Planted in Rocky Soil (Encouragement for Creators)


John Herbert Gleason had the potential to bloom into a superstar. But because he’d been planted in the “rocky soil” of a family struggling with illness, financial hardship, and a good dollop of dysfunction, his future didn’t appear promising.

John was born on February 26, 1916, in Brooklyn, New York. He was the youngest of two sons born to Herb Gleason, an Irish American who worked as an insurance auditor. But John’s brother died of spinal meningitis at age 14. Shortly following the boy’s death, John’s father sat down and went through the family photo album. He removed all the photographs of himself, including any pictures of his family that included him. After he’d culled the photographs in the album, Herb Gleason then destroyed them.

The next morning, on December 15, 1925, John’s father went to work as usual. At noon he collected his paycheck, grabbed his coat and hat, and walked out of his office at the insurance company. His employer never heard from him again. Neither did his family. At the age of nine, and just ten days before Christmas, John Gleason learned his father had abandoned him.

When John’s mother finally faced the reality that her husband wasn’t coming home again, she got a job at the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation, collecting subway fares. Her disillusioned son started hanging out on the streets. He eventually dropped out of high school and joined a local gang. But John never abandoned his mother. He often helped support the household by hustling pool.

Jackie Gleason and Paul Newman in The Hustler.

But John wanted more. He’d caught the acting bug after taking part in a school play, and soon found a job at a local theater as the master of ceremonies. He made $4 a night. John was on his way…but he was about to encounter yet another bump in the road. When he was 19, his mother developed a severe abscess on her neck. There wasn’t enough money for a doctor, so John tried to lance the boil himself. Ultimately the infection spread throughout her body, and John’s mother died a few weeks later.

Now homeless, and with only 40 cents in his pocket, John hit the road. Then came a succession of jobs that included work as a carnival barker, a latter-day vaudevillian, and a stunt driver in movies. Later, John met up with an old friend, who told him about a job in Reading, Pennsylvania that payed $19 per performance — more money than John had ever seen in his life. So he borrowed the bus fare and headed for PA. That job became his first professional work as a comedian.

Television and movies soon followed, and the name of John “Jackie” Gleason grew familiar to Americans from coast to coast. His best known role was that of Ralph Kramden, the disgruntled Brooklyn bus driver in the comedy series The Honeymooners, a show which depicted the humble surroundings and struggling “everyman” people he’d grown up with.

Despite the adversity Jackie Gleason faced in his youth, he was determined to surmount every obstacle and follow his dreams. He’d been planted in rocky soil, but nevertheless, he bloomed as an entertainer: an actor in both serious and comedic parts; an accomplished musician; a screenwriter, producer and director.

The gifts and callings of creative people don’t change with seasons or circumstances. And their dreams don’t have to die when the storms of life come. Are you feeling like you were planted in a barren wilderness? Do you believe the facts of your life make less than fertile soil for all your hopes and dreams? Are you facing a dry season in life? God is with you, and with His divine help you can overcome every adversity! Only believe! Keep the faith, never give up, and bloom where you’re planted!

“God never changes His mind when He gives gifts or when He calls someone.” (Romans 11:29 GOD’S WORD)

“There is a season for everything, a time for every event under heaven: …a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 and 4 ISV)


2 thoughts on “Planted in Rocky Soil (Encouragement for Creators)”

  1. Thank you for your timely stories and encouragement 🙏, love you both ❤ ,
    Your brother, David

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