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Gleason's honeymoon with fans is not over yet

By Arthur UngerStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 25, 1985



New York

It was hard to tell the movie extras in their 1920s costumes from the locals at the corner of Bleecker Street and the Bowery. CBS was shooting scenes in New York City for a made-for-TV movie with Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, titled ``Izzy and Moe.'' The area is a strange mixture of human jetsam from local flophouses, Yuppies from gentrified brownstones, and longtime blue-collar residents. Now, there were striped awnings and clotheslines crowded with underdrawers added by the scene designers to hide intrusive air conditioners.

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Jackie Cooper, ``The Kid'' grown up, was directing a trimmed-down Jackie Gleason, nattily dressed in a double-breasted gray pin-striped suit with a red carnation in his lapel and a straw hat.

With four powerful lights and a Panavision camera trained on him, Jackie started his inimitable stroll down the sidewalk, doffing his hat to a passing lady, patting the head of a young boy playing in the street, skipping just a bit to the rhythm of the music (which he had composed) till he reached a door marked ``Moe's Tavern.'' The director shouted ``cut,'' the camera stopped rolling, the music was cut off abruptly, and Jackie removed his hat and sauntered over to an air-conditioned trailer parked on the corner.

Off the set, pin-striped suit coat tossed aside, suspenders exposed, weariness surfacing, the star of '50s television, '60s films, '70s reruns, and '80s out-of-retirement one-shot projects talks about his life, his work, his various mediums.

How does he feel about the ongoing Gleason revival? Even the Museum of Broadcasting is having an exhibition of 17 sketches from his now-classic TV series, ``The Honeymooners.''

``What revival?'' he asks with a chuckle. ``For 30 years they've been repeating those 39 `Honeymooners' episodes. Each generation catches on to them. The kids like it now. So can you call it a revival?''

Is Jackie Gleason ready for a new series on TV? What if an executive came along right now and offered him a new series?

``First, I would punch him in the nose, then pick him up and say, `No.' ''

Why?

``Listen. I live in Lauderhill, right near Fort Lauderdale in Florida. We play golf every day. Lots of friends come by to visit. Who needs to work?''

The fact is that Jackie Gleason has come out of Florida five times in the last four years to make films . . . the last two being ``Smokey III'' and ``The Sting II.''

Does he watch television there?

``Only sporting events, documentaries, and some shows on public television like `Masterpiece Theatre.' ''

No sitcoms?

``I can't bear to watch sitcoms. Those laugh tracks make me throw up. A guy says `Hello' and he gets a scream. I remember when I said `Hello' . . . I never got a scream. Audrey [Meadows] put it best: `We got laughs the old-fashioned way. . . . We earned them.' ''

One show he does like -- ``The Cosby Show.'' ``Very good. No jokes. All these new black shows coming up are going after Cosby and they're never going to catch him. It's the attitude of his show, the attitude of each of the people in the show toward each other. They like each other and you like them for it. That's very important. Once you get the audience to like the people, you're halfway home.

`` `The Honeymooners' has lasted because, first, it is funny. And second, because the audiences like the people. Alice and Ralph really love each other. Everybody has a Norton and a Kramden in the family.