Monday, May 7, 2012

Jackie Gleason and Ray Spruel

To those of you who may have known the late Ray Spruell then no doubt you have fond memories. I certainly have. I was privileged to have worked with Ray on several stage productions and we also shared some screen moments as well.

In 1980 Ray was cast in a small role in the movie THE TOY with Richard Pryor and Jackie Gleason. Ray played a senator and had 2 or 3 scenes in the film. Gleason had a reputation for being a very disciplined, no-nonsense performer. In other words “don’t bother him.” When Ray’s last work day ended, he decided that he was going to get Gleason’s autograph for his daughter. So with some trepidation he went to Gleason’s trailer and knocked.

Mrs Gleason answered the door and Ray said “Hello, Mrs Gleason, I’m not here to bother Mr Gleason. My daughter simply wants an autograph and then I will be on my way.” Before she could respond, Gleason himself came to the door and said with much cheer and joviality “Senator, come on in.” He invited Ray to have a seat, then asked “What’ll you have?” indicating his wet bar. Ray, not believing the hospitality he was accorded, gave his order. Gleason then sat down across from Ray and said “I sure am happy you came to visit me. Nobody ever talks to me because they fear me. And so I feel very isolated when I’m on location doing a film.”

Ray said that he and Gleason enjoyed about an hour of small talk. When he left Gleason’s trailer, Ray said he found himself feeling very sorry for “the Great One.”

How often do we misjudge a person’s social customs and interpersonal inclinations and thus assume the “worse” about them? When Ray told me that story, I said “Ray, bless you for what you gave Jackie Gleason that day.”



  1. Dee came across The Toy the other day and called me into the room to watch the toy store scene. Out of the 5 executives in the scene, only Mark Bennett and Ned Beatty are still kicking. B.J. Hopper and Don Hood and another guy (Richard Something?) have gone on to that big sound stage in development hell.

  2. Richard something is probably richard pryor (ya thank?)

  3. I met Ray Spruel at the office of David Norwood, the Morning Advocate cartoonist I became friends with. I knew him first as Dr. Shock and you would have thought I'd met Orson Welles when he came into that room. I was almost speechless, but managed to tell him that I loved Shock Theater and wished it would come back. He thanked me and said that it could make a comeback. Sadly, it never happened. He was a real gentleman and I wish that I could say that I knew him. As it was, I was just another fan passing through.