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Jackie Gleason (1916-1987)

 

  1. Stephen Dunne, Doll Face, 1944.  Gleason  and Dennis O’Keefe were the guys in the life of the titular Vivian Blaine - adapted (badly) from the novel, The Naked Genius, by ex-stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, signed by her real name, Louise Hovick.
  2. William Bendix, The Life of Riley, TV, 1949.     Popular character stalwart Bendix had played Chester Riley in the hit NBC radio show during 1944-1952. He’d also made the movie versin in 1949. But various film contracts barred him frm continuing the role TV. Gleason became Chester - one of his few flops, one season only. Bendix recovered his alter ego in 1953 for five highly successful seasons. And for the icing on the cake, he replaced Gleason in the 1960 Broadway musical, Take Me Along.
  3. Glenn Ford, Pocketful of Miracles, 1961.       Directing legend Frank Capra never knew this would be his final film. All he needed was a star that UA considered bankable.  He tried for Gleason, Kirk Douglas, Steve McQueen, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra… and settled for Ford. Biggest mistake of his 67 years. Indeed, a terminal error – Capra never made another movie after what he said was “shaped in the fires of discord and filmed in an atmosphere of pain, strain and loathing.”
  4. Orson Welles, The Trial, 1962.     Welles wanted Gleason, “the superbly serious actor, not the comic,” to be the Advocate in the Paris shoot.“But he wouldn’t fly.” Everybody else contacted rejected the role, so Welles took it on, having Michael Lonsdale replace his earlier short scene as the priest.

  5. Gene Hackman, The FrenchConnection,1971.    
    Producer Phil D’Antonio wanted Paul Newman for ‘Popeye’ Doyle (based on the NYPD cop Eddie Egan). “You’ll never get Newman,” said Fox production chief Richard Zanuck. “Who else?” Director Wlliam Friedkin was keen on Gleason - “a black Irishman, like Eddie Egan, a great actor.” Zanuck exploded. “I’ll never do another picture with Gleason as long as I’m at this studio. Ever see Gigot? It was the worst disaster in the history of Fox… a silent movie about a clown. Can you believe it? And I let him make it. No Jackie Gleason - no way! We don’t need stars. Get anybody! Make the film for $1.5m and be a man!” Hackman got the Oscar although he was unhappy with with violence and had even asked to be replaced on the second day. “His outbursts [in the movie] were aimed directly at me… more than the drug smugglers,” said Friedkin.

  6. Carroll O’Connor, All In The Family, TV, 1971-1979.     A bigot called Alf Garnett on the BBC series, Till Death Do Us Part, was winning enormous headlines and audiences in the UK. CBS wanted it respun for their still contracted Gleason. Too late! The ground-breaking producer Norman Lear had moved faster. He also asked Gleason to play Archie Bunker, but he passed. As didTom Bosley, Scott Brady, Mickey Rooney andJack Warden. When Lear called up O’Connor, the New York actor-producer-director and Actors Studio life member was living in Italy. He’d read all about the abrasive BBC show and told his wife it couldn’t work in the US. He insisted, therefore, on a return plane ticket go Rome!  He lasted the 1968 ABC pilot, Justice For All  (Bunker was then Archie Justice) and the second, Those Were the Days, 1969. Then , ABC passed and CBS pounced.   O’Connor played Bunker 305 more times (counting spin-offs) - an extremely lite version of Warren Mitchell’s iconic BBC character, Alf Garnett.   O’Connor still won four Emmy awards from eight nominations.
  7. Murray Hamilton, 1941, 1979.       Gleason squashed any idea of Claude and Herbie being like The Honeymooners’ Ralph and Ed. He made it ultra plain. He could not - hell, he would not work with Art Carney again.
  8. Jerry Reed, Smokey and the Bandit Part 3, 1983.     Filmed as Smokey Is the Bandit, with Gleason as both sheriff and bandit. This totally confused US audiences (poor babies!) and Reed became the bandit in urgent re-shoots as Gleason returned to his New York house in Peekskill... which had no straight walls or right angles to avoid ghosts and evil spirits hiding in corners.

 

 

 

 

 





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