At age 10, Craig Horwich had a big mouth loaded with questions for his future stepfather, Jackie Gleason.
The celebrated comedian, one of the top stars of Hollywood during the ‘50s and ‘60s, is still remembered today as roly-poly bus driver Ralph Kramden of “The Honeymooners,” a sitcom he created based on one of his comic sketches. Gleason passed away in 1987 at age 71 from cancer.
Horwich, now 55, runs Jackie Gleason Enterprises, which still licenses the actor’s shows and specials. With the help of Horwich, Time-Life recently released a DVD collection of “The Jackie Gleason Show,” which also features unreleased episodes in full color.
Gleason first met Horwich’s mother, Marilyn Taylor of the June Taylor Dancers, in the late 1940s while they were working the east coast nightclubs. The troupe was ultimately featured in Gleason’s variety programs. A romance soon blossomed.
“By 1950, that’s when Jackie and my mom began a relationship,” said Horwich. “But my mom would not go out with Jackie until he got a separation. He was married, but separated… The relationship ran its course. Jackie was unable to be granted a divorce. He was very Catholic as his wife was. So the relationship really had a shelf life. So they went their own ways.”
Gleason was then married to dancer Genevieve Halford, with whom he had two daughters. They eventually divorced in 1970 and Gleason went on to marry former secretary Beverly McKittrick from 1970. That union lasted until 1974.
Meanwhile, Taylor had moved north.
“After they went their own ways, my mom moved to Chicago and met my father,” said Horwich. “I was then born. And then in the early ‘70s, my father passed away in Chicago. So my mom and I moved to Florida so she could be with her family.”
Then fate came knocking. It turned out Gleason happened to be in Florida when Taylor came to town.
“When he found out my mom was now widowed and living in South Florida… He wooed and reunited with her,” he said. “They married and quite literally lived happily ever after.”
“The Honeymooners,” which explored the hilarious antics of a city bus driver (Gleason) and his sewer worker friend (Art Carney) as they struggled to strike it rich, aired from 1955 until 1956.
Kramden was originally one of a dozen characters Gleason played on his variety show “The Jackie Gleason Show,” which was broadcast live from what is now the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City, the current home of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” That hourlong variety show aired from 1952 until 1958.
Horwich revealed Gleason never rehearsed to bring Kramden to life.