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IN BRIEF

May 03, 1992|KAREN STABINER

JACKIE GLEASON: An Intimate Portrait of the Great One by W. J. Weatherby (Pharos Books: $19.95; 288 pp.). Weatherby has served as biographer for an unlikely trio--James Baldwin (whom, like Gleason, he had known for decades), Salman Rushdie and now The Great One, comedian and actor Jackie Gleason. He first met his subject in 1961, when a rude snub of a reporter's request for an interview led to an apology and a night on the town. That outing turned into an introductory tour of the comic's psyche--first a rather reflective, sorrowful look at Gleason's career and private life, followed by a rollicking night out that included the habitual stop at Toots Shor's watering hole. Gleason was a man of prodigious appetites and talents, who seemed destined from the start to be incapable of satisfaction. No drink was tall enough, no meal large enough, no recognition sufficient. His self-destructive streak ran deep. He cheated on his first wife, a woman whom he had chased with such fervor that lifelong loyalty seemed the only plausible response when she agreed to marry him. He split up with a second wife whose most remarkable characteristic seemed her outspoken desire to save him from drink. And by the time he married a third time, to a woman he had loved years before, it was too late for salvation; years of excess had taken their toll. Weatherby has an easy, conversational style and an enduring respect for his subject, but one yearns for a more substantial biography, one that probes more deeply.

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