The Honeymooners is a timeless treasure of the golden era of television. Ralph Kramden – played by Jackie Gleason – is a bus driver in New York. He holds high hopes of striking it rich and finally having the luxurious life he’s dreaming of. He and his best friend Ed Norton, a sewer worker played by Art Carney, are constantly trying to scheme up the means to hit it big.
His loving yet weary wife Alice, played by the lovely Audrey Meadows, can only sit back and patiently watch as her husband repeatedly gets checked by reality. She heartfully always lifts him back up when he falls and is consistently a grounding yet tethering force to reel him back in when he drifts too far out. She remains loyal despite her husband’s shrouded threats of domestic violence – One of these days Alice! POW! Right in the kisser!
Ahh yes, those were simpler times indeed.
Despite lasting only 1 season and 39 episodes – a fate often attributed to the fact the show was filmed live to tape which was a rarity in those days – the show has had an enduring appeal and has definitely left behind a legacy that will never be forgotten.
Jackie Gleason, Art Cartney, and Audrey Meadows have all since passed away. That’s not much of a surprise considering that the show ended in 1956 and the cast was predominately middle-aged during production.
95-year-old Joyce Randolph
One surviving honeymooner is still alive, however. 95-year-old Joyce Randolph who played Trixie Norton, Ed’s wife. She played Trixie in The Jackie Gleason Show as well. Although she didn’t reprise her role on the re-boot and reunion shows, Gleason would always refer to her as the quintessential Trixie.
With the help of Ms. Randolph’s first hand recounting of the show’s production, we’re going to take a look at some fun facts that we’re sure you never knew about The Honeymooners. Stick around till the end of the video to see the astonishing reason why Jackie Gleason called it quits after only one season.
Facts Verse Presents: The Last Surviving “Honeymooners” Cast Member (Facts)
But first, before we embark on that journey, make sure you show us a little support by hitting the like button and subscribing to our channel. Tap the bell icon to turn on notifications so you never have to miss one of our evocative videos.
There was more than one Alice
The Honeymooners trace its origins back to Jackie Gleason’s variety show Cavalcade of Stars which aired in 1951. Much of the formula for the forthcoming sitcom would already have its groundwork laid out there. Gleason, however, is touting a much skinnier waistline at the time and Alice plays by vaudevillian actress Pete Kelton. Her husband ties up with the red scare anti-communist witch hunt that was going on in those days when he endorsed an advertisement in the pro-communist periodical The Daily Worker in 1948.
He was quickly blacklisted by Hollywood and Kelton suffered a similar fate due to her guilt by association – as unfair as that may have been. Gleason didn’t want to fire her but the studio wouldn’t put up with an accessory to a known communist being on their show.
Jackie didn’t think Audrey Meadows fit the bill at first
Joyce Randolph remembers when Jackie Gleason first oversaw Audrey’s audition for the role of Alice that he didn’t think she fits for the role. In fact, he immediately rejected her on the grounds that she was “too young and too pretty”. After all, he was already midway through his life and she was in her early twenties. He wanted the living situation to be believable.
Tapping into the working-class housewife character, Meadows went home, took off her make-up, put on a very plain house dress, and even hired a photographer to take less-flashy house-wifey shots of her. She sends those over to Gleason and he hires her before even realizing that she is the same girl he rejects a day prior.
Smooth move Ms. Meadows! In fact, she always had the smarts as evident by the next item on our list.
Meadow’s was the only cast member to receive a lifetime of residuals
Audrey had two attorney brothers, so when it was time to sign her contract in 1952 she brought them along to the signing for a little more leverage. They pushed for her having a clause added to her contract that ensured that she would receive residuals as long as the show aired. So years later as the show was still being shown on various channels across the globe, Ms. Meadows was still receiving checks up until her passing.
Art Carney based Ed Norton’s character off his own father
Much of Ed Norton’s idiosyncrasies, such as the litany of mundane tasks and routines that he will go through just to perform basic tasks much to the dismay and bewilderment of “Ralphie Boy”, were actually based on the peculiarities of his own father. Perhaps today these oddities of behavior like obsessive-compulsive disorder but Gleason loved Carney’s persona – he thought it was a hoot- and encouraged him to keep it up.
His father’s mannerisms weren’t the only thing from his personal life that he brought to the show.
Ed Norton’s hat had actually belonged to Art Carney
Norton was always wearing this black felt pork pie hat. You might assume that the wardrobe department gave it to him as part of his get-up but actually, it belonged to Carney. In fact, it was his favorite hat.
