Today is the 100th birthday of one of the world's greatest comedians, Jackie Gleason. I've already paid tribute to him over on my Classic TV blog so I thought I take a quick look at some of his movie roles over here.
Before he was Ralph Kramden, Jackie Gleason was an extra in nine films in 1941 and 1942. One of them is Larceny, Inc. (1942) starring Edward G. Robinson. I almost didn't recognize Gleason!
It wasn't until he started talking that I realized who he was. You can read my post about the film here.
In 1949, Gleason entered television. He appeared in The Life of Riley, which ran for one season, and in 1952 started The Jackie Gleason Show, where his later famous characters first appeared. But back to his movies.
In 1961, Gleason really got back into movies. First up was his now legendary character of "Minnesota Fats" in The Hustler, starring Paul Newman, Piper Laurie, and George C. Scott. A pool shark in real life, he did all of his own shots in the film. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his supporting role, even though his character only has about 20 minutes of screen time. Let me tell you, those 20 minutes are amazing. It is not often that a performance really impacts me but this one did (the others are John Garfield in Four Daughters and Ethel Barrymore in Portrait of Jennie). He definitely should have won the award that year. He doesn't say much and he doesn't move much - except to shoot pool - but his performance is simply brilliant. I could go on but it is hard to find words to describe it. Let's just say if you've never seen it you need to. A great post on it here.
The only other film I've seen of Gleason's is the classic Smokey and the Bandit (1977) starring Burt Reynolds and Sally Field. Gleason plays Sheriff Buford T. Justice. He ad-libs a lot of his lines which means its hilarious (if not a little colorful - definitely not a good movie for kiddies). He reprised his role twice more.
Gleason's last film was Nothing in Common (1986) where he played the father of Tom Hanks and husband of Eva Marie Saint. Gleason died of cancer on June 24, 1987 at the age of 71.