The Honeymooners is not only widely considered to be the first official TV spin-off series, it also served as the inspiration for the many blue-collar sitcoms that have since become syndication staples, including ‘All in the Family,’ ‘Roseanne‘ and ‘The King of Queens.’
The series occasionally comes under fire in retrospect by folks who objected to Ralph Kramden’s occasional threats to send his wife, Alice, “to the Moon!,” but Alice was a strong woman who was never intimidated by Ralph’s bluster. In fact, her tongue was far sharper than his, and she regularly cut him down to size in most of their arguments, which is why he always ended up confessing to her, “Baby, you’re the greatest.” And away we go …
1. IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS A DIFFERENT ALICE.
The Honeymooners began as a semi-regular sketch on Gleason’s 1951 variety series Cavalcade of Stars. Most of the same elements that appeared on the later CBS series were already in place, except that Gleason’s waistline was noticeably smaller and “Alice” was played by a different actress.
Veteran vaudevillian Pert Kelton originated the role and would have remained on board had her husband, Ralph Bell, not sponsored an ad in The Daily Worker in 1948. Bell was branded a Communist and his name was published in the Red Channels pamphlet that served as an unofficial blacklist for potential employers. Kelton was guilty of fascism by association so, despite Gleason’s protests, the network terminated her while telling the viewing public that she’d left for health reasons due to a heart condition. Audrey Meadows took over the role for the CBS series.
2. JACKIE GLEASON ORIGINALLY REJECTED AUDREY MEADOWS FOR BEING “TOO YOUNG AND TOO PRETTY.”
When Meadows arrived to audition for the role of Alice, Jackie Gleason immediately rejected her, reportedly stating that she was “too young and too pretty” to play his working-class wife. Meadows went home, removed her makeup, changed her hairstyle and donned a plain house dress.
She hired a photographer to take some de-glamorized shots of her and messengered them to Gleason. “That’s Alice!” Gleason declared, without realizing that it was the same actress he’d rejected the previous day.
3. ONLY ONE OF THE SHOW’S STARS EARNED A LIFETIME OF RESIDUALS FROM THE SERIES.
Meadows had two brothers, both of whom were attorneys. When it came time for her to sign her Honeymooners contract in 1952, they accompanied her to the bargaining table and insisted that a clause is inserted regarding residuals for any episodes that were re-broadcast.
The network agreed, never imagining that the show would become every UHF station’s late-night filler fodder and that they would still be sending the actress checks 40 years later.
4. ART CARNEY’S DAD WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR MANY OF ED NORTON’S MANNERISMS.
Art Carney, Ed Norton was famous for exasperating “Ralphie boy” with the elaborate gestures and flourishes he performed before the most mundane of tasks, whether it was signing a letter or playing the piano.
Carney was simply imitating his father, who couldn’t perform the simplest of tasks—like signing his son’s report card—without going through a litany of routines, like adjusting the desk lamp just so, aligning the paper, moving other items on the desk, flexing his arms, and double-checking his pen. As much as Norton’s rituals exasperating Ralph, they delighted the audience, which prompted Gleason to encourage Carney to exaggerate and prolong his obsessive-compulsive motions.
5. NORTON’S SIGNATURE HAT BELONGED TO CARNEY.
The felt porkpie hat that Ed Norton wore was from Carney’s own wardrobe. He purchased the chapeau in 1935 when he was still in high school. It was the first hat he ever bought and cost him a whopping $5.
In a 1985 interview with People magazine, Carney said that he still had the hat stashed in the closet of his home in Westbrook, Connecticut.