Gleason Gets Personal with Gigot

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From the mind of Jackie Gleason came Gigot. After countless hours of imagining and scribbling on legal pads, Gleason had come up with the idea and later the music, which he hoped would lead to Academy recognition.

To make his dream materialize, he hoped for director Orson Welles and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky. However, neither of those options worked. The studio decided that Welles wouldn’t bring in a hit. Chayefsky was willing, but he wanted to change the location to Brooklyn, which Gleason felt would too drastically alter the story.

Directors Jose Ferrer, Fred Zinnermann, and William Wyler were connected to the project at points in time, but it was Gene Kelly who finally took the position. While he wasn’t Gleason’s first choice, he appreciated him as a “top man” and for being a “pal” of Jackie’s friend, Frank Sinatra. Gleason was desperate to bring his passion project to life.

The pair’s egos clashed at moments in the making – Kelly’s own confidence matched that of “the Great One” – but the duo understood they were both working toward something that they hoped would be great.

“When we were making it, Jackie and I thought we had a classic going for us,” Gene Kelly said. “I did have a wonderful time working with Jackie and we are still great friends.”

The actor eventually yielded some to the director too, jokingly posting a sign that said “Gene Kelly is always right” on his dressing room.

Once completed, however, the film was edited by neither Gleason nor Kelly – something which they both felt undercut the final product. And yet, while Gigot did not reach the height Gleason hoped it would, it still serves as a meaningful and personal look at the mind of a great talent. In 2004, the story would be remade as The Wool Cap with William H. Macy taking the lead.