Gleason’s first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show was February 6th 1949 during the show’s infancy. He performed a sketch about his forbidden love affair with a bar’s jukebox that he lovingly referred to as “Jukey.” He received thunderous laughter from the audience, and praise from Ed.
On March 3rd 1952, Gleason returned to The Ed Sullivan Show. This night, he started out by introducing the “Poor Soul” character—someone who anyone could relate to as the nicest person in the world who just couldn’t catch a break. After a few acts, Gleason came back on stage and performed a Honeymooners skit for the first time on The Ed Sullivan Show. In the skit, Ralph accused his wife Alice of having an affair, when in reality she was secretly plotting his birthday surprise. Gleason’s third sketch that evening involved his other famous character, Fenwick Babbitt, a not-quite-there laborer who just couldn’t keep up with a conveyor belt.
Gleason’s other appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show showcased his loveable characters in different situations. On May 4 1952, his Poor Soul couldn’t find a seat at the movies, then Ralph and Alice Kramden prepared to go out, and Fenwick Babbitt was a contestant on a game show. Gleason had become such a favorite on the show that he even guest-hosted on January 17th 1960 when Sullivan was sick. Much like Topo Gigio on Ed Sullivan, Gleason was a fixture on CBS and the Sullivan show for nearly two decades.
Throughout all of this, Gleason was building an empire. In the 1950’s and 1960’s he hosted The Jackie Gleason Show, wrote and starred in The Honeymooners, composed music and recorded over 40 albums, received an Oscar nomination (for “The Hustler”) and won a Tony award. In the 1970’s Jackie starred in the successful “Smokey and the Bandit” series of films. The Honeymooners would later become a massive hit in syndication and inspired numerous TV specials and film adaptations. Gleason succumbed to cancer in 1987, but his legacy lives on.