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Jackie Gleason was born Herbert John Gleason in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn in New York City in 1916. His father left his family when he was a boy, and his mother died when he was a teenager. He grew up very poor, and worked at all sorts of odd jobs after dropping out of school. He had some bit parts in movies in the early 1940s, but had little success, and started a night club act. In 1949, it LOOKED like he got his big break when he was cast as the lead in the TV version of The Life of Riley (because William Bendix was too busy with his movie career). But Gleason bombed out, and only 12 shows aired before it was cancelled, surprising, because it had been a huge radio hit (and in 1953 Bendix was finally free to star, and the show ran for 6 years!). In 1950, Gleason got another shot at his own TV show, and this was Cavalcade of Stars, a variety show for the fledgling DuMont network, and it was successful enough that CBS hired him away in 1952 (and re-named the show). This show had production numbers and skits with Gleason's memorable characters, including Reginald Van Gleason III, Joe the Bartender, and of course, Ralph Kramden, among others. If you don't know who Ralph Kramden is, go out and rent some of the Honeymooners episodes and watch the funniest TV show ever created! If you do know, I don't need to explain about that show. The Jackie Gleason show continued on TV until 1957, and Gleason brought back the show and The Honeymooners in various forms in the 1960s and 1970s. In those years he also appeared in a number movies, some excellent, and some not so good. To my mind, his two best performances were as Minnesota Fats in Robert Rossen's The Hustler (nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for this film) in 1961, and as Master Sergeant Maxwell Slaughter in Blake Edwards' Soldier in the Rain in 1963. Gleason had a major hit in 1977's comedy Smokey and the Bandit, where he played Sheriff Buford T. Justice. He continued acting until 1986, the year before he passed away at the age of 71.
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