuring only the color Honeymooners episodes) in prime time on Sunday nights at 10 p.m. (EST), thereby replacing the short-lived Tim Conway Comedy Hour.[3]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Weiner, Ed; Editors of TV Guide (1992). The TV Guide TV Book: 40 Years of the All-Time Greatest Television Facts, Fads, Hits, and History. New York: Harper Collins. p. 217. ISBN 0-06-096914-8. 
  2. ^ http://www.dumonthistory.tv/5.html
  3. ^ Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows, Third edition (New York: Ballantine Books, 1964) ISBN 0-345-31864-1

References[edit]

External links[edit]