The Honeymooners is an American sitcom, based on a recurring 1951–55 sketch of the same name. It originally aired on the DuMont network’s Cavalcade of Stars, Jackie Gleason’s variety show and subsequently on the CBS network’s The Jackie Gleason Show, which was filmed in front of a live audience. It debuted as a half-hour series on October 1, 1955. Although initially a ratings success—becoming the #2 show in the United States during its first season—it faced stiff competition from The Perry Como Show, and eventually dropped to #19, ending its production after only 39 episodes (now referred to as the “Classic 39”). The final episode of The Honeymooners aired on September 22, 1956. Creator/producer Jackie Gleason revived the series sporadically until 1978.The Honeymooners was one of the first U.S. television shows to portray working-class married couples in a gritty, non-idyllic manner (the show is set mostly in the Kramdens’ kitchen, in a neglected Brooklyn apartment building).
Jackie Gleason grew up, in real life, at 328 Chauncey Street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. That was the same address of the Kramden home on The Honeymooners, though it was said in the series that they lived in Bensonhurst. Gleason has a rough childhood that was filled with neglect, gang-life and living off of mere pennies. The charm and charisma that Gleason brought to the camera is what picked him up from this despair and forever changed his life!
At the age of 19 Gleason only had $0.36 to his name after his mother died…Gleason’s father abandoned the family, and his mother passed away just as he reached adulthood. His girlfriend’s parents offered to take him in, but Gleason refused and found a roommate in the city and a gig in Reading, Pennsylvania that would pay him nearly 20 bucks.
Early on in his career he had to borrow $200 from a local hardware store for a treain ticket because he had a great fear of flying and he had to get to New York! Flying was his biggest phobia. Why? In one cross-country flight, the plane was forced down due to mechanical failures. Gleason found himself in the middle of Oklahoma, needing to get to New York, but unwilling to step in an aircraft after his harrowing ordeal. He walked into a hardware store and asked for $200 to cover train tickets to the Big Apple. This was early in his career, before he was well-known. The store owner needed proof of his fame, so Gleason and the owner went to see his latest picture in the theater. Gleason finally appeared onscreen an hour into the film, and the owner lent him the cash.
Part of what helped Gleason become quick to fame in show biz was his photographic memory! He was notorious for not wanting to rehearse. The rest of the cast would run through scenes without him. He once said he could look at a script once and know every line. This was a common practice with the run of “The Honeymooners”…it was said that Gleason rarely rehearsed and preferred the raw “real life” feeling that the lack of rehearsing brought to the table. The Honeymooners is FILLED with ad-lib moments which really is a contributing factor to the show’s timeless factor and that detail is really something that the fans love and will always remember! “Leave it there the cat’ll get it!”—just one of the famous ad-lib moments that comes to mind!
Ad-lib and improvisation have always been a part of the magic caught on camera…sometimes these moments are so good that they become the most memorable part of a tv show or movie…The famous “Leave it there the cat will get it…” moment from the honeymooners! Total ad-lib due to a simple spill!
The original Alice Kramden was let go due to the Communism scare…The Honeymooners began as a segment on the DuMont network’s Cavalcade of Stars, hosted by Gleason. In an early skit, Art Carney appeared as a cop, not Norton. Pert Kelton played the first, darker iteration of Alice. When The Honeymooners moved to CBS, Kelton was removed from the cast, as her name was blacklisted in the communist-hunting book Red Channels. Gleason covered for her by spreading misinformation that she left due to heart trouble.
Speaking of “Alice”…The FAMOUS line, “POW Right in the kisser” was only used once in the original episodes! It’s fascinating to see how rarely his catchphrases were uttered. “Baby, you’re the greatest!” was only said in nine of the original 39 episodes. “Right in the kisser” came once, near the end of the season. Gleason improvised every time he said “Bang! Zoom!”. The line was never in any of the scripts. Crazy right?? Especially when you look at the iconic aspect of “BANG, ZOOM”…quite honestly, that is one line that I feel personifies the show and really sticks out. And to think that it was never even once written in a script…just another example of how Jackie Gleason’s raw talent is what made the show what it was and IS today!
~And just a fun little detail about the technical side of things…Jackie Gleason made a very smart decision with his choice of cameras! A sizable chunk of early television, which consisted largely of live broadcasts, remains lost to time. Some of it, like much of the output of DuMont, was foolishly destroyed. Most TV was captured using Kinescope, a process of filming the picture of the video monitor. Gleason used a cutting edge camera called the Electronicam to capture The Honeymooners, which preserved a higher quality image and allowed the episodes to be rerun on broadcast television years later. It was those reruns that built the legacy.