Twenty-six years after his death, Jackie Gleason is remembered for one cranky character – and so much more. Originally published June 2012.
A quarter century after his death, it's easy to forget that Jackie Gleason was much more than Ralph Kramden.
The Honeymooners is one of the best-remembered TV shows of the 1950s, even though it aired for only a single season. And in many ways Ralph Kramden has become synonymous with the actor who played him. Gleason developed the character on his variety show, The Jackie Gleason Show, where Kramden and his friend Norton (played by the great Art Carney) evolved for a few years before breaking out on their own.
But, of course, Jackie Gleason’s career added up to much more than a single comedic role. Though The Honeymooners and his variety show were quite popular, Gleason also found success on Broadway, winning a Tony for his performance in the musical Take Me Along. And he could play more dramatic roles as well, earning praise for his work in films like Nothing in Common with Tom Hanks and The Toy opposite Richard Pryor. In 1961, he received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Minnesota Fats in the Paul Newman classic The Hustler.
But we can't help liking Gleason best in comedies, and his turn as Sheriff Buford T. Justice in the Smokey and the Bandit movies is classic. Smokey star Burt Reynolds once told talk show host Larry King that he agreed to do the movie on the condition that Gleason was cast as the sheriff. Reynolds also revealed that Gleason had ad-libbed much of his hilarious dialogue. Here, Burt Reynolds’ Bandit, accompanied by Sally Field and Jerry Reed, faces off with Gleason’s sheriff.
Jackie Gleason, how sweet it was.
Written by Linnea Crowther and Jessica Campbell