James Gleason was born in New York City to William Gleason and Mina Crolius, who were both in the theatre. He was married to Lucile Gleason (born Lucile Webster), and had a son, Russell Gleason. As a young man James fought in the Spanish-American War. After the war he joined the stock company at the Liberty Theater in Oakland, California, which his parents were running. James and his wife then moved to Portland, Oregon, where they played in stock at the Baker Theater. For several years afterward they toured in road shows until James enlisted in the army during World War I. When he returned he appeared on the stage in The Five Million. He then turned to writing, including Is Zat So, which he produced for the NY stage. He also wrote and acted in The Fall Guy and The Shannons on Broadway. Next he wrote The Broadway Melody (1929) for MGM. He collaborated, in 1930, on The Swellhead (1930), Dumbbells in Ermine (1930), What a Widow! (1930), Rain or Shine (1930) and His First Command (1929).