Today Jackie Gleason is most remembered for his comedy, both on television and in the movies. Reruns of his popular The Honeymooners series still are shown on television. His film career included the wildly popular Smokey and the Bandit series as well as The Hustler for which he was nominated for an academy award. The 1950’s saw Gleason delve into the music business and this is the industry where he made millions of dollars.
Marilyn Taylor was a young ballerina working for the June Taylor dancers when Gleason discovered her. Although only legally separated from his second wife, Gleason pursued Taylor with a persistence that eventually paid off when she became his third wife. Actually, it would take almost twenty years before Taylor would become his third wife; however in 1953 the romance took off.
As part of his romantic pursuit of Marilyn Taylor, Gleason sat down with a professional arranger named Pete King. Since Gleason could not read or write music he would play the notes for King and King would write them down. In one day Gleason, with King’s assistance , composed two songs, Lovers Rhapsody and Melancholy Serenade. The tune Melancholy Serenade later became the theme song for the Jackie Gleason show.
One might ask how somebody who does not know how to write music could compose it. The great trumpeter, Bobby Hackett, had this to say about Gleason’s musical ability. “Jackie knows a lot more about music than he is given credit for. I have seen him conduct a sixty-piece orchestra and detect one discordant note in the brass section. He would immediately stop the music and locate the wrong note. It always amazed the professional musicians how a guy who technically didn’t know one note from another could do that. And he was never wrong.”
The 1950’s was the era of Rock and Roll and the big band era had silently retreated into the past. Guitars and drums were the big tickets and there were very few romantic albums being produced. Gleason approached the major recording studios about making an album and he was rejected by all. Perhaps his reputation as a comedian, combined with his lack of musical credentials scared them off. So Gleason did what he had to do, he borrowed money and rented a studio at Decca records.