Friday, February 26, 2016

Happy 100th Birthday to "The Great One", JACKIE GLEASON




Dubbed "The Great One" by Orson Wells, Jackie Gleason was born on Herkimer* Street in Brooklyn, NY one hundred years ago today, February 26, 1916. Let that sink in... Ralph Kramden is 100 years old. It doesn't really seem possible. A staple of my youth and a concurrent thread through my entire life and the life of anyone who grew up in New York in the 1960's and 1970 where The Honeymooners ran continuously on WPIX Channel 11, Ralph Kramden and Jackie Gleason were ageless.

(*Herkimer as per the 1955 Goodman biographical magazine below as well as Gleason's bio written with James Bacon, "How Sweet It Is", (1985). 364 Chauncey Street as per modern online references. Take your pick.)

The highlights of his life and career are well known.. poor hardscrabble youth, his father left the home when he was 8, dropped out of school, nightclub comic, married young at 21, failed at Warner Bros. in Hollywood then a break in the new medium of television with The Life of Reilly in 1949-50, leading to enormous success. In fact, it was more than just success, he was "THE"  biggest star on television by the mid 1950's..... Cavalcade of Stars, The Honeymooners, The Jackie Gleason Show and then in 1963, Miami Beach. Films followed, highlights include an Oscar nomination for The Hustler (1961), Requiem For A Heavyweight (1962), the Gene Kelly directed Gigot (1962), Papa's Delicate Condition (1963), How to Commit Marriage (1969), Don't Drink The Water (1969),  the Smokey and the Bandit films (1977, 1980, 1983). The Toy (1982), the made for TV Mr. Halpern and Mr. Johnson (with Lawrence Olivier, 1983) and Izzie & Moe (with Art Carney, 1985) and finally, Nothing in Common (with Tom Hanks,1986). 

Of course there's a reason I'm writing about Jackie Gleason today. Martin Goodman's Magazine Management published every type of magazine there was to publish, including a large stable of film magazines. When the new medium of television took off, he dove in with not one, but several TV themed titles..

The first was TV World (June/53), followed by TV People (Aug/53) and then TV Illustrated (June/55). All were edited by Bessie Little and art directed by Mel Blum.

Similar to his film and Hollywood scandal publications, all the television stars of the day were fodder for these magazines and Jackie Gleason's career was covered as well as anyone's. Identical magazines were published by nearly every other publisher. 

TV PEOPLE Vol 1, #3 (Dec/53) (Non-Pareil Publishing Corp.)










TV World Vol 4, #2 (Apr/56) (Bard Publishing Corp.)

Two different stories about Gleason. One relating the problem of rocky marriages of TV stars, the other about The Honeymooners.












By the 1955 launch of TV Illustrated, no one was bigger than Jackie Gleason! The debut issue carried an article ruminating on the common theme of Jackie's problematic love life.

TV ILLUSTRATED Vol 1, #1 (June/55) (Prime Publications, Inc.)









But the second issue was a killer! Gleason and Honeymooners co-star Audrey Meadows got the cover treatment! In an extensively illustrated 4-page article, Gleason is crowned "The World's Greatest Comedian".

TV ILLUSTRATED Vol 1, #2 (Sept/55) (Prime Publications, Inc.)












As a fan of Jackie Gleason and as a collector of Martin Goodman's publications, you would think that this issue intersects as the top prize. It's a gorgeous issue. But I didn't count on something. There is no real list of everything Martin Goodman ever published. Most runs of his magazines are known and the problem is tracking down all the individual issues. What I didn't count on were the "one-shots". After acquiring this issue, I was shocked beyond belief to find on page 6, a full-page editorial "from the desk of Martin Goodman".....




In this editorial, Goodman goes on and on about the incomparable Jackie Gleason's life story, from hard scrabble beginnings in Brooklyn to super-stardom on television. Now he was devoting an entire magazine to it and he was telling readers it was already on sale! So after several years of searching........................




Published in 1955 without a month by Goodman's Marjean Magazine Corp., the issue was written by Paul Denis, a former editor at Billboard and later assistant to New York Post columnist Earl Wilson.

The magazine is 76 pages of Gleason's life (up to that point) broken down into 17 different chapters. The editorial from the debut issue of TV Illustrated is on the contents page and there are more candid and probably never before (or again) published photos than I have ever seen. Unfortunately, my copy above is in beautiful condition and while I've never shed a tear in damaging a magazine, pulp or comic to get a decent scan for posterity, this time I refuse! I won't damage it. When I find a reader copy, I'll update this piece.

