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"Jackie Gleason Television Treasures: 70th Anniversary Collection"-DVD Review

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When you think of the top American television comedy pioneers of the 1950s, Lucille Ball, Milton Berle, and Sid Caesar might come to mind. One more you could add to that group would be “The Great One,” Jackie Gleason.

The Jackie Gleason Show made its debut on CBS in September 1952. The MPI double DVD Jackie Gleason Television Treasures: 70th Anniversary Collection
celebrates Gleason shows produced during the '50s and '60s.

1953 "Jackie Gleason Show"

The first disc begins with a kinescope of a complete, one hour Jackie Gleason Show, with commercials, from January 1953. Series regulars The June Taylor Dancers appear in this new collection, unlike Time Life’s 2017 The Jackie Gleason Show In Color 10 DVD set. They open the broadcast by tap dancing to “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”

Strangely though, it seems as if the TV shot is out of focus when the whole Taylor troupe is shown on camera from a distance. You frequently can’t make out their facial features. Yet in their second appearance in the program, when the camera is closer to them on stage, the picture is clear. By the way, Peter Gladkey and Marilyn Taylor, Gleason’s future wife, are the prominent performers in the latter sequence.

The Honeymooners sketch, “Alice Plays Cupid,” has already been released in The Honeymooners-The Lost Episodes Vol. 4 DVD and available via cable TV and streaming services. But here you have the announcer’s original intro and Gleason (Ralph Kramden) bringing out Meadows (Alice Kramden) for their curtain call.

In another visual note, sometimes the actors aren't centered in the picture. It's not evident if this was the way the live broadcast was initially shot, or if it's from the kinescope process (a motion picture camera films the production from a television monitor). For example, Ralph is talking to Alice in one scene, except half of her body isn’t visible in the frame. At the same time, the pair are within inches of each other on stage.

Musical guest Peggy Lee sings "Louisville Lou (That Vampin' Girl)" and Nat King Cole's classic hit, "When I Fall In Love."

Ralph and Alice Kramden (Jackie Gleason and Audrey Meadows)

Ralph and Alice Kramden (Jackie Gleason and Audrey Meadows)

"Jackie Gleason's American Scene Magazine"

For the first time on DVD, an hour of 1962-1966's Jackie Gleason's American Scene Magazine program follows.

It’s good to finally have a bit of the variety series on home video. "The Best of Jackie Gleason’s American Scene Magazine" consists of portions from different episodes. So, in a way, it’s a hybrid collection of the broadcasts, and not complete like the 1953 Gleason Show.

You get to see The June Taylor Dancers again, this time with some Busby Berkeley geometric shaped choreography.

However, some of the comedy sketches run a bit too long, and could have used some script editing. A burlesque segment in which Gleason plays a hungry for love character nicknamed “Wow Wow,” alongside The Abbott and Costello Show’s Sid Fields, is one example. A piece with wealthy playboy Reginald Van Gleason III and his performing Flea Circus is clever and amusing, just not laugh out loud funny.

A nearly 15 minute performance of Gleason as Joe the Bartender, along with the zany and tipsy Crazy Guggenheim (Frank Fontaine), is additionally included. But, 10 minutes of the routine is comprised of Guggenheim telling his stories and jokes to Joe. When The American Scene Magazine was syndicated as half hour programs in the 1980s, the Joe the Bartender and Crazy Guggenheim scenes were cut down to 6 ½ to 7 minutes approximately, and the skits flowed much better. You still had the highlight of Guggenheim singing a song at the end of the routine. On the DVD, it’s “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now.” Guggenheim’s crooning will make you smile, as it’s similar to Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) in that 60s sitcom. You don’t expect the two characters, the way they’re written and portrayed, to have such nice singing voices. Yet when they start the tunes, their true vocals shine.

Crazy Guggenheim and Joe the Bartender (Frank Fontaine and Jackie Gleason)

Crazy Guggenheim and Joe the Bartender (Frank Fontaine and Jackie Gleason)

More successful are the sketches in which the Gleason characters and others pantomime while light music composed by "The Great One" is heard in the background. Notable routines include the inebriated Rum Dum basically destroying the inventory of a small supermarket, and a Matador comically being helped into his traje de luces (suit of lights) by an assistant. These two sketches show the viewer how adept Gleason was at physical comedy.

"Honeymooners" and more

Disc Two is chock full of Honeymooners videos. A couple from the American Scene Magazine feature Sue Ane Langdon as Alice, and one with Patricia Wilson as Trixie Norton.1966’s "The Adoption” reunites Gleason, Meadows, and Art Carney (Ed Norton) in a 51 minute musical episode that’s actually quite poignant and sweet. Ralph and Alice adopt a baby girl, only to have the mother change her mind and want the child back.

