February 26th marks comedian Jackie Gleason’s birthday. Check out this Honeymooners photo of him that probably made him feel like the “token bus driver.”
“If you have it and you know you have it, then you have it. If you have it and don’t know you have it, you don’t have it. If you don’t have it but you think you have it, then you have it.” So were the sage words of comedian and actor Jackie Gleason—who knew early on that he had it.
Born in Brooklyn, New York on February 26, 1916, Gleason caught the acting bug after performing in a high school play. Believing he had the chops to make a living off of being funny, Gleason worked as a master of ceremonies in the New York City theater circuit and even held odd jobs (carnival barker, anyone?), before Hollywood began to take notice.
Soon after working his way into established comedy clubs and landing roles in films for Time Warner and Twentieth Century-Fox, Gleason didn’t waste time living large. “Anyone who knew Jackie Gleason in the 1940s,” wrote CBS historian Robert Metz, “would tell you The Fat Man would never make it. His pals at Lindy’s watched him spend money as fast as he soaked up the booze.”
But the hard-drinking, four-pack-a-day smoking Fat Man did make it for a good, long stretch, and his acting talents took him to Broadway, The Jackie Gleason Show, scores of comedic and dramatic roles in television and film, and of course, The Honeymooners, playing fiery bus driver Ralph Kramden, opposite his dimwitted pal Ed Norton, played by Art Carney.
To mark what would’ve been Gleason’s 98th birthday this week, we chose this publicity still of Gleason as ole “Ralphie Boy,” accepting a bus token from his wife Allison (Audrey Meadows) with neighbors Ed and Trixie Norton (Art Carney, Joyce Randolph). To steal one of Gleason’s trademark catchphrases from his variety-show days, “How sweet it is!”