I still like Jackie Gleason. Like many middle American kids growing up in the fifties, Jackie Gleason was Saturday night. Somehow he was a slightly caricatured vision of my parent’s generation only funny.
For a kid in Indiana, Brooklyn and Ralph Cramden, were the real America. Not as an ideal but as the ordinary people on the edge of the Big City. Close enough to be part of it but real enough to be comfortable for country folks.
Over the years I’ve come to realize that much of Gleason’s humor wasn’t particularly funny. Milton Berle could be funny and Lucille Ball was funny but Jackie Gleason was your funny uncle who was just funny enough but still reachable.
Somehow I remember his Bartender sketches. They were funny but there was a sadness in the unheard other half of the conversation. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else do that. His mobile expression and formality was from another age.
Not much I can say about the Honeymooners that hasn’t been said. There, too, it seems difficult to say a lot. I suppose going back to my academic form I could write about it as an illustration of the essence of America as we imagined ourselves built on sewer workers and bus drivers as slightly befuddled but good people. But there was a lot there that couldn’t really be said. Or perhaps that is what I think now sixty or more years later.
I miss those people that Jackie Gleason created. Somehow it doesn’t surprise me that he was a difficult and silent man. I realize now, after reading this, that I knew almost nothing about Gleason except his roles and fame. But it all fits. The pictures of Newark in the 1930s are Indianapolis in the 1950s with slightly different cars.
It still feels like home.