The Jackie Gleason Show segments contain seven Honeymooners sketches, starring Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean as Alice and Trixie. All have previously been available to home viewers via Time Life's abridged three and full 10 DVD In Color Gleason compilations.

The disc’s two bonus clips, while short in length, are quite enjoyable. In one, taken from the Jackie Gleason’s 51st Birthday Celebration broadcast, emcee Gene Kelly introduces a special guest. It’s Carney as Norton who proceeds to honor Gleason with a special manhole cover award called “The Soggy” and a special poem from his fellow workers in the sewer.

The other is a portion from the short-lived Steve Lawrence Show, in which about six minutes of film footage is shown of “The Great Gleason Express" train ride from New York to Miami Beach. This was to celebrate Gleason and his program's move to "The Sun and Fun Capital of the World", and in true style, included a Dixieland Band, the June Taylor Dancers, booze, dinner, balloons, and just plain merriment.

Ed  Norton( Art Carney) with Gene Kelly and Jackie Gleason

Ed Norton( Art Carney) with Gene Kelly and Jackie Gleason

"Genius At Work"

Another bonus feature, the 2006 PBS special Jackie Gleason: Genius At Work, spotlights all of “Mister Saturday Night'’s characters with comments by Taylor Gleason. Narrated by former Goldbergs star Jeff Garlin, it’s a worthy addition to the DVD set. You get more footage of Gleason characters The Poor Soul, Fenwick Babbitt, Charlie Bratten “The Loudmouth,” and Rudy the Repairman as well as Ralph Kramden, and Reginald Van Gleason III. This documentary was also issued on DVD in 2008.

Technical Details

Video quality is mixed in the Jackie Gleason Television Treasures: 70th Anniversary Collection, as to be expected. The one hour 1953 Gleason broadcast hasn’t been remastered, and the picture is not crystal clear, as mentioned above.

The American Scene Magazine Honeymooners segments on disc two visually look okay, with one, “TV Game of the Week,” being a bit clearer than the other two. The Jackie Gleason Show Honeymooners videos match the ones from The Jackie Gleason Show In Color collection, which were taken from the original master tapes. The "Alice’s Birthday" sketch in the Television Treasures set does have a little video noise in its picture that wasn’t in the In Color DVD compilation.

The total running time of the two NTSC DVD’s is seven hours. English subtitles are available. A six page booklet with an essay, Gleason character photos, and listings for the two DVD's is included.

Reginald Van Gleason III (Jackie Gleason) gets ready for his tag team  wrestling match (Nature Boy Van Gleason III?)

Reginald Van Gleason III (Jackie Gleason) gets ready for his tag team wrestling match (Nature Boy Van Gleason III?)

Final Word

If you’re a Jackie Gleason fan, you’ll enjoy this assortment of his classic comedy on TV. It’s unfortunate, though, that the visual quality is lacking in parts, and that much of the video material has already been released. In that regard, since MPI has distributed The Honeymooners Lost Episodes on DVD in the past, perhaps an hour of those shows could have been added here. Especially considering any of the Classic 39 Honeymooners episodes wasn’t going to be in this set, with those programs on the Paramount CBS Blu-ray and DVD label.

The first disc of the Jackie Gleason Television Treasures: 70th Anniversary Collection, minus the bonus "Team Wrestling" clip is available on Amazon's Prime Video site for rent, purchase, or free with ads. The 1953 Gleason Show can be seen on the Roku channel, too.

Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What was the name of the character played by Jackie Gleason in the "Smokey and the Bandit" films?
    • Cledus "The Snowman" Snow
    • Buford T. Justice
    • Bo Darville
  2. "The Jackie Gleason Show" was broadcast from New York's Ed Sullivan Theater. Whose talk show is taped there now?
    • Jimmy Fallon
    • Jimmy Kimmel
    • Stephen Colbert
  3. Audrey Meadows was born in which Asian country?
    • China
    • Japan
    • SIngapore
  4. Frank Fontaine appeared on this star's radio and TV program prior to "Jackie Gleason's American Scene Magazine":
    • Jack Benny
    • George Burns
    • Groucho Marx
  5. Art Carney won the 1974 Best Actor Oscar for which movie?
    • The Godfather Part II
    • Murder on the Orient Express
    • Harry and Tonto

Answer Key

  1. Buford T. Justice
  2. Stephen Colbert
  3. China
  4. Jack Benny
  5. Harry and Tonto

© 2022 Marshall Fish