Honey Merrill, circa 1958
  • Honey Merrill, circa 1958

I count myself lucky to have fallen early in life under the spell of a bona fide style icon.

As far as such icons go, this one’s elusive—more obscure than an Audrey or Katharine, but no less chic. She was at the height of her visibility from the late 40s to late 60s, which makes evidence of her contributions hard to come by today. You might glimpse her on the A&E Channel, if it were to air the 2001 episode of Biography titled “Jackie Gleason: The Great One,” in which she discusses the 13 years she spent as Gleason’s (mostly) live-in girlfriend. (What she doesn’t talk about on the show was how she dressed the rotund comic genius, picking out fabrics for his custom-made Earl Benham suits, his Sulka dress shirts, the Bronzini ties that had to be lengthened four inches for him.) I once spotted her in a creaky record store, on the cover of the Gleason album The Torch With the Blue Flame, which was released by Capitol Records in 1959 (when she was 27) and imparted new meaning, at least for me, to the songs “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” and “My Silent Love”—songs she later claimed to have helped him choose. The photo itself was taken a year earlier, in the living room at Gleason’s “Round House” in Peekskill, New York. She had recently moved in.