Honeymooners Chronology by John Larrabee
Part One - 1951 to 1955
1951-1952 (The DuMont Network):
Honeymooners" premieres as a recurring sketch on DuMont's CAVALCADE OF
STARS. Jackie Gleason
and Art Carney
appear in their
familiar roles of Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, while Pert Kelton
Kramden. For one episode, Trixie Norton is played by Broadway
legend Elaine Stritch.
in the first ever Honeymooners sketch, Carney played a neighborhood cop
- Ralph's best friend Ed had not been invented yet.)
For years, it was believed that no DuMont shows existed,
as most of the networks' old kinescopes had been destroyed in a studio
fire (thankfully, this unfortunate occurance served to motivate
Jackie Gleason to preserve and maintain copies of all of his subsequent
shows). The only known record of the original cast was the
performance of a Honeymooners sketch on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW in the
early summer of 1952. Then, in the early 1990s, several of the
DuMonts miraculously appeared and were aired for the first time in over
forty years on a Disney Channel special.
The most revealing aspect of the early shows lies in the
performances of Pert Kelton. For years, those who were around at
the time spoke of how wonderful Pert was in the role. The
newly-found kinescopes confirm this. Audrey Meadows may well
have been a funnier Alice, but Kelton was probably truer in spirit to
Gleason's original conception of the role. Kelton had the
physical appearance of a woman who had probably been a great beauty in
her younger days, but who now looked as though she had made a living as
Rocky Marciano's sparring partner. Although the sketches
themselves are louder and more combative than mid-50s Honeymooners,
Kelton's very presence adds to the despair and near-pathetic atmosphere
which always loomed quietly over the Kramden household.
The standard "Baby, you're the greatest!" ending to so
many episodes may have grown a bit cliché over the years, but there is
nothing pat or insincere about these scenes as Gleason plays them with
Kelton. One particular episode contains one line which is
particularly revealing, and which was never repeated over the
years. After Ralph has made a fool of himself once again, he
paces the floor and offers his standard heartfelt apology ("Boy, I
don't know why you put up with a clam like me..."). Looking into
Alice's once-again-forgiving eyes, he says, "You're all I got." In his
colorless world of $63 a week, Ralph's only true purpose in life is the
woman he loves. One cannot picture this line being delivered to Audrey
Meadows without an underlying wink or "aw, shucks" quality to it all,
and everyone goes home happy. When the line is delivered to
Kelton, everyone goes home having been kicked in the gut.
had appeared on
a early Gleason show in which she did a dramatic scene with
Jackie. She was hired for this show when one of Gleason's
producers wanted to date Joyce's roommate, also an actress;
originally, the roommate was hired for the role. When the roommate was
unable to honor the commitment,
Joyce was a last-minute replacement. Later, when Gleason didn't
particularly care for how Elaine Stritch had handled her one and only
stab at Trixie Norton, he said "Get me that serious actress".
Through chance and a whim, Joyce
Randolph lucked into a featured role in a television classic.
Years later when asked during an interview what attracted her to the
role of Trixie, she said with a laugh "Nothing attracted me - they just
threw me into it!"
To ballyhoo the Gleason show's move to CBS, a summer theatre tour was
undertaken by the entire cast. Most of Gleason's regular routines
were featured, including a Honeymooners sketch. It was during
this tour that Pert Kelton was blacklisted for alleged communistic
activity, marking the end of her days as Alice Kramden. She was
for the duration of the tour by actress Ginger Jones
, the most obscure
of all Alices, whose greatest claim to fame this remains.
THE FIRST CBS SEASON, 1952 - 1953:
The format of the (live) CBS show was virtually the same as it
had been for DuMont. THE HONEYMOONERS was still a 10-minute
weekly sketch during that first CBS season, only by this time Audrey Meadows
had replaced Pert Kelton as Alice Kramden. Meadows had earned a
reputation as a deft comedienne, thanks to her appearance on Broadway
with Phil Silvers in TOP BANANA, and her regular appearances on Bob and
Ray's CBS radio and television shows. Gleason initially rejected
Meadows as "too pretty" for Alice, but recanted when she submitted a
series of photos of herself in the most slovenly poses and costumes
imaginable. "Jesus, she really IS a dowdy-looking broad," said
Jackie upon seeing the shots. "Any dame with that kind of sense
of humor has got something we can use."
presence of Meadows,
the 1952-53 sketches still retain the combative flavor of the DuMonts, which
was gradually softened by the end of the season.
