Jackie Gleason - Biography
BY J Poet
Jackie Gleason – The Great One – is better known for his comedy than his music, but during the 50s and early 60s he released almost two dozen album of romantic mood music. Music for Lovers Only (1953 Capital) was a surprise hit, selling over 500,000 copies. While his other albums didn’t match the initial success of Lovers Only, most of them hit the charts. The original LPs continue to be prized collector’s items for lovers of lounge music and exotica.
Gleason, an Irish catholic, was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1916. He was a cut up and prankster in grammar school and dropped out of high school after one year. In 1934, during the Depression, he had steady work as a comic, and made several comedy films for Warner in the late 40s. In 1949, realizing the potential of television, he signed on for the title role in the comedy series The Life of Riley which led to The Jackie Gleason Show in 1951. The variety show was in instant hit and he was dubbed Mr. Saturday Night because of the show’s high ratings. The show’s most famous creations, Ralph and Alice Kramden – The Honeymooners – first appeared on the show before spinning off into their own half hour series.
Gleason had always loved music, and while he couldn’t read or write notation, he would sing melodies to assistants who would transcribe them. He said he composed “Melancholy Serenade,” the theme for The Jackie Gleasin Show and “You're My Greatest Love” the theme for The Honeymooners, although there is some question as to how much input he actually had in the compositions. His first album of mood music, Music for Lovers Only (1953 Capital) was a gold chart-topping hit, with its lush, romantic orchestrations and cinematic sweep, but selling the album to capital was hard. After the other major labels had turned down his idea for an album of romantic music, Gleason rented Decca Studios in Manhattan, hired the musicians and arrangers and produced the album. Capital agreed to release the album, only after Gleason promised to plug it on his TV show. Plug it he did, and when it started getting radio play, the album went gold. Gleason put together an orchestra to support the album and toured nationally to good notices. He followed it up with several more best selling efforts including Music, Martinis and Memories (1954 Capital), which went gold, Music to Make You Misty (1954 Capital), Lover’s Rhapsody (1955 Capital), Romantic Jazz (1955 Capital), which ws more jazzy than jazz, Music to Remember Her (1955), Lonesome Echo (1955 Capital, Music to Change Her Mind (1956 Capital), Night Winds (1956 Capital) and Music for the Love Hours (1957 Capital).
In 1957, Capital starting putting out stereo albums. One of the first was Gleason’s Velvet Brass (1957 Capital). Other swanky, late night, cigarette and whisky soaked titles in his catalogue include The Torch with the Blue Flame (1958 Capital), Rebound (1959 Capital), Aphrodisia (1960 Capital), Opiate d’Amour (1960 Capital), The Gentle Touch (1961 Capital), Love, Embers and Flame (1962 Capital), Champagne, Candlelight and Kisses (1963 Capital), Movie Themes for Lovers Only (1963 Capital), Today’s Romantic Hits for Lovers Only (1963 Capital), Today’s Romantic Hits for Lovers Only, Vol. 2 (1964 Capital), Silk 'n' Brass (1965 Capital), Music from Around the World for Lovers Only (1966 Capital), A Taste of Brass for Lovers Only (1967 Capital), and Doublin’ in Brass (1968)
He also made seval Christmas albums: Merry Christmas (1956 Capital), ‘Tis the Season (1967 Capital), White Christmas (1968 Capital), and All I Want For Christmas (1969 Capital).
Later in life, Gleason tried serious acting and earned an Academy Award nomination in 1961 for Best Supporting Actor as Minnesota Fats in The Hustler with Paul Newman. He also played Sherrif Buford T. Justice in the popular Bert Reynolds Smokey and the Bandit movies. He died of colon and liver cancer in 1987 at his Miami home.