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Jackie Gleason was a pioneer of television comedy. "The Honeymooners" and "The Jackie Gleason Show" have been audience favorites for more than half a century.
Actress-Director Rain Pryor talks about how her father Richard Pryor was a comedy pioneer with his raw stand-up performances and honest critiques of race.
Actress-Director Rain Pryor talks about her father Richard Pryor's comedic influences including Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Gleason and Bill Cosby and the comedians who have been inspired by him like Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock and Steve Harvey.
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Comedian, actor. Born Herbert John Gleason, on February 26, 1916, in New York City, into a poor Irish-Catholic immigrant family living in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. His father, John Herbert Gleason, an insurance clerk, abandoned the family when Jackie was eight. Subsequently, his mother, Mae Kelly Gleason, worked as a subway token booth agent; she died when Jackie was 16. His only sibling, Clemence, had succumbed to tuberculosis in early childhood, when Jackie was three. Gleason attended Public School 73 in Brooklyn but dropped out of high school before his 16th birthday. He spent much of his time with the Nomads, a Brooklyn "athletic club," an organization that differed little from a street gang. He was a familiar figure in the neighborhood, well known for a sharp tongue, "dandy" dressing, and virtuoso pool playing, qualities that would be features of his professional persona. Though a voracious eater as a teenager, he excelled at football and boxing and did not then sport the heavyweight "spare tire" that would eventually become his trademark.
Early in life, Gleason displayed a flair for the rough verbal play of the Brooklyn streets, and he seems to have set his sights on a career built around that talent. After appearing in several grade school and church plays, he took first prize with an original comedy routine in a neighborhood talent contest; this in turn led to a stint as master of ceremonies at the Folly Theatre, a Brooklyn vaudeville house. Upon leaving school in 1932, he began traveling around the New York metropolitan region, finding work as an emcee at amateur shows, as a carnival barker, and as a house comic at resort hotels in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
In 1935, now known as "Jumpin' Jack" Gleason for the frenetic style of his presentation, he was hired to work as both an emcee and a bouncer at the Miami Club, a rough-and-tumble Newark saloon. There he gained notoriety for handling hecklers, both verbally and physically. He also got his first job in broadcasting, working as a part-time disc jockey at the Newark radio station WAAT.
Gleason married Genevieve Halford, a dancer, in Newark in 1936; the couple had two daughters, Linda and Geraldine, his only children. The marriage was a rocky one, resulting in several legal separations and reconciliations. A permanent separation agreement was made in 1954; a final divorce would not take place until 1971.
The pace of the young comedian's career accelerated in 1938, when he won several bookings at Manhattan nightspots. This exposure brought a role in the 1940 Broadway musical Keep Off the Grass.
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Originally called Toast of the Town, The Ed Sullivan Show ran from 1948-1971 on CBS and was an American staple in the 50s and 60s. The American variety show featured the Who's Who of celebritydom over the decades, including Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Tony Bennett, Carol Channing, Lucille Ball, The Jackson 5, and The Doors.
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