Top Five Episodes, 1952-53:
Ralph thinks Alice is planning to murder him after he overhears her
rehearsing lines for a play.
2. NORTON MOVES IN
Ed and Trixie spend a sleepless night with the Kramdens, as they can't
stand the smell of their freshly-painted apartment.
3. HOT TIP
The Kramdens and Nortons prepare for a day at the track.
Memorable as it includes a hilarious moment when Gleason realizes that
his fly is unzipped.
4. GLOW WORM CLEANING
Alice has the chance to appear in a magazine ad, until Ralph ruins
5. ALICE PLAYS CUPID
Alice arranges for a blind date for Ralph's boss.
THE SECOND CBS SEASON, 1953 - 1954:
Early into this season, Gleason experimented with a couple of hour-long
Honeymooners shows. It proved so successful that, by midseason,
this was the format for well over half of the Gleason shows. The
consistency of the next two seasons was not yet there, but there are
some truly excellent shows to be found from 1953-54.
Top Five Episodes, 1953-54:
1. GOOD BUY AUNT ETHEL
A regular riot of an episode, in which Ralph tries to marry off Alice's
Aunt Ethel to get her out of his apartment.
2. LETTER TO THE BOSS
One of the first full-length episodes and one of the best. A
prototypical episode, in which virtually all elements of the
Honeymooners universe are in full display. In it, Ralph
mistakenly thinks he has been fired and dashes off a rude letter to the
boss of the bus company.
3. SANTA AND THE BOOKIES
Ralph thinks Alice is pregnant, moonlights as a sidewalk Santa for some
extra cash, and winds up unwittingly involved in a gang of bookmakers.
4. HAIR-RAISING TALE
Ralph and Norton invest in a bogus hair restorer.
5. STAND-IN FOR MURDER
Ralph is a dead ringer for a mob boss, and winds up the target of a hit
(Honorable mention: TWO TICKETS TO THE FIGHT, CHAMPAGNE AND CAVIAR,
PARTY, NEW YEAR'S EVE PARTY, VACATION AT FRED'S LANDING)
THE THIRD CBS SEASON, 1954 - 1955:
The season closest in quality to the Classic 39 of the following year,
and the one which, at the time, convinced the CBS brass that THE
HONEYMOONERS could stand on its own as a weekly half-hour series.
Top Five Episodes, 1954-55:
1. THE ADOPTION
Ralph and Alice adopt a baby girl. Although the premise, and even
some of the lines, seem to have been lifted from the Cary Grant-Irene
Dunne sudser PENNY SERENADE, this remains, unquestionably, the greatest
Honeymooners episode of all time. Such a tearjerker that many
forget it is also one of the funniest-ever shows (Social worker: "Are
there any nearby places of
recreation where the child can play?" Ralph: "Yeah, there's a
pool hall right down the street."). Razor-sharp timing
throughout, indicating that all involved may have sensed this to be a
very special episode and give it their all. Gleason, especially,
delivers a magnificent performance. Typical fan reaction after
seeing this one for the first time is a somewhat numb, softly-murmured
2. KRAMDEN VS. NORTON
Ralph and Ed battle over ownership of a TV set won in a raffle.
3. SONGS AND WITTY SAYINGS
Ralph and Ed rehearse a routine for a talent night at a local theatre.
4. STARS OVER FLATBUSH
Ralph becomes obsessed with astrology, and it affects every decision he
Ralph and Ed compose a song which actually achieves some success. The first time in which we learn that Norton must warm up for
piano-playing with a few bars of "Swanee River".
(Honorable mention: RALPH'S SWEET TOOTH, GAME CALLED ON ACCOUNT OF
THE PEOPLE'S CHOICE, TEAMWORK BEAT THE CLOCK, BROTHER-IN-LAW, THE
CUPID, A LITTLE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE, PEACEMAKER, and BOYS AND GIRLS
THE "CLASSIC 39" SEASON, 1955 -
For this one season, THE HONEYMOONERS appeared in the form of a filmed,
half-hour sitcom. Quite simply, one of the greatest bodies of
work in the history of American comedy.
Top Five Episodes, Classic 39:
1. BETTER LIVING THROUGH TV
"Homina - homina - homina...Chef of the Future!"
2. THE $99, 000 ANSWER
"Homina - homina - homina...Ed Norton?"
3. THE GOLFER
4. 'TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE
"It's a bowlin' bag ball! I mean a bowlin' ball bag!"
5. A DOG'S LIFE
"How would you feel if you gave your boss dog food to eat?"
(Honorable mention: The other 34.)