Goodman's TV magazines petered out by the end of the 1950's. Some may have gone down when Atlas imploded in the spring of 1957. I do have copies of TV Illustrated that reached 1958 without the Atlas globe and distributed by Independent News. For the most part, their exact terminations elude me at this time.

Goodman pushed Gleason in the June/55 issue of his pocket news magazine Focus, Vol 5, #6. Using illustrations right out of his one-shot Gleason biography, a weird 4-page article ensued:







Of course all publishers covered the career of Jackie Gleason in their magazines. In 1954 See gave a 2-page photo feature on Mr. Saturday Night's girls, girls, girls! Curt Gowdy was the sports editor of this magazine, published by the See Publishing Co. It's a large bedsheet.









Here's a cover feature of Gleason on the pocket magazine Picture Week, published by redundant pocket magazine publisher Pocket Magazines, Inc., the publisher of similar titles Tempo and Bold, and identical in nature and every way to Goodman's Focus, Sensation, Brief and Picture Life.

Picture Week (October 12, 1955)










Of course TV Guide (and related) has had their share of Gleason covers and compatriots....

1953





Vol 2, #13 (March 26, 1954)





1955





#348 Vol 7, #48 (November 28,1959)




#498 Vol 10, #41 (October 13, 1962)




#619 Vol 13, #6 (February. 6, 1965)




#652 Vol 13, #39 (September 25, 1965)





1967





#780 Vol 16, #10 (March 9, 1968)





1970






Martin Goodman did not publish any comic books devoted to Jackie Gleason, but other publishers did.

The first was St. John Publishing, releasing 4 issues with artwork by Mike Roy inked by Mike Peppe. All the Gleason characters are adapted.. The Honeymooners, Reggie Van Gleason III, The Poor Soul, Charlie Bratton the Loudmouth, Rudy the Repairman, Fenwick, and Mother Fletcher (the Sponsor of the Late Late Late Late Show).



Vol 1, #1 (Sept/55)

Vol 1, #2 (Oct/55)

Vol 1, #3 (Nov/55)

Vol 1, #4 (Dec/55)










In 1956 National Periodical Publications, what we know as DC Comics, released 12 issues of Jackie Gleason and the Honeymooners. The artwork and the features are the same so this series appears to be a simple continuation of the St. John series.


























The 1980's saw Jackie Gleason return to the comic books. The enormous popularity of the syndicated Honeymooners "classic 39" episodes (including the formation of the fan club R.A.L.P. H.)*, followed by the discovery by Gleason and subsequent broadcast, of "lost episodes" from the earlier variety show format, created a perfect storm. Jackie Gleason, Audrey Meadows, Art Carney and Joyce Randolph were making appearances in the media and The Honeymooners "mania" was at an all-time high. The new comic book direct market was the venue, rather than the newsstands.

* [R.A.L.P.H. = The Royal Association for the Longevity and Preservation of Honeymooners]

The first new comic book to appear was The Honeymooners #1(Oct/86), published by Lodestone Publishing, Inc. The publisher was David M. Singer, Robert Loren Fleming scripted and the art director and story artist was the enormously talented Vince Musacchia. The cover sported a beautiful color photo of Gleason and Audrey Meadows and there were two Honeymooner stories totaling 23 pages, along with an article/interview with Joyce Randolph and a letter page. I was in heaven. Musacchia's artwork was fabulous, completely capturing the characterizations of the characters, though not as stylized as Mike Roy had done 3 decades earlier.


The Honeymooners #1 (Oct/86) [Lodestone Publishing, Inc.]

Cover: Photo

  1. The Honeymooners - "The Home Game" (13 pages); Script: Robert Loren Fleming; Pencils/inks: Vince Musacchia
  2. The Honeymooners - "Ralph's Sweet Tooth" (10 pages); Adapted, pencils, inks by Vince Musacchia
  3. Presenting Joyce Randolph (2 pages) by David M. Singer
  4. $99,000 Answer Page (1 page)
  5. Miscellaneous photos, character ads throughout 







The Honeymooners #1 (Sept/87) [Triad Publications, Inc.]

