“Jackie’s reason for wanting a divorce was simple,” says Jackie Gleason’s Miami attorney, Hugo Black Jr. “As he recorded on an album a few years back, ‘The Thrill Is Gone.’ ”
“The title of the story of our divorce should be, ‘How to Live Like This and Act Childish,’ ” says Beverly McKittrick, 42, for the past four-and-a-half years the second Mrs. Jackie Gleason, until their divorce last November (PEOPLE, Nov. 25).
Gleason, 59, immediately announced his engagement to Marilyn Taylor Horwich, 44, an old girlfriend and sister of June Taylor, the choreographer on his variety show. He moved out of the $2 million Florida house, Glea Manor, leased to him by the Inverray Country Club. And pending the final financial settlement—that should have been the end of it.
But, no. “On December 20,” says Beverly, “he moved back without warning, bag and baggage. And he was drinking then. He wasn’t drinking when he left.” Beverly decided to have a go at “straightening him out.” “I cooked corned beef and cabbage for him,” she says. “I got him off the booze. We lived as man and wife.”
Not for long. “Anytime he’s not drinking,” Beverly explains, “he’s taking prescription pills for his weight. And then he’s against me, because I’m strictly against pills.” In short order, the divorced Gleasons were fighting again like man and wife.
With 14 rooms and eight bathrooms to choose from, Gleason holed up in the guest room. They did, however, share the mammoth game room bar. “I clean my end of the bar on weekends,” explains Beverly, “and he can have all his garbage on his end. I’m not his maid. I just keep pushing his debris away from my end of the bar.”
Then there was the squabble over household finances. “Since December 1, he’s only given me $200,” claims Beverly. “There are no cigarettes on the bar and no Kleenex in the dispensers. He buys cigarettes and hides them, and I’m not going to buy Kleenex for a man who’s worth more than $3.5 million. He’s not even giving me money for Tide to wash his clothes. He pays the light bill and thinks that’s what it takes to run a house.”
While Beverly may have been short on cash, she was, according to Gleason’s lawyer, long on credit—”well over five figures on charge accounts.” On his lawyer’s advice, Jackie cut off all of her charge accounts, and further refused to pay the maid to baby-sit for Beverly’s miniature Schnauzer, Mildred. (“He did that to keep me home,” peeves Beverly. “Mildred seems to sense our troubles. Jack tried to pet her and she stomped right past him.”)
What apparently brought matters to a crescendo was Jackie’s 59th birthday and the Jackie Gleason Inverray Golf Classic, which President Ford attended. Jackie not only had Beverly’s membership in the Inverray Country Club revoked one week before the tournament, but, according to Beverly, one of the club’s founders asked her to move out of her house during the President’s visit. “It was because Jackie wanted Marilyn Taylor to be the hostess, and I said, ‘I’m not leaving.’ ”
The tournament proceeded despite the bickering, of which the President was presumably unaware. With Beverly ruled off the course, except as a guest, the Great One gamely clowned around with Ford, while his new fiancée showed up for his birthday and the presidential reception.
The last words belong to the lawyers, of course. “The reason Beverly’s talking,” says Gleason’s attorney, “is that she said she’d try to embarrass Jackie if he wouldn’t do what she wanted. And what she wanted was a $2 million settlement.” Predicting that “her settlement will be a whole lot less than that,” Gleason’s lawyer adds, “The judge has already declared the marriage irretrievably broken. The only question remaining is how much money she’s going to get. Nothing more or less.”