He acquired the lid when he was still in high school back in 1935. He purchased the hat for $5 but adjusted for inflation, that’s nearly $100. And he held on to it for quite some time. In 1985, he told People Magazine that he still had it stashed in a closet in his home in Connecticut.
To be fair, it was a nice hat!
The Kramden’s apartment was intentionally designed to be drab
Jackie Gleason really wanted to highlight the fact that the Kramden’s weren’t exactly bringing in the riches. Ralph only took in 62 bucks a week and he was fundamentally against buying anything on credit.
He was also tapping into his personal experience by decorating the apartment to be willfully depressing. When he was living in Brooklyn growing up as a kid, his family was so impoverished they couldn’t even afford curtains.
Concerned fans of the show would actually mail Meadows parcels every week that included decorations, aprons, and ornaments, hoping to spice up there drab, dismal flat. Apparently that was missing the point, but it’s the thought that counts, right?
There was never any dress rehearsals for the show
Jackie Gleason preferred performances that felt natural and spontaneous. He reasoned that dress rehearsals created a more clunky over-practiced delivery. He may have had some ulterior motives as well. Also, he was a big fan of hanging out at Toots Shor’s, a bar made famous for its Impressive line-up of
A-list frequenters like Frank Sinatra and Jack Dempsey.
He would go through the script once off-stage so the cast and crew could give some feedback on the jokes, the storyline, and to prepare for filming.
Not everyone shared Jackie’s sentiments on rehearsals. Meadows, Randolph, and Carney would meet up and rehearse their lines regardless of Gleason’s free-form approach. Gleason would famously forget his lines at times. Fortunately, the rest of the crew were pros at improvisation. Carney would ad-lib when he would see Jackie pat his belly – a sign that he was stumbling over a line – and Meadows would guide him to his mark using body language when he really needed it.
Gleason also didn’t believe in doing retakes so mistakes and blunders will be either leave in or smoothed over on the fly. The approach may seem foreign to many directors and producers but in the case of the Honeymooners, it created an atmosphere of comedic authenticity.
The show had some notable celebrity fans
Audrey Meadows recounts in her 1994 autobiography Love, Alice, Meadows the time that one of her biggest celebrity crushes – Cary Grant – approached her on the Paramount lot much to her surprise. She explained how sheepish she felt to be standing in from of the dazzling Holywood heavyweight.
Much to her disappointment, he didn’t approach her with social intentions in mind. He was there for business. He wanted her to ask Gleason if he could guest-star on an episode. Then, he explained that he would play Norton’s assistant in the sewers.
Meadows thought it shocking to imagine the object of her fancy to be mucking around in the sewers with filth and rats and tried to discourage him from pursuing the guest spot.
Grant cheekily rebutted her protest by saying that he had been working in Hollywood for quite some time and had seen much more filth and far bigger rats.
Meadows and Grant would later actually get a chance to work with each other on the film That Touch of Mink in 1962.
Gleason seriously considered suing the Flintstones at one point
You might not have ever noticed it, but the Flintstones borrowed a lot from the Honeymooners. So much so that Jackie almost lawyered up against Hanna-Barbera with an intellectual property dispute.
The comparisons are numerous. You got two couples that are next-door neighbors, the lead male being on the huskier side with a wife that wasn’t afraid to burst his get-rich-quick schemes when they became too obtuse. In a similar dynamic as Ralph and Ed, Barney and Fred were members of the same bowling team and fraternal lodge.
He decided against going through with the lawsuit however when his publicist asked him if he really wanted to go down in history as the man who killed Fred Flintstone.
Gleason pulled the plug on the show after just one season
Despite its initial popularity, NBC decided to rearrange its Saturday night time slots to compete with the CBS’ lineup. After the change was made, The Honeymooners quickly began to lose its viewers. Even though it once held the #2 spot up against I Love Lucy, by 1956 it had dropped all the way down to #19.
CBS was actively considering canceling the show but before they could get around to doing the deed Gleason made the move to call it quits. So after only 39 episodes, the iconic show would come to an end. But it wasn’t fully put to rest. The Honeymooners would be a regular sketch on The Jackie Gleason show whenever Carney was able to participate.
Well, that wraps up our look at the Honeymooners with the special help of the last surviving cast member Joyce Randolph. It’s hard to believe that a show that has such enduring iconic appeal only lasted 1 season.
Now we’d love to hear from you! Seeing that the Flintstones and The Honeymooners followed a very similar formula. which show do you think was the better show? Let us know what you think in the comments section. And if you haven’t already, go ahead and tap the like button and subscribe to our channel so you can keep up with all of our content!