But horror of horrors, a second issue never appeared! One year later it returned with new publishers Roy Burman and Ronald Merians, now Triad Publications, Inc., with the same creative team and a new #1 issue that purported to be #1 of a 24 issue series. The book opened with a new "Gleason Remembered" tribute by the great Steve Allen. There is also an interview (and poster) of Audrey Meadows by Executive Editor Norman Abramoff.

Cover: Photo

  1. "Gleason Remembered" by Steve Allen (1 page)
  2. The Honeymooners - "They Know What They Like" (24 pages); Script: Robert Loren Fleming; Pencils/inks: Vince Musacchia.
  3. Interview with Audrey Meadows (3 pages) by Norman Abramoff (with poster)
  4. Miscellaneous photos, character ads throughout. 






The Honeymooners #2 (?/87) [Triad Publications, Inc.]

Indicia error has this as Vol 1, #1 (Sept/87) same as issue #1. Same creative staff and an interview with Joyce Randolph by Norman Abramoff. Two-page ad for The Official Honeymooners Treasury by Peter Crescenti and Bob Columbe (Co-founders of R.A.L.P.H)

Cover: Vince Musacchia


  1. The Honeymooners - "The Life You Save" (25 pages); Script: Robert Loren Fleming; Pencils/Inks: Vince Musacchia
  2. Interview with Joyce Randolph (2 pages) by Norman Abramoff.
  3. Miscellaneous photos, character ads throughout. 




The Honeymooners #3 (?/87) [Triad Publications, Inc.]

A square-bound, extra-thick Christmas extravaganza! A 44-page take-off on It's  Wonderful Life penciled by Win Mortimer with inks by Vince Musacchia. Art Carney is interviewed by Norman Abramoff. The wraparound cover looks like it may by by Win Mortimer also.

Cover: ? (probably Mortimer/Musacchia)


  1. The Honeymooners - "She's A Wonderful Wife" (44 pages); Script: Robert Loren Fleming; Pencils/Layouts: Win Mortimer; Inks/colors: Vince Musacchia (additional penciling and coloring by  Brian Postman)
  2. Interview with Art Carney (3 pages) by Norman Abramoff
  3. Miscellaneous photos, character ads throughout. 









The Honeymooners #4 (Jan/88) [Triad Publications, Inc.]

Same creative team of Fleming and Mortimer/Musacchia. Interview with Joe Franklin by Norman Abramoff. Great 2-page subscription ad by Musacchia!

Cover: Victor Spadoni
  1. The Honeymooners - "In The Pink" (24 pages); Script: Robert Loren Fleming; Pencils: Win Mortimer; Inks: Vince Musacchia.
  2. Interview with Joe Franklin (3 pages) by Norman Abramoff
  3. Miscellaneous photos, character ads throughout.










The Honeymooners #5 (Feb/88) [Triad Publications, Inc.]

Scripts this time by Thomas Edward West and Norman Abramoff, pencils by Win Mortimer and inks by Vince Musacchia. Great 50's wrap-around sci-fi cover by Musacchia and Ted Camut featuring Robbie the Robot (from Forbidden Planet) and Gort (from The Day the Earth Stood Still)! Interview with Donna McCrohan, author of The Honeymooners Companion by Norman Abramoff.

Cover: Win Mortimer, Vince Miusacchia

  1. The Honeymooners - "Bang Zoom To The Moon" (24 pages); Script: Thomas Edward West & Norman Abramoff ; Pencils: Win Mortimer; Inks: Vince Musacchia
  2. Interview with Donna McCrohan (3 pages) by Norman Abramoff
  3. Miscellaneous photos, character ads throughout.





A double-page ad for The Officicial Honeymooners Treasury by Peter Crescenti and Bob Columbe.





The Honeymooners #6 (Mar/88) [Triad Publications, Inc.]

Ralph and Norton attend a comic book convention! Numerous scenes of characters including Dick Tracy.

Cover: Vince Musacchia

  1. The Honeymooners - "Everyone Needs A Hero" (24 pages); Script: Thomas Edward West & Norman Abramoff; Pencils: Win Mortimer; Inks: Vince Musacchia
  2. Interview with Will Eisner (4 pages) by Norman Abramoff.
  3. Miscellaneous photos, character ads throughout. 





The Honeymooners #7 (Apr/88) [Triad Publications, Inc.]

