Pert Kelton VS. Audrey Meadows
: I can’t believe there was a time I thought Pert
Kelton might have made for a better Alice. That was based on my
seeing one short sketch in which she appeared. She came off just
as caustic and more pathetic, which I thought fit Gleason’s original
conception of the character better. Then I watched the tape you
sent me with the DuMont sketches. Naah, I was wrong -- Kelton
doesn’t cut it, Audrey rules. Kelton was too shrill and
overplayed her wisecracks. She also seemed to be trying to match
Gleason in volume. Audrey had it just right: the sensible,
underplayed contrast to Ralph’s raving. She was a regular riot.
: Pert Kelton was good for short sketches that were funny in the
fifties. But Audrey Meadows was what The Honeymooners needed to
make it timeless. With Audrey actually being pretty and classy,
it makes her marriage to this big dumb jerk more poignant. Plus
she had better comic timing than Kelton. She could just stand
there while Ralph circled around the table babbling and then at the
right moment hit him with a perfectly timed zinger.
Pert Kelton was great, but Meadows is better --- prettier, better
delivery, better timing and more of a chemistry with Gleason.
: Now that I've seen Pert Kelton in more than one sketch, I
we were both right. She was funny, touching, and slightly
pathetic as Alice, the way Gleason envisioned the character. But
I'm now in total agreement with you -- Audrey Meadows IS Alice.
: Normally, I love Elaine Strich
But after seeing her as Trixie, I actually prefer Joyce Randolph.
Strich's Trixie doesn't look like a former stripper, she looks like a
former halfback for Notre Dame -- only slightly less refined. (Note: See the graphic at the top of the page. Elaine Stritch is the actress on the left. - JB
: Absolutely. The problem with
Strich's version of Trixie was she was just another blowhard like
Ralph. That might be okay for Aunt Ethel or Alice's Mother who
shows up only once on a blue moon, but for a regular character, every
week, it might have taken some of the edge of Kramden's
character. Can you imagine Ralph trying to throw Elaine Strich
out of the house? She'd kill him.
: You know who I think made the best Trixie? Patricia Wilson,
there's only that one example (the 1962 American Scene Magazine Sketch with Sue Anne Langdon as Alice)
with which to judge her. I've worked with actresses in community
theatre that can act circles around Joyce Randolph, while Jane Kean
knew how to deliver a line but I never got any sense of what her
version of Trixie was all about. But Wilson is just so shy,
mousy, slightly dense and eternally sweet -- I believe this woman is an
ex-stripper who would fall for a guy like Norton. And the way she
refers to him as "Eddie" -- there's just something so right about that.
Maniacs All Over The Joint!
: Gotta love Gleason for his refusal to
rehearse or do re-takes, but
you'd wish he'd have lightened up once in a while. "Hey, Jackie, just a
quick, two-minute retake where that slapstick scene kinda fell apart?"
"Hell, no! At this moment, they're drawin' up my first beer of
the night at Toot
Shor's and I
gotta get there before it loses it head."
If you watch the Classic 39 closely, you'll notice several edits. I
think this is one small thing that helps make the C39's as good as
they are. Even in the best of the Lost Episodes, there's moments
where the pace drags, somebody flubs a line, or an awkward pause calls
attention to itself. By keeping the C39's as "live" as possible,
he was able to preserve the spontaneity of the live shows, yet take
advantage of editing to shore up clumsy moments. They still
couldn't get rid of all the goofs and gaffes in "Something Fishy," or
that annoying brat in the audience ("Don't fall down!") in "Young at
Heart," but it was a happy medium nonetheless.
As we know, goofs, gaffes, bloopers, and ad-libs ran rampant throughout
The Honeymooners. Two favorites: In "Mama Loves Mambo",
while Ralph and Alice are arguing about "Carlos Sanchez paradin' around here with his fancy
manners", Art Carney makes an entrance a couple of pages too
early. He stands off to the side looking uncomfortable while
Gleason and Audrey Meadows try to cover with a few ad-libbed references
to his presence (Note: See above photo, with Art Carney looking rather awkward - JB
And in one of the lost episodes ("The Prowler"), Alice pours Ralph a
cup of coffee just as Ralph is knocked unconscious by the title
character. Apparently, the prop man had the bright idea to put a
chunk of dry ice in the coffee cup to simulate steam rising from the
cup. He must have put in a chunk the size of Gleason's belly, as
the coffee bubbles, fizzes, smokes, and develops a nice foamy head --
looking like something Gomez and Morticia would have swilled
down. And Gleason, supposedly unconscious, is powerless to cover
it with an ad-lib. (Note: Notice the
bubbling coffee cup! There is a nice unplanned line at the beginning of
this bit, when the audience notices foam and steam rising from what is
supposed to be a simple cup of coffee. Gleason notices it too and
ad-libs "Four o'clock in the morning, we get hot water!" - JB
Norton, The Woods Are Burning!
