Honeymooners Chronology by John Larrabee
THE FINAL CBS SEASON, 1956 -1957:
Part Two (1956 to 1978)
Gleason returned to a live, hour-long variety format with The
Honeymooners still a part of the regular cycle. During the second
half of the season, The Honeymooners was transformed into a weekly
musical comedy, with songs by the Broadway team of Jerry Bresler and
Lyn Dudy. Twelve song-and-dance laden episodes, featuring the
Kramdens and Nortons touring Europe (they were
winners of a slogan contest), were aired during the spring of 1957.
More so than any other season, the '56-57 episodes are of wildly
varying quality. They are also something of a return to the
flavor of the pre-Classic 39 days, and, once again, Gleason reverted to
varying the length of the sketches as he had during the first two CBS
Top Five Episodes, 1956 - 1957:
1. EXPECTANT FATHERS
Ralph and Ed both think their wives are pregnant. Some gags
lifted directly from THE ADOPTION, but a heartfelt and poignant
16-minute sketch nonetheless.
2. CATCH A STAR
Ralph brags that he can get Jackie Gleason to entertain at the
Raccoons' dance. Gleason, Carney, Meadows, and Randolph in dual
roles as their characters and themselves. Contrived but cute.
3. DOUBLE ANNIVERSARY PARTY
Ralph and Alice each have a surprise anniversary party planned for the
4. TWO-FAMILY CAR
Ralph and Ed think they've won a car in a raffle.
5. FORGOT TO REGISTER
Ralph and Ed campaign for a local politician.
Best Musical Episodes
1. AWAY WE GO!
The Kramdens and the Nortons begin a tour of Europe. Ralph and Ed accidentally wind up drunk and stranded in a lifeboat.
2. PLASTERED IN PARIS
Upon arriving in Paris, Ralph and Ed are swindled out of their money and get tossed in jail for passing fake francs
(Honorable mentions: None. I was hard-pressed to come up
with these seven.)
THE AMERICAN SCENE MAGAZINE, 1962 -
For four seasons, Gleason's
AMERICAN SCENE MAGAZINE followed the old format, only The Honeymooners
were no longer part of the proceedings -- save for three occasions, one
of which has been made available to the general public.
It was intended that Gleason would revive The Honeymooners
when Art Carney was available. There have been various reported
reasons as to why the sketch was not seen again after the first two
weeks of the show (October, 1962), ranging from Gleason's ego feeling
threatened by Carney to Carney's own personal battles with depression
and alcohol (he was also unavailable for nearly a year as he starred on
Broadway as the original Felix Ungar in Neil Simon's THE ODD
COUPLE). Whatever the reason, Audrey Meadows was definitely not
available, so Sue Ane Langdon
(above, left) got two opportunities to play Alice, while Patricia Wilson
(above, right) was
the new Trixie (Joyce Randolph was apparently not asked). Predictably,
the focus in both sketches is on Ralph and Norton.
The first of the two 1962 episodes finds the Kramdens and
Nortons preparing for a vacation in Atlantic City. When Ralph
realizes the cost of everything, he suddenly turns patriotic and wants
everyone to spend the week in the cellar "under emergency conditions,
practicin' civil defense". The girls won't hear of it and go off
to Atlantic City on their own, leaving Ralph and Ed to endure each
other's company in the closest of quarters with the barest of
provisions for an entire week. The entire premiere episode of THE
AMERICAN SCENE MAGAZINE featuring this sketch is apparently in the
public domain, as it has been released on a few bargain-label videos
over the years.
A subsequent sketch the following week has not been seen
since that first season. In it, Ralph has finally broken down and
purchased a (second-hand, of course) television set. To
celebrate, he invites Norton down to watch the big football game that
afternoon. Not two seconds after the opening kickoff, the set
goes blank. Ralph and Ed try to fix it and are soon entangled in
wires, tubes, and pizza. After laboring for about three hours,
the janitor enters to tell them the power's been out in the
building...for about three hours.
The final Honeymooners ASM appearance came on January 8,
1966, and it was a special occasion. Gleason reunited with Carney
and Audrey Meadows for a one-hour musical remake of 1955's THE
THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW, 1966 -1971:
Honeymooners were back to stay for Gleason's new show in the fall of
1966. This time in full color in the form of weekly
mini-musicals. Gleason and Carney reprised their usual roles, while Sheila
became Alice Kramden number five (Audrey Meadows had no interest in moving to Miami) and Jane Kean
became Trixie number three (Joyce Randolph was apparently not asked). A majority of the shows were remakes of 50s
episodes, all of which had been seen only once, live, the previous
decade. The final season saw several new scripts (including a 6 -
episode trip to California) and some attempts at topical humor (hippies
and protesters and rock & roll), probably the collective nadir of
the Honeymooners saga.
There were certainly countless moments of choice comedy in
the new shows (most all of it provided by Gleason and Carney), but some
of the magic had definitely gone. The Honeymooners were not meant
to be in color. They were not meant to be mini-musicals. They were Brooklyn in the black-and-white 50s. They were Ebbets
Field, Dem Bums, hangin' out at the candy
store, yellin' out the window, stickball in the street, Freitag's Deli,
Krause's Meat Market, c'mon I'll blow ya to a big meal at the Hong Kong
Gardens, cab drivers, bus drivers, dock workers, sewer workers, and
probably the most culturally and ethnically diverse group of a million
Americans who ever actually worked together and got along and did a
pretty fair job of both. A struggling, fortysomething blue collar
worker in such a context can be the basis for some fine naturalistic
comedy. A struggling fifty-something blue collar worker in the
Johnson/Vietnam years, living in the same gloomy digs and without so
much as ever having received a token promotion (wasn't he supposed to be a good bus driver, after all?) borders on the
depressing. You need black and white, you need the 50s, you need
characters just teetering on middle age but filled with youthful energy
and ambitions, you need Audrey Meadows, and no songs, no dancing, no
cavernous Miami Beach auditorium filled with 5000 locals who whistle,
scream, and applaud at even the feeblest gags. For true fans of the
show, 1952 to 1957 are the only five years in the lives of the "real"
Kramdens and Nortons to which the world is privy.
THE ABC SPECIALS, 1976 - 1978:
specials on ABC from 1976 to 1978 with Gleason, Carney, Audrey Meadows
and Jane Kean. Some moments rise above the final CBS shows,
mostly due to the presence of the reunited trio (Joyce Randolph was
apparently not asked). Overall, it might have worked better had they
used the opportunity to mature the characters, their relationships, and their situations. This
may be asking a bit much from something that was borne of
stock-character, vaudeville-like sketch comedy, but they are all just
simply too long in the tooth to continue to be amusing in "This'll get me in good with Mr.
In the early 80s, Art Carney had the idea for a
Honeymooners script which would feature the Kramdens and Nortons
retired and living in Miami Beach (of all places!). A script was
actually drafted, all parties including Gleason (and - are you ready? -
Joyce Randolph!) interested, but it never made it past the planning stage. Had Carney had his idea a few years
earlier, those last specials may have amounted to something.