THE EN­TER­TAINER, THE PRES­I­DENT, AND THE ALIENS

Fortean Times - - Contents -

Have you heard the one about 1950s sit­com star Jackie Glea­son, Richard Nixon, and the dead aliens? It’s not the set-up for a joke but the ‘true story’ of an en­counter be­tween a fa­mous en­ter­tainer and the corpses of sev­eral ET en­ti­ties, all ar­ranged by a later-dis­graced US Pres­i­dent. BRIAN J ROBB tells all...

Have you heard the one about 1950s sit­com star Jackie Glea­son, US Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon, and the dead aliens? It’s not the set-up for a joke but the ‘true story’ of an en­counter be­tween a fa­mous en­ter­tainer and the corpses of sev­eral ex­trater­res­trial en­ti­ties, all ar­ranged by a later-dis­graced US Pres­i­dent. BRIAN J ROBB tells all.

Born in the mid­dle of the First World War, Jackie Glea­son grew up in Brook­lyn, New York. The first strange event in Glea­son’s young life hap­pened be­fore he was even 10 years old. Shortly be­fore Christ­mas in 1925, his fa­ther, Her­bert, de­stroyed all the fam­ily pho­tos in which he ap­peared, col­lected his pay check from the in­sur­ance of­fice where he worked, and promptly van­ished, never to be seen again.

Once it was clear this was no tem­po­rary van­ish­ing act, Glea­son’s mother, Mae, got a job to help sup­port her and her son, while young Jackie drifted into life as a ju­nior mem­ber of a lo­cal gang. He quickly de­vel­oped some skill as a pool hustler (skills that came in handy in his dra­matic role as Min­nesota Fats in the 1961 Paul New­man movie The Hustler) and dropped out of school. The teenage Glea­son se­cured work front of house at a lo­cal theatre be­fore putting to­gether a knock­about com­edy act with some friends.

A decade af­ter her hus­band van­ished, Mae Glea­son died. Aged only 19, Jackie Glea­son now had no home and no par­ents. He shacked up with some co­me­dian friends in an over­crowded, low-rent New York ho­tel room. Soon his fortunes changed, as he started scor­ing work in New York’s club scene, where his shtick quickly came to be in­sult­ing the pay­ing clien­tele. Soon, he was signed up to a movie con­tract with Warner Bros at $250 per week, more money than the young per­former could ever imag­ine earn­ing on stage.

Many films fol­lowed dur­ing the years of the Sec­ond World War, of­ten pair­ing Glea­son with es­tab­lished Warn­ers gang­ster stars such as Humphrey Bog­art ( All Through the Night, 1941) and Ed­ward G Robin­son ( Lar­ceny, Inc., 1942). A badly-healed bro­ken left arm kept Glea­son out of war ser­vice. In­stead, he en­ter­tained off-duty troops, de­vel­op­ing a rau­cous night­club act that ran in tan­dem with his slow-burn film ca­reer.

THE EN­TER­TAINER

It was, how­ever, in the post-war world of tele­vi­sion that Jackie Glea­son won na­tion­wide fame. He fea­tured in the first

se­ries of long-run­ning sit­com The Life of Ri­ley in 1949-1950, be­fore bring­ing his night­club act to tele­vi­sion as host of the va­ri­ety for­mat The Jackie Glea­son Show. It was, how­ever, with his role as blowhard bus driver Ralph Kram­den in the sit­com The Honey­moon­ers that Glea­son re­ally made his mark. The show found wide ap­peal through its de­pic­tion of an av­er­age Amer­i­can ur­ban house­hold of the 1950s, tinged with an as­pi­ra­tional edge as Glea­son’s Ralph sought the Amer­i­can dream. The show’s clas­sic sta­tus owes much to Glea­son’s fore­sight in hav­ing it recorded, al­low­ing for con­stant re­runs over the years. Af­ter The Honey­moon­ers, his film ca­reer con­tin­ued, from The Hustler right through to the trio of Smokey and the Ban­dit movies in the late-1970s and early-1980s. His fame se­cure, Glea­son died in 1987, aged 71.

How­ever, a lit­tle-known part of this very pub­lic show­man’s life was his deep in­ter­est in the para­nor­mal and the un­ex­plained, cov­er­ing the en­tire gamut of what we might now re­gard as fortean top­ics. Ac­cord­ing to bi­og­ra­pher Wil­liam A Henry in The Great One: The Life and Leg­end of Jackie Glea­son, the en­ter­tainer had “a life­long fas­ci­na­tion with the su­per­nat­u­ral. He would spend small fortunes on every­thing from fi­nanc­ing psy­chic re­search to buy­ing a sealed box said to con­tain ac­tual ec­to­plasm, the spirit of life it­self. He would con­tact ev­ery­one from back­alley char­la­tans to se­ri­ous re­searchers like JB Rhine of Duke Univer­sity and, dis­dain­ing

He had a lit­tle­known in­ter­est in the para­nor­mal and un­ex­plained

LEFT: Jackie Glea­son with fel­low cast mem­bers Art Car­ney and Au­drey Mead­ows in The Honey­moon­ers.

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