(Note: two of our biggest collective obsessions are
The Honeymooners and Arthur Miller's classic play DEATH OF A SALESMAN.
So in our emails, this exchange was inevitable. - JB
: By the way, how do you think Gleason would have been as Willy
Loman? He was pretty much playing the part every week on the
Honeymooners. I think he would have been just fine - I can hear
him doing so many lines: "I'm talking about your father!", "Can you
imagine that magnificence with twenty thousand dollars in his pocket?",
"The woods are burning, boys. I was fired."
: The older Gleason, most definitely. The younger Gleason I would
have cast as Uncle Ben. NOTHING IN COMMON gives a good idea of
what he would have done with the role.
: And Meadows as Willy's wife Linda? "I don't say he's a great man. Willy Loman
never made a lot of money. His name will never be in the
paper. He's not the finest character who ever lived. But
he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So
attention must be paid."
Would have been a classic production, unless Gleason decided it needed
the June Taylor Dancers. "Ya want me ta go to Afreeca? A
little travelin' music, Ben!"
The Honeymoon is Over
: I think unlike I Love Lucy or most other fifties sitcoms, The Honeymooners would not be as funny in color.
And they weren’t. Some cable channel that I don’t get was running
the color Honeymooners from the ‘60s last year. It would have
been nice to see them again, but I remember them pretty well, or at
least the problems I had with them. Gleason and Carney could
still pull off a funny scene together, but the Kramdens’ and Nortons’
lives were not meant to be colorful and dotted with splashy musical
numbers. Nor were they meant to take vacations in Europe and
southern California. And Ralph was not meant to dress in stylish,
colorful clothes with little neck scarves (yes, this is how he dressed
in the last couple of seasons). It’s as if Gleason forgot the
core appeal of the show and succumbed to his glitzy show-biz
tendencies. Ralph and Ed doing a number with Bing Crosby? Like Slip and Sach hoofing it with Fred Astaire.
: Black and white just underscores the
colorlessness of the Kramden’s lives. And disguises the fact that the
kitchen is just a set on a stage. In black and white, we can believe
those buildings outside the window really represent a street in
Brooklyn, whereas in color, it would clearly look like a painted
: And the set they used for the color
show was much larger than the original. Ignore the crummy
furniture and you’ve got a huge loft-type apartment that would fetch
big bucks today.
They both aged so quickly in the Miami years. In '66, despite
Carney having gained about 30 pounds, they both looked enough like
their old selves to pull it off. By 1970, Gleason had lost a
bunch of weight, and Carney's long grey hair with mutton chops aged him
15 years. I wish they'd aged the characters along with the
actors. Like I said, there's something depressing about the
notion that these two guys are still driving a bus and working in a
sewer well into their dotage.
This Is Probably Just Wrong To Ask
: BTW, I always sensed a sexual tension between Norton and Alice.
Am I sick?
: Well, there's a lost episode in which
Ralph finds an old love letter
from Norton to Trixie, and he thinks it's from Norton to Alice. And
when the truth comes out, Norton does seem a bit defensive about
the whole business. Oh well, it's a less frightening thought than Lucy
and Fred Mertz.
This Is Just Plain Wrong
: Despite his troubles in the outside world, Ralph had a happy home life
: "MMM-boy, that's good Alice."
Baby, They're The Greatest
Honeymooners has the sort of pathos that’s immune to
sappiness. Ralph is a blowhard, yet he‘s also a totally
sympathetic character. We want him to succeed, are sad when he
fails, yet things can never get too maudlin when Ralph is the cause of
his own problems. It’s when bad things happen to
too-good-to-be-true characters that pathos becomes sappy.
: It is so much easier to root for a
character who is bound to fail due
to his own shortcomings than it is to root for a wiseguy that goes
around bothering everybody on purpose. That works with Groucho
brothers because of brilliant writing and characterization (and the
Marx Brothers always picked their targets well), but this is
why Jim Carey and Adam Sandler comedies will eventually be outdated,
while The Honeymooners (and Laurel and Hardy) will always be funny.