Jackie Gleason – The Great One

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Back in the 50’s when I was still at the university, there was one television show that did more to create the media than any other. It was a show starring a man by the name of Jackie Gleason. Jackie Gleason was an absolute legend in his own time. His show, THE HONEYMOONERS is still in play every day on network television and cable stations all over the country.

Let me tell you about Jackie Gleason – and of the role he played in my life.

I was a young kid working in the mailroom of the New York office of a local television network at the very beginning of my career. One evening about six o’clock when I was finishing up, the president brought the script down to me and he said “I need you to drop this off to Mr. Gleason. He left it in my office.” He needs it no later than noon tomorrow (Saturday). Well you can imagine what a 20 year old kid thinks when the president of the company comes down from on high personally and gives him an errand to do. So I nervously but energetically said “Of course sir, I’ll be happy to do that for you.” Wow. I was walking on air. Then I got back to work. When I finished that evening, it being a Friday night, I threw all my papers into my bag and ran downstairs, got into my car, drove out to my house in Flushing for some much needed downtime.  

I was all the way home when I realized that I’d forgotten to drop off the script. I had failed in a sacred assignment given to me by the God of the network.

The next morning, I awakened early., threw on some clothes, gobbled a piece of toast for breakfast, grabbed the script and explaining hurriedly to my mother that I was on special assignment, took off in search of Mr. Gleason. I drove down to the subway station – a ghost town on Saturday morning – and took the train to 57th street, walked two blocks up to the Park Sheridan on 59th . Now of course its Saturday morning, I’m awake, and I’m looking at the package that I have been clutching so firmly and determinedly since leaving home and hoping that my oversight will go unnoticed.

I walk into the lobby of the Park Sheridan Hotel – upscale, to say the least -- and I spied the barber shop. Well, I had a date that night. Didn’t everybody have a date on Saturday night? And I needed a hair cut. I needed to look good, didn’t I? Walking into the barber shop, I casually noticed a gentleman in the second chair down engaged in an undertoned discussion with the barber and a voice within me (the same voice you have, incidentally) the voice said to me “Francis, take the script up to Mr. Gleason. It’s 10: 30. Take the script upstairs…now.” So I listened. I did a 180, got out of the barber shop and took the elevator up to the penthouse, knocked on the door, the butler came to the door. I said ‘Here’s Mr. Gleason’s script.” He said “Thank you, we appreciate you doing this” and he started to close the door when the booming voice of “The Great One” (as he was referred to in those days) broke the transitional silence.

“Hold it, kid!” He obviously wanted to give me a tip. So I stood there as he searched through his pockets and I said “Mr. Gleason, that’s OK.” He said No, no, kid waitaminnit…and he disappeared into the bedroom. Jackie Gleason asked me to wait. So I did. I stood there waiting with the butler…nervous, still in need of a haircut, waiting.

After what seemed like hours but was only about 10 minutes, he walked into the room and handed me a $20 tip – a kings ransom in those days. He looks at me as he’s handing me the bill and he says “What’s yer name kid?”

I said “Mr. Gleason, my name is Francis Maguire.”

“Where do you go to school?”

“I go to school up at Fordham University in the Bronx.

 “Oh yeah? What’s your old man do?”

He engaged me in a conversation that took 10-15 minutes to complete. He asked what I was studying; where I lived; did I have any sisters or brothers; what my mother was like …I couldn’t get over it. A celebrity took the time to speak to me…in the vestibule of his penthouse apartment. We finally came to the end of our discussion, he asked me if I wanted to go see the show (his show) and offered me a ticket on Saturday. I told him how much I appreciated it, but I couldn’t do it that night because I had other plans. He laughed, tousled my hair a little bit and said OK, kid mebbe some other time.”

I shook his hand and turned to walk out the door. Walked over to the elevator and pushed a button, stepped in and descended to the lobby. The door opened up and I stepped out into a wall of noise -- a teeming mass of 500 cops and an equal number of frantic civilians. I was stunned, to say the least. I pushed my way over to one of the officers and asked him what was going on.

He said “Hey, don’t worry about it kid. Somebody just blew Albert Anastasia out of the barber’s chair. No great loss, but I don’t think his barber’s gonna make it either.”

ALBERT ANASTASIA. The titular head of the New York City Mafia was gunned down– assassinated – in the barber’s chair next to the one that I would have been sitting in had I not listened to my inner voice. I would not be here today to tell you this story had I disregarded that voice. I still can’t believe it. But it sure did teach me something.

How many times in your life has that inner voice of yours told you something that you really needed to listen to? I’m not talking about a “hunch.” Save those for the racetrack. How many times can you recall listening – thankful in the end that you did? And how many times did you ignore that inner message to your ultimate despair or disappointment? Each of us has a power – an intuitive voice inside which tells us more than anything read or seen. It is, I believe, a gift. Treasure it. Listen to it – that’s all you have to do. And listening to your inner voice can make all the difference. It just might change your life.