“From the sun and fun capital of the world, Miami Beach”, Jackie Gleason entertained viewers in the 1960s with his Saturday night CBS variety show. Four of these broadcasts, unseen for more than 50 years, have been gathered together in the Time Life DVD, “The Jackie Gleason Show In Color”.
The disc is made up of remastered episodes from the 1968-1969 TV season. Along with various guest stars, the shows feature three unreleased on home video and streaming Honeymooners sketches.
The programs open with two “Glea Girls” models/actresses announcing the guest stars and when featured,The Honeymooners main cast. In the original broadcasts, this was followed by a segment with The June Taylor Dancers. Unfortunately, the Taylor dance sequences have been edited out from these episodes. Gleason enters the stage for each program with his trademark phrase “How Sweet It Is”, and introduces the show’s orchestra leader, Sammy Spear. Gleason comments on Spear’s colorful sport jackets, similar to what Johnny Carson would do with with “Tonight Show” bandleader Doc Severinsen, and then brings out the first guest.
Red Buttons performs in that initial sequence for three of the DVD’s four episodes. Other comedy legends appearing include Phil Silvers, Milton Berle, George Carlin (clean shaven, wearing a suit and tie), Morey Amsterdam, and Jan Murray.
Two of the musical guests perform Petula Clark songs. Frankie Avalon sings “Don’t Give Up”, as part of a medley with Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”; and Florence Henderson sings “My Love”. Edie Adams offers an enthusiastic take on “Cabaret”, and also impressions of Zsa Zsa Gabor, Phyllis Diller, and Lady Bird Johnson
The Honeymooners segments
Though “remakes” of sketches from Gleason shows of the 1950s, “The Honeymooners” segments are all very enjoyable. Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean play Alice and Trixie, taking over the roles from Audrey Meadows (and briefly Pert Kelton and Sue Ane Langdon) and Joyce Randolph. Art Carney was back as Ed, earning Emmy Awards in 1967 and 1968 for the role, adding to his previous three Emmy wins and future Oscar victory. The chemistry on screen between Gleason and Carney was as strong as ever in these episodes. In one, Ralph mistakes a diagnosis for Alice’s mother’s dog for his own health report. In another, Alice sends herself a birthday gift as Ralph forgets to remember the date annually. Problem is Ralph thinks the gift is from another man. Finally, the third "Honeymooners" segment finds Ralph wanting to sue the bus company when he breaks his leg in an accident.
In 1964, “The Jackie Gleason Show” moved production from New York to Florida, where “The Great One” could play golf all year round. These variety shows were video taped at the Miami Beach Auditorium, now known as the Jackie Gleason Theatre of the Performing Arts. Miami Beach had a large Jewish population during the 1960’s, and it’s interesting to see the bit of Jewish related references present in parts of the episodes. Buttons and Silvers do a bit of dancing to ”Hava Nagila” during their segments. In the 12/7/68 program, Buttons’ routine includes a description of the fictional Moishe B. Moishe television show in Israel, sponsored by Mother Fleischer’s kosher toothpaste with the chicken fat flavor. The stock report has market updates for IBM (Irving Bernstein’s Matzos) and AT&T (Abramowitz’s Tender Tissue). Berle gives Gleason an elocution lesson with the help of “Professor” J.Morton Storm. Unfortunately, the Professor, as Berle says, “sounds like he took diction lessons from Jackie Mason”. Gleason replies, “Yeah…and flunked.” Even Nipsey Russell during his 1/4/69 program routine, jokes about having a bar mitzvah, which obviously never happened, before his first trip to Miami.
If you’re looking for the Gleason characters The Poor Soul, Rum Dum, Reginald Van Gleason III, or Joe the Bartender (with Frank Fontaine as Crazy Guggenheim), you won’t find them in these four shows. The Van Gleason III character and Fontaine are featured in two separate episodes in Time Life’s “The Jackie Gleason Show In Color” 10 DVD box set, released in October 2017. But the rest aren’t included. The 1960’s “Jackie Gleason and His American Scene Magazine” program, in which they were prominently seen, still remains unreleased on home video or streaming, except for two instances. The 1/8/66 broadcast “The Adoption”, which reunited Gleason, Meadows and Carney in a musical Honeymooners themed program, is a bonus feature on “The Honeymooners 'Classic 39’ Episodes” blu-ray set. The first “Jackie Gleason and His American Scene Magazine” broadcast from 9/29/62 is available to watch on YouTube, and was previously sold on VHS tape by Good Times Home Video. The “American Scene Magazine” shows were edited into half hour syndicated episodes in the 1980s, but haven’t been broadcast since that time. Perhaps MeTV or Antenna TV could show them again in the near future?
Picture quality is very good on "The Jackie Gleason Show In Color” disc , with nice color. The episodes have been restored from the original master video tapes, said to have been located in a vault in South Florida until recently. The shows are close captioned. A jazz rock version of “The Jackie Gleason Show” theme song, “Melancholy Serenade”, plays while the DVD’s main menu is onscreen.
Total running time of the four shows is 165 minutes, with the first show clocking in at 36 minutes, and the next three at between 42 and 44 minutes. In addition to the June Taylor Dancers sequences, some musical parts of the programs have been edited. Music licensing costs might have played a role again in the tunes not being found on this DVD. Two songs by The 5th Dimension are missing from the 1/25/69 telecast. A group of tunes Gleason and Avalon performed together in the 11/23/68 show are also not seen.
For less than 10 U.S. dollars in price, you can’t beat the fun in watching these shows again. If you want more of the programs, go for the 10 disc Time Life box set.