GLEASON/SKELTON

These guys were the best, the funniest.

It occurs to me that the most recent generations won’t know these guys. They’ve been gone for a while now, but they were hysterically funny in their day.

Jackie Gleason’s comedic legacy seems well-protected. Every New Year’s Day his old comedy series, The Honeymooners , is played the day long on one of the TV networks. The show is politically incorrect in a delightful way.

Occasionally Gleason, playing Ralph Kramden, a paycheck to paycheck bus driver in Brooklyn, is arguing with Alice, his wife.

With fist clenched, he exhorts ,” One of these days, Alice . Bang zoom! To the moon.

The audience quite understood his ridiculous bluster.

Some aren’t aware, but Jackie Gleason also did a weekly comedic variety show back in the sixties. Part of his repertoire on that show was pantomime. He was masterful at it. He was once asked why that show was so consistently successful. Gleason unceremoniously replied,

“Because it was funny .”

Nothing like cutting to the chase !

The variety show commenced with a dramatic announcement: ” From the sun and fun Capitol of the World, Miami Beach, we bring you the Jackie Gleason Show.!”

Drum roll . Orchestra.

The opening of the curtain was ushered by Sammy Spear and his orchestra. It then faded to the introduction of Gleason himself , who then commenced a monologue. Not but a few seconds into it, he perfected his classic double take.

The garishly-dressed Sammy Spear momentarily compelled Gleason’s attention. The audience loved Spear’s multi-colored, patchwork jackets. Gleason stared for a moment, then would say something along these lines :

“Why that looks like a bowl of Pastafazoo ! ”

Gleason then sat down . Preparatory to his monologue he was served coffee by two scantily clad ladies who then faded backstage, but not before his ingratiating acknowledgement of their compelling good looks.

These few seconds of the show were mostly non-verbal inflections in Gleason’s face; inference as to his present thoughts.

“Thank you,” he’d say to his ladies, “You may go.”

His initial sip of the coffee was classic.

“WOW”, he would exclaim. “Just how could anything compare ?”

Such comment was, of course, still tied to his disappearing starlets who’d just served him the coffee.

(Laughter and applause).

Weekly, the audience celebrated these slapstick openings . They were funny.

Repetitive, week after week, but endearing

I’d love to hear the debate between those in the know. Who was the better pantomime artist ? Jackie Gleason or Red Skelton ?

One of Skelton’s funniest skits was in the earliest days of the transistor radio. While hoeing in his garden, he stooped down and his radio accidentally fell out of his pocket. Fast forward a few months . While harvesting, he discovered a pumpkin that played music when handled.

Who imagined this stuff, anyway ? Pulling it off took talent. Skelton had it. Gleason too.

Both were icons of their time.

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