John Herbert Gleason was 44 years old, give or take, when he played Minnesota Fats in Robert Rossen‘s The Hustler (’61). He was absolutely mythic in that film…a portly, chain-smoking Greek God in a three-piece suit…chubby fingers, carnation in his lapel, light on his feet. By the same token I felt embarassed for the poor guy when he costarred in the Smokey and the Bandit series as Buford T. Justice…loud and coarse and painful to be around…constantly fuming, a genuinely boring performance. A shame.
Update: It just hit me that by 21st Century standards, the Jackie Gleason of 1961 isn’t even “fat”. Yes, he was hefty, ample, a guy with a gut. But he was no Jabba, and couldn’t hold a candle to the garden-variety sea lions we see shuffling around shopping malls today.