MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- From the minute Jackie Gleason and his champagne-powered party train splashed into Florida, The Great One, the good life and Miami Beach were inseparably linked.
His variety show, taped at what is now part of the Miami Beach Convention Center, opened every week with Johnny Olson's famous introduction, 'From the Fun and Sun Capital of the World, Miami Beach, it's 'The Jackie Gleason Show.''
'There was a shot showing the hotels, the water, the bridges, really a magnificant shot. Everybody looked forward when they came down here to seeing where Jackie Gleason taped his shows,' said Norman Litz, assistant manager of the convention center.
It was the prospect of year-round golfing that lured Gleason from New York to Florida in 1964.
'He said he wanted to be in a place where he could play golf every day and he did. He always had a home on the golf course,' said former Miami Beach Mayor Melvin Richard.
Richard, now 75, went to New York to work out a contract with Gleason, who refused to negotiate with anyone but the mayor.
'He had engaged a large room for us at some famous restaurant,' Richard said. 'We spent the whole day working out the details. He was very easy to deal with. He was very knowledgeable and very informed. He knew exactly what he wanted.'
When the negotiations ended and Richard prepared to leave, Gleason refused to let him go.
'He said 'I invited you for dinner.' I said I had to catch my plane back or I would miss it. He said, 'You can take the next plane.' He made me stay and have dinner,' Richard said.
Gleason ordered steak dinners for all, ate nothing, and drank three bottles of champagne, Richard said.
Gleason made his move to Florida the way he did everything -- with aplomb, fanfare and free-flowing liquor.
'He engaged a whole train with bands and bars. He invited a lot of people. They all came down. I don't think anybody ever went to sleep on that train. A tremendous group of people met him when the train arrived,' Richard said.
The theater was draped witha sign proclaiming it the 'Home of the Jackie Gleason Show' and thousands of people lined up every week for the 2,000 tickets given away for each taping.
'Those lines went all the way around Jackie Gleason Drive and west to 17th Street,' Litz said, referring to the street later named for the comedian.
Gleason's contract called for him to mention Miami Beach once on every show, but he did more than that.
'He always talked about how great it was down here,' Richard said. 'He was quite an insitution here. These were the great days for Miami Beach. We were really riding the crest. Everybody came to Miami Beach.'
Gleason's show left the air in 1970. He moved to the Inverrary Country Club in Lauderhill, the wealthy Fort Lauderdale suburb where he hosted celebrity golf tournaments and lived in the 14-room home he called Glea Manor.
Miami Beach lost some of its luster in the years that followed, but tourists still drive down Jackie Gleason Drive for a look at the Theater of the Performing Arts, which was the Miami Beach Auditorium in Gleason's day.
'People still want to see where Jackie Gleason filmed his show,' Litz said.