Wrap-around wrestling cover with Capt. Lou Albano

Cover: Win Mortimer & Vince Musacchia


  1. The Honeymooners - "On The Ropes" (24 pages); Script: Thomas Edward West & Norman Abramoff; Pencils: Win Mortimer; Inks: Vince Musacchia
  2. Interview with Capt. Lou Albano (3 pages) by Norman Abramhoff
  3. Miscellaneous photos, character ads throughout. 







The Honeymooners #8 (May/88) [Triad Publications, Inc.]

Cover: Wrap-around by Vince Musacchia

  1. The Honeymooners - "The Phantom of the Sewer" (24 pages); Script: Thomas Edward West & Norman Abramoff; Pencils: Win Mortimer; Inks: Vince Musacchia
  2. Interview with Peter Crescenti & Bob Columbe (3 pages) (Co-Founders of R.A.L.P.H.)
  3. Miscellaneous photos, character ads throughout. 







The Honeymooners #9 (July/88) [Triad Publications, Inc.]

Best cover of the series! A wraparound cover by master caricaturist Jack Davis on another thick square-bound issue! But notice that although the cover is a wraparound, each cover, front and back, is also a stand alone, with Ralph and Norton in each image.

Cover: Wraparound by Jack Davis


  1. The Honeymooners - "Hello, My Coney Island Baby" (27 pages); Script: Jess Korman; Story Editors: Norm Abramhoff & Donna McCrohan; Pencils: Win Mortimer; Inks/art director: Vince Musacchia
  2. Interview with Cindy Lauper (4 pages) by Norman Abramoff
  3. The Honeymooners Lost Episode Classic - "A Little Man Who Wasn't There" (17 pages); Adapted by Donna McCrohan; Pencils/Inks: Win Mortimer; Grey Tones: Vince Musacchia
  4. Miscellaneous photos, character ads throughout.. 











At this point the series appears to end, or at least goes on hiatus. Nine months later issue #10 appears with Peter Crescenti (co-founder of R.A,L.P.H) as Editor-In-Chief  and chief writer. Also notice that from here on, the cover designation at the upper right hand corner no longer characterizes the issue number as part of a finite series of 24 issues. What has happened? I have no idea. Perhaps the publishers or creative staff, if they read this, can fill us in.

The Honeymooners #10 (Apr/89) [Triad Publications, Inc.]

Cover: Photo

  1. The Honeymooners - "Minneapolis Here We Come" (25 pages); Script: Peter Crescenti; Pencils/Ink/Colors: Vince Musacchia
  2. Illustrated Honeymooners Interview Part 1: Art Carney, Audrey Meadows (3 pages) by Norman Abramoff
  3. The Chauncy Street Mailbag - Letter Page (1 page)
  4. Miscellaneous photos, character ads throughout.






The Honeymooners #11 (June/89) [Triad Publications, Inc.]

Cover: Photo

  1. The Honeymooners - "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" (23 pages); Script: Peter Crescenti & Norman Abramoff; Pencil Layouts: Win Mortimer; Finish Art: Vince Musacchia.
  2. Illustrated Honeymooners Interview Part 2: Art Carney, Audrey Meadows (2 pages) by Norman Abtramoff.
  3. The Chauncy Street Mailbag - Letter Page (2 pages)
  4. Miscellaneous photos, character ads throughout.







The Honeymooners #12 (July-Aug/89) [Triad Publications, Inc.]

This issue starts off with an editorial on the inside front cover by Editor-In-Chief Peter Crescenti that puzzles me. In the editorial about the present issue, he refers to this issue in two different places as The Illustrated Honeymooners #3! Huh? What is The Illustrated Honeymooners and why is this issue, The Honeymooners Comic Book #12, called #3? I have no idea at all. If someone can help unlock this mystery, I'd be appreciative.

The Letter page this issue is brimming with letters from the original Honeymooners TV show! Letters included are from Art Carney, Audrey Meadows, Joyce Randolph, George Petrie, Frank Marth and Leslie Barrett, AKA "George" from the Bensonhurst Bomber episode featuring Ralph's fight with Harvey the bully!

Cover: Photo

  1. The Honeymooners - "My Fare Lady" (18 pages); Script: Donna McCrohan; Pencils/Inks: Vince Musacchia
  2. The Honeymooners - "Madison Ave. Madness" (6 pages); Script: Peter Crescenti; Pencils/Inks Howard Bender.
  3. The Honeymooners Interview with Joyce Randolph (2 pages) by Norman Abramoff
  4. The Chauncy Street Mailbag (1 page)
  5. Miscellaneous photos, character ads throughout.
  6. Inside back cover full page ad for the next issue simply states "Lost Episodes!"








