The Monster of Miami Beach: Jackie Gleason
I spent 3 years working with television pioneer Robert “Bob ” Finkel preparing a biography of his life. Through the process, Bob opened up the access to his archives and opened the door to interview many of the great stars for whom he had produced and directed.
Bob had produced everything from the Academy Awards, the Emmy Awards to creating the People’s Choice Awards and Circus of the Stars. He directed The Bob Newhart Show, Barney Miller to several episodes of McMillan & Wife with Rock Hudson.
Bob was the executive producer of the variety shows for Dinah Shore, Eddie Fisher, Andy Williams, Julie Andrews, Jerry Lewis and many others. He helped create the New Bob Cummings Show. He was the Executive Producer of the Elvis Presley comeback specials for Col Tom Parker.
The stories he told gave me an intimate glimpse into some of the great performers of our time.
One of his favorites was Elvis, whom he considered to be a true southern gentleman. Bob was a close friend of Col Tom Parker. Those stories, I’ll save for another time.
Bob’s least favorite was ” The Great One” – Jackie Gleason. Bob’s exact words about Jackie were “He was a the worst kind of monster. Gleason was a true hedonist with no regard for anyone but himself. ”
Finkel had just finished being the producer of The Andy Williams Show for several years on NBC. His partners were Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin. Eventually, they left to create Tandem Productions to produce such hits as All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Good Times, Maude, Different Strokes etc. bob turned down their offer to leave with them, but he stayed loyal to Andy (he regretted that).
After Andy, Jack Philbin – Gleason’s longtime producer offered Bob a lucrative deal to produce several Gleason ” Honeymooner” specials that were to be produced in Miami Beach where Gleason was based. Gleason’s Weekly series had just ended and he now signed to do the specials. Thus, Bob would fly down to Miami on a Monday to work for a week on each of the Gleason specials.
On the regular trip to Miami, announcer Johnny Olson ( The Price is Right) usually took the same flight as well- he was Jackie’s longtime friend, announcer and drinking buddy.
Bob recalled- “Johnny didn’t need the plane to fly. It was a week long party for Johnny with Jackie. ”
During the 1973-1974 season Bob was becoming very disenchanted with Gleason. He was often unprepared and he was mostly inebriated. Gleason. was an angry drunk, Bob explained.
At the conclusion of one of the shows in the mid-season, Jackie became horribly drunk.
“He was a mean drunk. He was pushing everyone around. I just could not allow it to go on. When he broke a bottle and threatened one of the June Taylor dancers, that was the last straw. I was a POW in China during WW II and being around Gleason was worse than that. I just decked him and flew back to Los Angeles. He called me and tried to apologize- he said, “You got to forgive me Pally”, but there was no amount of money to work with him ever again. He was a monster.
And Awwwwway we go………
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