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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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The pairing of the nervous, quick-tempered Ralph with his dim-witted upstairs neighbor Ed Norton (Art Carney) yielded one of television's first great original comedy teams. The radical contrasts between Gleason's ostentatious, volatile gyrations and Carney's methodical, deliberate stylings suggest comparison with Laurel and Hardy.
During the 1955-56 season,
Gleason repackaged the sketch into a filmed half-hour situation comedy format so that he could reduce his hectic production schedule and pursue other projects. The 39 episodes made for that season became one of the most successful commercial properties in show business history, continuing to air widely in reruns a half-century later. In 1985, dozens of the old "Honeymooners" skits from the Gleason comedy-variety shows were re-edited and released as The Honeymooners: The Lost Episodes.
As a television superstar Gleason attempted to rectify what he felt had been his less-than-grand treatment as a stage and screen performer. In 1959, he won a Tony Award for his performance in the stage musical Take Me Along. In the film The Hustler (1961) he was cast opposite Paul Newman as the legendary pool player Minnesota Fats, performing his own pool shots for the camera; the role earned him an Academy Award nomination. Gigot (1962) was his most artistically ambitious project. He wrote, scored, and starred in this Chaplinesque film about an unkempt, deaf-mute Parisian street tramp who befriends and protects a prostitute and her young daughter. He also starred in Papa's Delicate Condition (1963). Gleason's finest dramatic work, however, was in Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), in which he portrays Maish Rennick, a boxing manager caught between gambling debts to the mob and loyalty to a punch-drunk fighter.
Several new television projects were attempted as well. A 1961 game show, You're in the Picture, designed as a Groucho Marxlike showcase for his off-the-cuff wit, was canceled after just one episode, forcing the star to make an on-air apology. He then tried a half-hour prime-time talk program, interviewing such stars as Mickey Rooney and Jayne Mansfield, but it too failed in the ratings.
Gleason's least remembered but perhaps most remarkable achievement was in the record business. Although he did not read a note of music, he composed many songs (including his trademark television theme, "Melancholy Serenade"), humming the melodies for transcribers. In 1955, at his own expense, he assembled a large orchestra and, personally wielding the baton, recorded his syrupy arrangements of such standards as "I'm in the Mood for Love" and "My Funny Valentine." Unable to sell the album to a major company, the comedian paid Capitol to manufacture it for him. For Lovers Only sold more than half a million copies and became the first of some 35 popular Gleason "romantic music" LPs.
In 1962, after a short hiatus, he came back to television with Jackie Gleason's American Scene Magazine, which was supposed to break new ground in topical satire.
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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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