Rotund comedian-actor Jackie Gleason (born Herbert John Gleason) broke into show business at age 15 by winning an amateur-night contest and went on to perform in vaudeville, carnivals, nightclubs, and roadhouses. In 1940 he was signed to a film contract by Warner Bros., and he debuted onscreen in Navy Blues (1941). His career was interrupted by World War II, but at the war's end, Gleason returned to Hollywood, this time playing character roles in a number of films. His film work, however, lent little strength to his career, and he performed in several Broadway shows before achieving major success as the star of such TV comedy series as The Life of Riley, The Honeymooners, and The Jackie Gleason Show. It was during his reign on television that Gleason created such enduring characters as Ralph Kramden (the loud-mouth busdriver from The Honeymooners), Reggie Van Gleason, and Joe the Bartender. As a result of the comedic talents he displayed on TV, he became known as "The Great One." Gleason returned to films in the early '60s in lead roles, both comic and dramatic (he earned an Academy Award nomination for his performance in The Hustler ), but he never had as much success in movies as he did on TV. He did have some success in the late '70s and early '80s playing a good-ole'-boy Southern sheriff in the Smokey and the Bandit series of action-comedies. His long career also included a period when he composed, arranged, and conducted recordings of mood music. Gleason died in 1987 of cancer. His grandson is actor Jason Patric.
Biography by Rovi
- Began entertainment career in his teens working as an emcee at a Brooklyn theater. Other early gigs included carnival barker and daredevil driver.
- Dubbed "The Great One" by Orson Welles.
- Inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame in 1986, but never won a competitive Emmy (though his frequent costar Art Carney won five, for The Honeymooners and The Jackie Gleason Show).
- As a composer, recorded more than 35 albums with the Jackie Gleason Orchestra, though he couldn't read music.
- Had a fascination with the paranormal and an extensive collection of books on the subject.
- A statue of Gleason as bus driver Ralph Kramden from The Honeymooners stands on Eighth Avenue outside the entrance to the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan.
- Grandfather of actor Jason Patric.
- Trademark catchphrase "And Away We Go" appears on tombstone.