Gleason's Mister Nice Guy

by Joan Nielsen McHale
Reporter of The Miami News

I sat next to Jackie Gleason at the Orange Bowl game and he bowled me over. (Up close he's even better-looking than on TV.)
He's a Mister Nice Guy, always looks like he's on the verge of a smile, and those twinkly blue eyes project more radiance than stadium lilghts.

Not that I'm alone in this adulation. He was the sweetheart of the Orange Bowl, King Orange himself. And he's quick on the quips besides.

When it started to rain, I asked him if it bothered him. He shook his head, his wavy hair blowing in the stiff breeze.

Honey Murrill, who has hair to match her name and sat on the other side of him, said, "Rain makes you beautiful."

"Who said that?" he asked.

"My grandmother always said rain makes you beautiful."

"Let your grandmother sit out in the rain," he replied in a mock growl.

Jackie said, "I was gonna bring a raincoat but I didn't wanna put a jinx on the game."

In the pre-game show, while a chorus of singers tried to compete ""The Star Spangled Banner" against a barrage of rockets and fireworks, the smoky missiles crossfiring above their heads, Jackie observed, "Those guys are in a tough spot down there."

Texas cheerleaders, who asked him to join their lineup brightened when he said "I'm bettin' on ya." He couldn't vault the rail to go onfield, he said, until "my turn comes" -- escorting Orange Bowl beauties across the field for the coin toss.
"You're off to a flyin' start, pal," he told Ernie Seiler after he returned to his seat.

"Arnie called me up and said he was grand marshal of the Rose Bowl Parade," Jackie said, referring to golfer Arnold Palmer. "I said I was Orange Bowl parade marshal but I'm a better golfer than you are."
With a green golf scoring pencil he signed patiently with a curl of a smile working up his ample cheeks. As he handed an autographed program back to Mrs. Floyd Akers (whose husband owns a Cadillac agency in Washington, D.C.), he said, "I signed it Red Skelton."

When the clock stopped moving during time-outs, he'd say, "It's commercial time," with a mischievous wink over his shoulder toward Hank Meyer, Mitchell Wolfson and Johnny Dolan, who, with their wives, shared the 50-yard-line box.
The King chain-smoked cigarettes as he sat on the edge of his seat, his arms elbowing the rail to watch the game. "The first time I played football in Brooklyn, Highland Park, I broke my collarbone and kneecap on the first play."

He was 12. "I played right end, offensive. I did it the hard way."

I watched him continually clasp hands with a genuine fondness. "How are ya, pal?" he'd say. "What a mob," he kept saying, as he scanned the stadium. He was dressed in a black suit, with a black and red tie, white, red and black checkered vest and a big red carnation.

"It was so exhilarating. I wasn't tired till afterwards," he said about his ride in the New Year's Eve Parade. "We ate at Gatty's later, and then went into the club at the Doral Beach to celebrate New Year's."
Little kids and big folks kept handing him programs to sign. They let up on him a bit during the game. The Big Man with the Giant Heart loved every minute of it. "The Greatest" is no  press agent's superlative. He's Jackie Gleesome and Mister Wonderful and a prince of a person.