Reminiscing About The Honda Classic And The Man Behind The Tournament's Initial Name
The Honda Classic comes up this month and we profile some homegrown golfers who will be playing in it. Gulfstream Media Group's magazines and the Honda go back a long way. How long a way? How about the first tournament in 1972. It began with a lot of media attention, thanks to its name—the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic. Inverrary was a new development, and the legendary actor-comedian was soon to be its star resident. He loved golf. A tournament bearing his name was a natural for promoting the new development.
We interviewed Jackie Gleason that year for a cover story on the new tournament. We met at 10 a.m. at his home at the Country Club of Miami. He had not yet moved to Inverrary. We met in his den, where he had a pool table. Pool was also a favorite game, and once a source of extra cash.
“Pal, would you like a drink?” he asked. “Well, if you are,” we replied, and we broke the ice that way. We asked him about the time Toots Shor, the famous New York celebrity restaurant owner, set him up for a pool sting. There are different versions of the story, but our favorite is that Shor introduced Gleason to a Mr. Shoeman (or Shulman) who was a shoe salesman from Philadelphia. Gleason was just cracking the big time, and still hustled pool when the opportunity arose. Shor told Gleason that Mr. Shoeman was good, but Gleason coud take him.
“I should have known something was up when 30 sports writers followed us out of the bar to the pool hall,” recalled Gleason. Gleason won the first few games, then his opponent opened up.
“Pal,” said Gleason, “I don't know what your real name is, but it ain't Shoeman and you ain't no shoe salesman from Philadelphia.” His opponent, Gleason now discovered, was Willie Mosconi, the most famous pool player in the world. But he was from Philadelphia.
It was a most pleasant interview, a contrast to one that was set up some years later. Gaeton Fonzi, our editorial partner at the time, arranged to interview The Great One about his interest in the occult. Gleason was into that, with a library of books on the subject. The meeting was set up by Gleason's wife, Marilyn. We tagged along for the fun of it. We arrived early in the day at their home at Inverrary. Gleason was leaving to play golf.
“I never promised to do this,” Gleason said. “I'm gonna play golf. I'm gonna own this guy's house before it's over.” And out he walked. Marilyn Gleason was deeply embarrassed, for she really had arranged the interview.
“That's what it's like being married to Jackie Gleason,” she said. Fonzi, who spoke slowly but thought fast, said, “How about we interview you on what it's like to be married to Jackie Gleason?” She thought about it for a full 10 seconds, then said OK. It turned out to be a great interview, and gave us one of the more memorable covers in our 50-year history.
This issue also contains highly readable pieces by Eric Barton on local developers, and South Florida power couples, produced by our own power couple, Managing Editor Heather Carney and Associate Editor Alyssa Morlacci.