Though Jackie Gleason created many much loved characters in his television career, his film career was predominantly populated with unlikeable roles. According to this film, the off screen Gleason had more in common with his film persona than the image more fondly remembered.
This is one of those biopic’s that has a double flashback device. The first involves an interview with an elderly Gleason, who defends his drinking by claiming that it never affected his work. Flashback to 1955 where Gleason is running late for the first episode of 'The Honeymooners'. Arriving on set with drink in hand, he treats those around him with disdain. The role of difficult star firmly established, the biopic now flashes back and forth between this setting and Gleason’s life as a struggling comic in a vain attempt to rationalise why he would become such a sumbitch.
In the title role, Brad Garrett is quite adept at recreating the onscreen Gleason, but fails to establish any empathy for the man away from the camera. Likewise, through the prism of an old black-and-white TV, there are times when Garrett look surprisingly like Gleason, but most of the time he looks as though he’s having a bad reaction to a bee-sting.
Though the film does refer to Gleason’s greatness during television’s infancy, the predominant impression left is of a man who not only wouldn’t let his comedy be ‘watered down’ by rehearsals, he refused to water down his alcohol to accommodate a personal life.
Gleason never heard from his father after he abandoned the family.
Gleason’s was only 19 years old when his mother really died, and had not met his first wife at that time.
Gleason was not fired from the movie Navy Blues. He also went on to appear in eight more movies (in small or uncredited roles) before beginning his television career.
Gleason did not make his TV debut with 'Cavalcade of Stars'. He starred in the 1949 series 'The Life of Riley'.
Biopic takes place before the more significant movie roles of Gleason's career. It does recreate one scene from his film debut Navy Blues, but focuses primarily on recreating scenes from his television career.