Publicity photo of a young Jackie Gleason (Wikimedia Commons)
Twenty-five years 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 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… like his turn as Sheriff Buford T. Justice in the Smokey and the Bandit movies. Years later, star Burt Reynolds would tell talk show host Larry King that he agreed to do the movie only if Gleason was cast as the sheriff. He also revealed that Gleason 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