Saturday, June 27, 2009

To the Moon, Alice!

During the fifties, America was introduced to The Honeymooners when it made its television debut. The first episode of the new half-hour series aired Saturday, October 1, 1955, at 8:30 pm, opposite Ozark Jubilee on ABC and The Perry Como Show on NBC.

The show was sponsored by Buick, and the opening credits ended with an advertisement ("Brought to you by your Buick dealer. And away we go!"). The show concluded with a brief Gleason sales pitch for the company. All references to the car maker were removed when the show entered syndication.

It was immediately popular and quickly garnered the #2 position in the ratings. However, competition was stiff, and production ended after only 39 episodes The final episode aired on September 22, 1956. Despite its relatively brief run, The Honeymooners is considered a premier example of American television comedy, and it has inspired successful television comedies such as The Flintstones and The King of Queens.

The episodes focused on its four principal characters. Let’s meet them.

First we have Ralph Kramden, played by Jackie Gleason. Ralph is a bus driver for the Gotham Bus Company, although we never actually see him driving a bus. He’s frustrated because success continues to elude him, and he continually thinks up get-rich-quick schemes, which is a continuing theme. He has a quick temper and is prone to tossing insults and threats. His anger usually results in a hollow threat of “You wanna go to the moon? Bang! Zoom!”

However, beneath that rough exterior is a man with a golden heart who loves his wife and is devoted to his best pal. After an angry encounter with Alice, he typically hugs her and says, “Baby, you’re the greatest,” as the closing music comes up on the audio track.

And speaking of his wife, here’s Alice Kramden, played by Audrey Meadows. She’s a patient woman. But after putting up with Ralph for 15 years, she has developed a bit of a sharp tongue. She’s easily capable of returning Ralph’s insults. Although sometimes sarcastic in her delivery, her level-headed nature comes through when she tries to convince Ralph of the stupidity of his various schemes.

Ralph’s best friend, who lives upstairs, is Edward “Ed” Norton, played by Art Carney. Ed is a New York City sewer worker. He’s a bit more good-natured than Ralph. However, he does trade insults with him on occasion. Ralph typically refers to him as Norton, and he usually gets mixed up in Ralph’s schemes. His dimwitted nature results in Ralph showering him with insults and throwing him out of the apartment. Ed and Ralph are both members of the Raccoon Lodge.

Thelma “Trixie” Norton is Ed’s wife and is played by Joyce Randolph. Although she doesn’t appear in every episode, she’s usually depicted as being a bit bossy to Ed. In one episode she is depicted as a pool hustler.

The Kramdens' financial struggles mirrored those of Gleason's early life in Brooklyn, and he took great pains to duplicate on set the interior of the apartment where he grew up (right down to his boyhood address of 328 Chauncey Street). The Kramdens and the Nortons are childless, an issue never explored, but a condition on which Gleason insisted.

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