Our Favorite Cover Girl
The death of Jackie Gleason’s widow, Marilyn, two weeks ago produced accounts of her long, sporadic relationship with “The Great One,” as well as praise for her unassuming behavior when married to one of the country’s most celebrated entertainers. For Gold Coast magazine, she was something else—a cover girl under unusual circumstances.
We met Gleason just before the first Inverrary Classic in 1972. Jack Drury, who handled PR for that opening tournament, may have set it up. Gleason was still living at a country club in Miami, waiting for his big new place at Inverrary to be completed. The interview was to promote his first tournament and he could not have been easier to chat with. We met at 10 a.m. in his pool room. He offered a drink. We graciously accepted.
We asked the usual questions about the upcoming tournament and then ranged to other subjects. We asked if the stories were true about his New York nightclub owner/friend Toots Shor setting him up to play pool with Willie Mosconi, the world’s best. This was back in the days when Gleason still hustled pool for extra money. Mosconi, whose face wasn’t well known, did not look formidable—a slight, pleasant guy.
“He introduced him as a friend, Mr. Shoeman, a shoe salesman from Philadelphia who liked to play pool,” Gleason said. “ He said he was good but that I could take him. I should have known something was up when 30 sports writers followed us out of the bar to the poolroom. He let me win a game or two and then opened up. I said, ‘Pal, I don’t know what your real name is, but it sure ain’t Shoeman and you ain’t no shoe salesmen from Philadelphia.”
We recall we somehow got onto the subject of sports figures and Gleason made one of his quirky observations, saying he had never met a dumb basketball player, but he knew a lot of dumb baseball players. We got a cover piece out of that interview.
Three years later Gleason married Marilyn, whom he had known since the 1950s when she was a dancer with her famous sister, June Taylor. Marilyn had moved to Florida after her husband died and became reunited with Gleason. He married her after his second divorce. Just a year later our partner Gaeton Fonzi arranged through Marilyn to interview Gleason about a subject that had long interested him—the occult, things like UFOs.
Recalling our pleasant meeting with Gleason several years earlier, we decided to accompany Fonzi on the interview, interested in seeing how Gleason would react to Gaeton’s balking, mumbling style. We arrived at the big Inverrary home early in the morning, as scheduled. Minutes later Jackie appeared, headed out to play golf.
“Boys,” he said, “I never said I’d do this. And I’m going out to play golf. I’m gonna take these guys for every cent they have.” And with that, he walked out the door. His wife was embarrassed because she had definitely set up the interview.
“That’s what it’s like being married to Jackie Gleason,” she said. Gaeton, thinking fast, said, “How 'bout if we do a story about what’s it’s like to be married to Jackie Gleason?” She thought for a full 10 seconds, then said, “OK.” It turned out to be a great interview.
She explained that although they had been recently married, she knew him years before, and her life really hadn’t changed much. She was content to be just an ordinary person married to a genius. She was insightful and articulate in a modest way. We made a memorable February 1976 cover story out of it. The cover: Marilyn Gleason holding a photo of Jackie. She remained happily married to him for the rest of his life.