Hallandale Beach Blog -A common sense public policy overview offering a critical perspective on the current events, politics, govt., public policy, sports scene and pop culture of the U.S., South Florida and Europe, especially the UK and Sweden. In particular, Broward & Miami-Dade County, and the cities of Hallandale Beach, Hollywood & Aventura. Trust me when I tell you, this part of Florida is NOT the Land of Lincoln. Pictured in upper-left is Hallandale Beach's iconic beachball-colored Water Tower on State Road A1A; September 2008 photo by me, South Beach Hoosier. © 2013 Hallandale Beach Blog, All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Happy 97th Birthday, Jackie!; Jackie Gleason was South Florida's best Ambassador of Goodwill just by being himself; "Melancholy Serenade" by Jackie Gleason & his concert orchestra


LittleMissLounge YouTube Channel video: Jackie Gleason - Melancholy Serenade Uploaded January 14, 2010. http://youtu.be/UOw0qDQLPn8

I'll never forget driving to Florida from Chicago in the summer of 1987, and just as I did while home in Evanston on Mutual's WCFL, flipping on Larry King's midnight radio show on Mutual somewhere north of Gainesville or so.
(I think it was 50,000-watt flamethrower WOAI-AM out of San Antoinio, my birthplace, that I listened to south of Orlando.)

By the time I got near Port Charlotte to visit my friend Robert for a few days, on my way back for a visit with my family down here, Larry broke the news to his coast-to-coast audience of news junkies, students and up-all-nighters that the sad news had just been confirmed -Jackie Gleason had died.

I was on some dark and lonely stretch of some Florida highway about 40 minutes away from where I was supposed to be, and many hours late because of bad weather driving down thru Tennessee and Georgia.
And I do mean as dark and empty as empty could be.
Twilight Zone dark.

Knowing Larry as well as I did from having watched and listened to him since I was a kid, when he was at Channel 4 and doing color commentary for the Dolphins, I knew the stories were going to start flowing, and from someone who knew them first-hand.
And then I pulled over to the side of the highway and started crying.

A man whose genius had brought me so much enjoyment since I was a kid -and been able to be an extra on his TV show in 1969 when it was still being broadcast from the Miami Beach Convention Center- and an iconic symbol of the South Florida I'd grown-up with, was gone for good.

ABC-TV 20/20 piece from 1981 on Jackie Gleason, narrated by host Hugh Downs

And I sat in that empty car along the side of the road for at least a good hour if not more, listening to Larry tell the stories he knew in that way that, of course, only Larry King could.

Most were stories and anecdotes that I'd heard before over the previous 18 years and laughed at, but whose retelling now only made me very sad, and only made more stark that an American original like him, who chose to live in South Florida, was something that would never happen again.

And then it dawned on me that if if wasn't for the bad weather that had made me late, I'd probably have been asleep by midnight on Robert's living room couch, crashed from all the driving, and would never have heard those great Jackie stories one last time by someone who knew how truly significant Jackie Gleason really was.
Bittersweet, indeed.

wolfsonarchive·YouTube Channel video: Happy Birthday, Jackie! 1965: How Sweet It Is! Uploaded February 26, 2013. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuFbCTmeiIw

They're not Identified on video but you can clearly see actor/comedian Jimmy Durante and former Miami Beach and Dade County Mayor Chuck Hall in this video.

Four years later, at an American Cancer Society party fundraiser in Washington, D.C. one night at the Washington Hilton & Towers, when I found myself next to Larry because his wife and my date were talking to other people, I finally had the chance to tell him how much I appreciated not only hearing the sad news come from him, but also the wonderful stories, even the ones I'd heard him tell before because they were so deeply embedded in my memories.
We ended up talking for about 10 minutes, mostly reminiscing about Miami, local radio here in the '70's, sports and the way things had once been and now were in Miami, for better or worse.

Photo of taping of Jackie Gleason and his American Scene magazine show in 1966 at Gulfstream Park, Hallandale, Florida: http://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/58634
"And away we go..."

The Village at Gulfstream Park's website has the year wrong on their website.
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