Bay Ridge

Centennial of Jackie Gleason’s birth celebrated in Bay Ridge tribute

‘The Great One’ was born 100 years ago in Brooklyn

February 26, 2016 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Comedian Jackie Gleason gestures at news conference in January, 1956 in New York. AP Photo/John Rooney
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How sweet it is!

That catch phrase, made famous by Jackie Gleason, was heard many times during a touching musical tribute to the late comic genius by singer Martin McQuade, who took listeners on a nostalgic trip through the highlights of Gleason’s glorious career during a show at Hunter’s Steak and Ale House in Bay Ridge Thursday night.

McQuade, who is a regularly featured performer at Bay Ridge restaurants, told diners at Hunter’s that he put the show together because wanted to pay tribute to Gleason to mark the centennial of the comedian’s birth.

Gleason, who was nicknamed “The Great One” by legendary film director Orson Welles, was born in Brooklyn on Feb. 26, 1916. He died of colon cancer in 1987. “He was Brooklyn’s biggest star,” McQuade said.

Gleason became a show business legend largely due to “The Honeymooners,” a classic television sitcom that lasted only 39 episodes in the mid-1950s but in later years, thanks to reruns, found an audience and continues to entertain new generations of fans.

“The Honeymooners” began as a series of comedy sketches on a television variety show and was later developed by Gleason into a show of its own.

The tales of bus driver Ralph Kramden (Gleason), a dreamer who came up with one get rich quick scheme after another, his loyal but sensible wife Alice (Audrey Meadows) who always brought him back to reality, his wacky best friend and neighbor Ed Norton (Art Carney) and Norton’s wife Trixie (Joyce Randolph) made viewers laugh over and over again.

The phrases made famous by Gleason on the show included “You’re a riot Alice,” “One of these days, pow, right in the kisser!” “To the moon, Alice!” “A mere bag of shells” and “You’re a blabbermouth!”

Gleason was born in Brooklyn, according to his Wikipedia biography, and lived at 328 Chauncey St. during his childhood. As any diehard fan of “The Honeymooners” knows, that was also the address where the Kramdens and the Nortons lived.

In his show, McQuade sang songs from episodes of “The Honeymooners,” including “Huckle Buck,” originally performed by singer Kay Starr and featured in the episode “Young at Heart,” in which Ralph and Ed learn a new dance to prove that they are still young.

“If you don’t know how to do it, you’re out of luck,” part of the lyric goes.

“There were 39 classic episodes. We all know those episodes,” McQuade told the audience, many of whom nodded in agreement.

McQuade was accompanied on the keyboard by Pete Sokolow.

Another song McQuade sang was “Swanee River,” which was featured in the episode “The $99,000 Answer.” In that episode, Ralph appears on a game show and, despite all of his practice and preparation, is stumped on the first question.

He couldn’t come up with the name of Stephen Foster, the composer of “Swanee River,” despite the fact that Ed played the song several times as a warm up during Ralph’s study sessions to get ready for his game show appearance.

McQuade also entertained the audience with “Melancholy Serenade,” the theme song to “The Jackie Gleason Show,” a variety show Gleason starred in.

In addition to his comedic skills, Gleason was also a great dramatic actor. He received an Academy Award nomination in 1961 for his portrayal of Minnesota Fats in the film “The Hustler,” starring Paul Newman.

McQuade brought several items of Gleason memorabilia to Hunter’s, including a 1950s TV Guide cover featuring “The Great One,” and several album covers, which he placed on a bulletin board.

While Gleason was best known as a comic and dramatic actor, he was also a composer who released a series of “musical mood” albums in the 1950s and 1960s, like “Riff Jazz” and “Jackie Gleason Presents Lonesome Echo.”

Gleason’s ties to Brooklyn remain intact to this day.

In tribute to Gleason’s immortal character of bus driver Ralph Kramden, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority named the bus depot at Fifth Avenue and 39th Street in Sunset Park the Jackie Gleason Bus Depot in 1988.

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