And then just like that, it was over! There was no next issue! The Overstreet guide has a nebulous entry about a suspected 13th issue, but as has been seen more times that I care to elaborate on, this is likely incorrect. Actually, for 30 years, older versions of the Overstreet price guide had an entry for a completely non-existent 2-issue Jackie Gleason series in 1948 from St. John Publishing, including yearly price fluctuations ever upward. It took until the year 2001 to get this removed. My big question is "who" was selling copies to fuel their rise if the books didn't exist? Of course, it could have been one of those alleged "fake" entries placed into the guide to stop competitors from copying their data. Rumor has it that the editors there did do things like that. Of course it also meant I (and other collectors) searched for a decade or more for 2 non-existent books. In all fairness, I should have realized 1948 was way to early for a Gleason book. He was then currently an unknown comic.

I'm going to end with some personal reminiscences, comments and artifacts. I grew up in New York City and I watched The Homeymooners on WPIX every single night for about 25 years. (often forcing myself to wait until the hated NY Yankees were over, to watch them late).  I know every episode by heart (as all fans do) and even performed episodes as a kid with my brothers at makeshift basement Honeymooner performances. (I'm sure "somewhere" the audio cassette tape exists for our version of The Bensonhurst Bomber" circa 1974!!),

When word began to make the media in 1985, 1986 and 1987 that Gleason's health had taken a downward turn, it wasn't surprising. A heavy smoker and drinker during his entire life, a heavy toll will eventually come due. A month before his death, the New York Post ran this story on June 25, 1987.





Jackie Gleason died on June 24, 1987 at the age of 71. The New York Newspapers carried the stories this way....

New York Daily News - June 25, 1987












New York Post - June 25, 1987










New York Times - June 25, 1987











New York Newsday - June 25, 1987






People Magazine covered Gleason's death with their July 13 issue........





.......using the exact same cover image used by Life Magazine on their October 5, 1962 issue.






                                             
When Audrey Meadows passed away in 1996, the great New York Post political cartoonist Sean Delonas covered the passing with this cartoon on February 6th, the original of which I was able to acquire. Framed in my house, this is the best image I could get....








Finally, here are a slew of books about Jackie Gleason and the Honeymooners. I'll list them in order of publication date.

The Honeymooner's Companion by Donna McCrohan, Workman Publishing (1978)

The one that started it all! Donna later scripted several of the Honeymooner comic book stories in Triad Publishing's 1989 issues.







How Sweet It Is - The Jackie Gleason Story by James Bacon, St. Martin's Press (1985)







The Official Honeymooners Treasury by Peter Crescenti & Bob Columbre, Perigee Books (Putnam) (1985)





The Honeymooners Lost Episodes by Donna McCrohan and Peter Crescenti, Workman Publishing (1986)





The Official Honeymooners Treasury by Peter Crescenti & Bob Columbre, Galahad Books (Re-issue in hardcover) (1989)






The Great One - The Life and Legend of Jackie Gleason by William A. Henry III, Doubleday (1992)





Jackie Gleason - An Intimate Portrait of The Great One by W.J. Weatherby, Pharos Books (Scripps Howard) (1992)





Love, Alice by Audrey Meadows with Joe Daley, Crown Publishers (1994)






Art Carney - A Biography by Michael Seth Starr, Fromm International Publishing Corporation (1997)







And a fitting end with one of Jackie Gleason's most endearing characters, and my favorite, The Poor Soul by Mike Roy and Mike Peppe.....










I want to relate one last personal story. Several years ago a very sweet, extremely elderly woman was brought to me for care in a wheelchair. The woman was in her early 90's, of striking beauty and quietly dignified in her appearance.  I noticed that her last name was Gleason and in kidding fashion asked in a flippant manner, "any relation to Jackie?" Without missing a beat, she softly replied "Yes, my husband." I froze and quickly looked to the woman's companion behind her, who was nodding her head up and down in a knowing, affirmative fashion. In a flash, I knew exactly who this was, Genevieve Gleason, Jackie's first wife and the mother of his 2 daughters. Mrs. Gleason would pass away within a few months but not before I spent several visits with her, often accompanied by one of her daughters.  Both were exquisitely warm and friendly and I was honored to briefly know them.