Marilyn Taylor Gleason – widow of The Great One and sister of “Jackie Gleason Show” choreographer June Taylor – died Tuesday night at 93 in Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale.
“She was a woman ahead of her time. She was comfortable in her own life,” said Craig Horwich, Marilyn’s son from her first marriage, who spent his teen years living with her and Gleason in the family’s 14-room mansion at Inverrary Country Club in Lauderhill.
Marilyn Taylor was born Oct. 6, 1925, in Chicago, the daughter of Angeline and Percival Taylor and younger sister of June, who had dreams of being a dancer.
After June recovered from tuberculosis in the late 1930s, Marilyn joined her on the road as her assistant. Throughout World War II, “Mom worked for good pay – none,” Horwich said.
In 1946, the June Taylor Girls (from four to eight dancers often featuring Marilyn) got booked into a Baltimore nightclub as “featured dancers.”
“They were not chorus girls,” Horwich said.
Also on the bill: a young comic named Jackie Gleason.
“That’s where Jackie took a shine and noticed Marilyn,” said Horwich, an attorney who owns and operates Jackie Gleason Enterprises.
In 1949, the June Taylor Girls were hired by Ed Sullivan for his New York City-based “Toast of the Town” TV program on CBS. Two years later, Gleason hired the dancers for his DuMont television network variety show, “Cavalcade of Stars.”
In 1952, Gleason’s show moved from the failing DuMont network to CBS. The June Taylor Girls became the June Taylor Dancers.
“That’s when the checkbook opened up,” according to Horwich. “[Jackie] said, ‘Let’s have 16 girls with the overhead cameras and the Rockettes kicks.’ ”
Gleason, who had recently separated from his wife, Genevieve, began seeing Marilyn.
“They dated all through the ‘’50s,” Horwich said. “But Jackie was in a Catholic marriage and divorce wasn’t an option, so the relationship ended.”
Gleason took a break from the variety show format in 1955, when he, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph starred in the iconic 39-episode CBS sitcom “The Honeymooners.”
In the late 1950s, Marilyn ran the June Taylor School of Dance in New York. The dance company also worked with singer Patti Page in her 1957-58 TV variety show, “The Big Record.”
“By the early ’60s, Mom had moved to Chicago and she was running a store called Petite Repeat – a children’s clothing consignment store on Oak Street, the Rodeo Drive of Chicago,” Horwich said.
During a 1960 vacation at the Eden Roc hotel in Miami Beach, Marilyn was introduced to George Horwich, a Chicago wedding and party consultant. It turned out they worked across the street from each other back home and they continued to see each other in Chicago.
Marilyn and George married in May 1962; their son Craig was born the next year.
Throughout the 1960s, the Horwich family often vacationed in Florida and stayed with June Taylor, then choreographer for “The Jackie Gleason Show,” which CBS taped in Miami Beach.
Craig Horwich says that at the time, “I had no idea Mom and Jackie had ever dated.”
George Horwich died of natural causes in 1972.
“Once mom was widowed, we moved to Florida in 1973, to Hallandale,” Horwich said. “When Jackie learned that mom had moved down and had been widowed, he put on a full-court press. The phone would ring and he pursued and rekindled the romance with mom.”
After Gleason divorced his second wife, he and Marilyn married in December 1975.
“By this stage in Jackie’s life, his work was behind him,” Horwich said. “His priority was his home life. It really was with my mom. There weren’t a lot of goings on. It allowed mom to keep a very stable and normal and simple home life for me.”
Marilyn did briefly come out of dance retirement to make a L’eggs hosiery TV commercial with the June Taylor Dancers.
“Marilyn was a fierce tap dancer,” said Mercedes Ellington – granddaughter of Duke and daughter of Mercer – who at that time was also a troupe member and June’s assistant.
“At one point I danced next to Marilyn in the line. It was hysterical. She would be telling me jokes and I was concerned about the routine,” said Ellington, who is founder and president of the nonprofit Duke Ellington Center for the Arts in New York.
The Taylor sisters got along “like Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen in ‘White Christmas,’ ” Ellington said. “They worked very much in sync, but every once in a while you would see a look between them and you never had to ask what it meant.”
Gleason, who was nominated for an Oscar when he starred opposite Paul Newman in 1961’s “The Hustler,” had a movie career renaissance in the late 1970s through mid 1980s. He co-starred with Burt Reynolds and Sally Field in the “Smokey and the Bandit” films, and with Tom Hanks in the 1986 comedy-drama “Nothing in Common.” He died of cancer at 71 in 1987.
“Jackie was a very talented and self-thinking person. He had original ideas and original thoughts,” Marilyn Gleason told the Miami Herald in 2014. “When I first met him, he was that way. I don’t know what made him that way. God. He always had great ideas. Onward and upward. That was his motif.”
Soon after Gleason’s death, Marilyn sold the Inverrary mansion and moved to a Fort Lauderdale Beach penthouse, where she lived the rest of her life.
Marilyn played golf nearly every Wednesday and frequently read to the blind at Lighthouse of Broward, her son said.
“She was very content filling her time simply with her or her close friends,” Horwich said. “She never had the need to be in a relationship. She never dated anyone after Jackie.”
June Taylor died in 2004. Marilyn is also survived by Gleason’s daughters, Geraldine Chutuk and Linda King.
A private service will be held and Marilyn will be interred beside Gleason in the family crypt at Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery in Miami, and near the graves of June, her husband, Sol Lerner, and their mother, Angeline.
Horwich says Gleason once compared his love affair with Marilyn to a Warner Bros. movie. “It had a perfect, happy ending and everybody fell in love.”