In the 1950s and ‘60s, one of television's most popular shows was the Jackie Gleason Show, broadcast live from Studio 50 in New York City. Jackie's former home in the New York City suburb of Westchester County, shaped and named for the UFOs that he was sure were real, was recently for sale at $12 million.
Gleason was the overweight comedian who turned boisterous Ralph Kramden, his New York City bus-driving character in The Honeymooners, into television comedy loved around the world. Raised in Brooklyn under dire circumstances, he created characters such as such as Reginald Van Gleason III, Rudy the Repairman and The Poor Soul from what he knew about life and the people within his blue-collar environment. Highly observant with a photographic memory and a tack-sharp mind, Gleason’s insurance-salesman father abandoned the family when Jackie was nine and his mother died ten years later. With nowhere else to go, Jackie veered into comedy working local New York clubs and eventually into movies.
If it was creative, Gleason tried it. His ventures into film also brought great rewards for his portrayal of pool shark Minnesota Fats in The Hustler (1961), starring Paul Newman, for which he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. He famously co-starred with Burt Reynolds and Sally Fields in the three Smokey and the Bandit films where he portrayed Sheriff Buford T. Justice. Although he could not read or write music, Gleason was the producer of mood music albums, most of which sold over one million copies and stayed at the top of the charts for months.
A man of diversified interests, there was another side to Gleason that wasn’t widely known and which he did not discuss publically. He had a strong belief in UFOs and the paranormal. It was so strong that in addition to his salary and royalties while under contract to CBS in the mid 1950s, the studio gave him six acres of land - now expanded to eight acres - and a house in Peekskill, New York, which he was free to design and build to his own specifications. He built a series of spaceship houses - a main house, which he called the Mother Ship, a guest house named the Scout Ship, a round storage building and two swimming pools, all of which were completed in 1959. It was part studio, part home and part party house. It was also where he housed his ever growing library on UFOs, parapsychology and the paranormal.
UFOs and golf were the common denominator in his close friendship with President Richard Nixon, with whom he was rumored to have toured the top-secret facility at Florida’s Homestead Air Force Base in 1973 to view the preserved remains of space aliens recovered from a UFO crash. Gleason had only told two people about it under a vow of secrecy and was upset that the story was leaked, though he never denied it. President Nixon was well-known within the Secret Service community for dodging his protectors at every opportunity, so it was not unusual for him to disappear in the middle of the night for a car trip with Gleason.
Recently, for the first time in decades, Gleason’s UFO compound was for sale. Timeless in its contemporary design, with features reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright, the 50-foot-in-diameter structure was constructed by a shipbuilder in an airplane hangar, then disassembled and moved to the site. Created out of massive wood beams, everything is round with no right angles, including the cabinets, 8-foot master bed and other furniture. Filled with light from glass walls and a stunning curved marble stairway to the upper level, there are a number of Wright-inspired stained glass panes in the interior which also refract light. With large open spaces and dramatic beamed ceiling that looks like a circle of rowboats, it was a perfect venue for Gleason’s many guests, President Nixon included. Evidence of Gleason’s hospitality is shown in the four bars available to his visitors. Between the main house and guest house there are 7,450 square feet of living space with five bedrooms and six baths, the library, card room, kitchen, office, dining and open entertainment space including a marble fireplace. The peak at the top of the stairs houses an intimate seating area with round suspended fireplace. Sited deep into its wooded acreage, unspoiled views of nature are seen from almost all rooms, terrace and decks.
For the first time in over two decades, the eight-acre estate designed and built by Jackie Gleason in Cortlandt Manor, New York, which he sold before moving his television show to Miami Beach, was for sale at $12 million.