Movies: The Big Hustler Jackie Gleason

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He is 6 ft. tall, and his mature weight has generally varied from 220, which he calls "slim," to an alltime high of 284. His neck size is 19, and the nose cone has yet to leave Canaveral that could not parachute back to earth dangling from one of Jackie Gleason's shirts. His Manhattan tailor flatteringly but fairly describes him as "the best-dressed stout man I know—above conservative, not afraid to look well-dressed." Gleason orders about a dozen suits a year, paying as little as $285 for a little grey nothing, sometimes going exotic with such items as a cashmere trench coat or pink slacks. He once gave his tailor a single $7,500 order. He is 47 in. at the bulge, but it sometimes swells to 51 in., and he has to keep a triple wardrobe. Each "medium weight'' Gleason suit (designed to cover approximately 250 Ibs., his present weight) has a larger and smaller counterpart.

Aphorisms Like Petals. The man inside all these textiles has a stupendous ego, and the only characters who come near him in all of fiction are Spenser's Braggadochio and Plautus' Braggart Warrior. "If I didn't have an enormous ego and a monumental pride, how in hell could I be a performer?'' he explains. With something for everybody, he is kind, generous, rude and stubborn, explosive, impulsive, bright and mischievous. He is an outgoing, flamboyant man to whom privacy is sacred. Now he is snapping out wisecracks. Now he is sitting alone, quietly unapproachable. He is too often bored. He is a bad listener in general conversation and a good one when acting. He has a great big kettledrum laugh. He is afraid of airplanes and strangers. "He is all fun and jazz until a stranger comes in,'' says a onetime member of his staff. "Then he goes into that fat shell."

Largely self-educated, he is forever apologizing for his lack of education, but he has no need to: he is informed and knowledgeable. He drops little aphorisms like petals: "A genius is a man who can convince himself he isn't"; "Television critics report accidents to eyewitnesses"; "To make the world go around, men must have two feelings—unhappiness, to make them seek a better life, and egotism, to supply the fuel that keeps them going when they don't find it." He has a huge vocabulary, which sometimes slices into the rough. "Don't misconcept this," he will say, or "That guy is a man of great introspect." But his favorite adjective is "beautiful," his favorite noun is "pal," and his favorite phrase is "beautiful, pal, beautiful."

A Little Pool. Gleason's historic hangout is Toots Shor's restaurant, which reopens on a new site this week on Manhattan's West 52nd Street with Gleason figuring centrally in the ceremonies. "After all," says Jackie, "I'm the elder statesman of the joint." A close friend of Shor for more than 20 years, Gleason calls him Clamhead. He has long since earned Shor's highest accolade: "Jackie drinks good."

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