John Herbert Gleason (February 26, 1916 – June 24, 1987) was an American actor, comedian, writer, composer, and conductor known affectionately as “The Great One.” Developing a style and characters from growing up in Brooklyn, New York, he was known for his brash visual and verbal comedy, exemplified by his city-bus-driver Ralph Kramden character in the television series The Honeymooners 1955-1956), with Audrey Meadows, Art Carney, and Joyce Randolph. He also developed The Jackie Gleason Show, which maintained high ratings from the mid-1950s through 1970. After originating in New York City, filming moved to Miami Beach, Florida in 1964 after Gleason took up permanent residence there.
He made his feature film debut in Lloyd Bacon’s Navy Blues (1941), with Ann Sheridan, Jack Oakie, Martha Raye, Jack Haley, Herbert Anderson, Jack Carson, and William T. Orr. Other early films include Vincent Sherman’s All Through the Night (1942), with Humphrey Bogart, Conrad Veidt, Kaaren Verne, and Peter Lorre; Lady Gangster (1942), with Faye Emerson and Julie Bishop; and Larceny, Inc. (1942), with Edward G. Robinson, Jane Wyman, Broderick Crawford, and Jack Carson, Anthony Quinn, and Edward Brophy.
He earned an Academy Award nomination for his performance as Minnesota Fats in Robert Rossen‘s The Hustler (1961), with Paul Newman, Piper Laurie, and George C. Scott. Other films in the 1960s include Gene Kelly‘s Gigot (1962), with Katherine Kath; Ralph Nelson’s Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), with Quinn and Mickey Rooney; George Marshall‘s Papa’s Delicate Condition (1963), with Glynis Johns, Charlie Ruggles, and Laurel Goodwin; Soldier in the Rain (1963), with Steve McQueen and Tuesday Weld; Otto Preminger‘s Skidoo (1968), with Carol Channing, Frankie Avalon, Fred Clark, Michael Constantine, Frank Gorshin, John Phillip Law, Peter Lawford, Burgess Meredith, George Raft, Cesar Romero, Rooney, and Groucho Marx; How to Commit Marriage (1969), with Bob Hope, Jane Wyman, Leslie Nielsen, Tina Louise, Tim Matheson, and Irwin Corey; Don’t Drink the Water (1969), with Estelle Parsons and Ted Bessell.
Gleason’s other notable role included Sheriff Buford T. Justice in Hal Needham’s Smokey and the Bandit (1977), with Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, and Jerry Reed. He would reprise the role of Sheriff Justice in the two sequels. Other later films include Michael Gordon’s How Do I Love Thee? (1970), with Maureen O’Hara, Shelley Winters, and Rosemary Forsyth; Mr. Billion (1977), with Terence Hill, Valerie Perrine, Slim Pickens, William Redfield, and Chill Wills; Richard Donner‘s The Toy (1982), with Richard Pryor, Ned Beatty, Scott Schwartz, Teresa Ganzel, and Virginia Capers; The Sting II (1983), with Mac Davis, Teri Garr, Karl Malden, and Oliver Reed; and Garry Marshall’s Nothing in Common (1986), with Tom Hanks, Eva Marie Saint, Hector Elizondo, Barry Corbin, Bess Armstrong, and Sela Ward.
TV movies include Three for Two (1975), with Lucille Ball; Mr. Halpern and Mr. Johnson (1983), with Laurence Olivier; and Izzy & Moe (1985), with Carney. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Gleason enjoyed a prominent secondary music career, producing a series of best-selling “mood music” albums. His first album, Music for Lovers Only, still holds the record for the longest stay on the Billboard Top Ten Charts (153 weeks), and his first 10 albums sold over a million copies each. To date, his output spans some 20-plus singles, nearly 60 long-playing record albums, and over 40 CDs.
Each review will be linked to the title below.
(*seen originally in theaters)
(**seen rereleased in theaters)
- Navy Blues (1941) – directed by Lloyd Bacon
- Steel Against the Sky (1941) – directed by A. Edward Sutherland – uncredited
- All Through the Night (1942) – directed by Vincent Sherman
- Lady Gangster (1942) – directed by Robert Florey
- Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1942) – directed by Charles Barton
- Larceny, Inc. (1942) – directed by Lloyd Bacon
- Escape from Crime (1942) – directed by D. Ross Lederman
- Orchestra Wives (1942) – directed by Archie Mayo – uncredited
- Springtime in the Rockies (1942) – directed by Irving Cummings – uncredited
- The Desert Hawk (1950) – directed by Frederick De Cordova
- The Show Off (1955) – directed by Sidney Lumet – TV movie
- The Time of Your Life (1958) – directed by Tom Donovan – TV movie
- The Secret World of Eddie Hodges (1960) – directed by Norman Jewison – narrator – TV movie
- The Million Dollar Incident (1961) – directed by Norman Jewison – TV movie
- The Hustler (1961) – directed by Robert Rossen
- Gigot (1962) – directed by Gene Kelly – also story
- Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962) – directed by Ralph Nelson
- Papa’s Delicate Condition (1963) – directed by George Marshall
- Soldier in the Rain (1963) – directed by Ralph Nelson
- Skidoo (1968) – directed by Otto Preminger
- How to Commit Marriage (1969) – directed by Norman Panama
- Don’t Drink the Water (1969) – directed by Howard Morris
- How Do I Love Thee? (1970) – directed by Michael Gordon
- Three for Two (1975) – directed by Charles Walters – TV movie
- Mr. Billion (1977) – directed by Jonathan Kaplan
- Smokey and the Bandit (1977)** – directed by Hal Needham
- Smokey and the Bandit II (1980) – directed by Hal Needham
- The Toy (1982) – directed by Richard Donner
- The Sting II (1983) – directed by Jeremy Paul Kagan
- Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 (1983) – directed by Dick Lowry
- Mr. Halpern and Mr. Johnson (1983) – directed by Alvin Rakoff – TV movie
- Izzy and Moe (1985) – directed by Jackie Cooper – TV movie
- Nothing in Common (1986) -directed by Garry Marshall