The sketches originally aired on the DuMont network's variety series Cavalcade of Stars, which Gleason hosted, and subsequently on the CBS network's The Jackie Gleason Show, which was broadcast live in front of a theater audience. The popularity of the sketches led Gleason to rework The Honeymooners as a filmed half-hour series, which debuted October 1, 1955, on CBS, in place of the variety series. It was initially a ratings success as the #2 show in the United States during its first season, facing stiff competition from The Perry Como Show on NBC. The show 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, although Gleason revived the characters 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). The program also is popular internationally, particularly in Canada, Poland, Norway and Sweden.
The majority of The Honeymooners episodes focused on its four principal characters, and generally used fixed sets within their Brooklyn apartment building. Although various secondary characters made multiple appearances and occasional exterior shots were incorporated during editing, virtually all action and dialogue was "on stage" inside the normal backdrop.
Played by Jackie Gleason—a bus driver for the fictional Gotham Bus Company based in New York City. He never is seen driving a bus (except in publicity photos), but sometimes is shown at the bus depot. Ralph is frustrated by his lack of success, and often develops get-rich-quick schemes. He is very short tempered, frequently resorting to bellowing, insults, and making hollow threats. Well hidden beneath the many layers of bluster, however, is a soft-hearted man who loves his wife and is devoted to his best pal, Ed Norton. Ralph enjoys—and is proficient at—bowling and playing pool, and is an enthusiastic member of the fictitious Loyal Order of Raccoons (although in several episodes a blackboard at the lodge lists his dues as being in arrears). The Ralph character was given honorary membership in the union for real New York City bus drivers (Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union) during the run of the show, and a Brooklyn bus depot was named in Gleason's honor after his death. Ralph Kramden is the inspiration for the animated character Fred Flintstone.
Alice (née Alice Gibson), played in the first nine skits, starting in 1951, and ending in January 1952 by Pert Kelton, and by Audrey Meadows for all remaining episodes, is Ralph's patient but sharp-tongued wife of roughly 12 years. She often finds herself bearing the brunt of Ralph's insults, which she returns with biting sarcasm. She is levelheaded, in contrast to Ralph's pattern of inventing various schemes to enhance his wealth or his pride. In each case, she sees the current one's un-workability, but he becomes angry and ignores her advice (and by the end of the episode, her misgivings almost always are proven to have been well-founded). She has grown accustomed to his empty threats—such as "One of these days, POW!!! Right in the kisser!", "BANG, ZOOM!" or "You're going to the moon!"—to which she usually replies, "Ahhh, shaddap!" Alice studied to be a secretary before her marriage and works briefly in that capacity when Ralph is laid off. Wilma Flintstone is based on Alice Kramden.
Another foil for Ralph is Alice's mother, who is even sharper-tongued than her daughter. She despises Ralph as a bad provider. Alice's father is occasionally mentioned but never seen. Alice's sister, Agnes, appeared in one episode (Ralph jeopardizes his newlywed sister-in-law's marriage after giving some bad advice to the groom, but it all works out in the end). Ralph and Alice lived with her mother for six years after getting married before they got their own apartment. Ralph's mother rarely is mentioned, although she does appear in one episode. Ralph's father is only mentioned in one episode ("Young Man with a Horn") as having given Ralph a cornet he learned to play as a boy, and insists on keeping when Alice suggests it be thrown away. In a 1967 revival, Ralph refers to Alice (played by Sheila MacRae 1966–70 and once more in 1973) as being one of 12 children with her father never working.
The Honeymooners originally appeared as a sketch on the DuMont Network's Cavalcade of Stars, with the role of Alice played by Pert Kelton (1907–1968). When his contract with DuMont expired, Gleason moved to the CBS network where he had The Jackie Gleason Show, and the Alice role went to Audrey Meadows because Kelton had been blacklisted during the infamous McCarthy hearings investigating alleged Communist activities in the entertainment world.
Played by Art Carney; a New York City municipal sewer worker and Ralph's best friend (and upstairs neighbor). He is considerably more good-natured than Ralph, but nonetheless trades insults with him on a regular basis. Ed (typically called "Norton" by Ralph and sometimes by his own wife, Trixie) often gets mixed up in Ralph's schemes. His carefree and rather dimwitted nature usually results in raising Ralph's ire, while Ralph often showers him with verbal abuse and throws him out of the apartment when Ed irritates him. In most episodes, Ed is shown to be better-read, better-liked, more worldly and more even-tempered than Ralph, despite his unassuming manner and the fact that he usually lets Ralph take the lead in their escapades. Ed and Ralph both are members of the fictional Raccoon Lodge. ("An Emergency Meeting is an emergency meeting—never a poker game. An Executive Meeting, that's a poker game.") According to Entertainment Weekly, Norton is one of the "greatest sidekicks." Ed worked for the New York City sewer department and described his job as a "Sub-supervisor in the sub-division of the department of subterranean sanitation, I just keep things moving along." He served in the U. S. Navy, and used his G.I. Bill money to pay for typing school, but felt he was unable to work in an office because he hated working in confined spaces. The relatively few scenes set in the Norton apartment showed it to have the same layout as the Kramdens' but more nicely furnished. Though Norton makes the same weekly $62 salary as Ralph (about $555 in 2016 dollars), their higher standard of living might be explained by Norton's freer use of credit; at one point he admits to having 19 charge accounts. Like Ralph, Ed enjoys and is good at bowling and playing pool. Ed is the inspiration for Barney Rubble in The Flintstones. He is also the inspiration behind Yogi Bear (in terms of design, clothing, and mannerisms).
Played most famously by Joyce Randolph; Ed's wife and Alice's best friend. She did not appear in every episode and had a less developed character, though she is shown to be somewhat bossy toward her husband. In one episode, she surprisingly is depicted as a pool hustler. On another episode, Ralph insults Trixie by making a reference to Minsky's (a famous New York City burlesque theater; the original Trixie character was an ex-burlesque dancer). There are a few references to Trixie's burlesque background in the lost episodes (e.g., Norton: "Every night I'd meet her backstage and hand her a rose ... . It was her costume!"). Randolph played Trixie as an ordinary, rather prudish, housewife, complaining to her husband on one occasion when a "fresh" young store clerk called her "sweetie pie." In a 1967 special, Trixie (played by Jane Kean from 1966–1970 and 1976–1978) resentfully denied Ralph's implications that she "worked in burlesque" to which he replied "If the shoe fits, take it off." Trixie is the inspiration for Betty Rubble in The Flintstones.
Elaine Stritch was the first and original Trixie Norton in a Honeymooners sketch with Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, and Pert Kelton. The ex-dancer character was rewritten and recast after just one episode with the more wholesome looking Randolph playing the character as a housewife.
Some of the actors who appeared multiple times on the show include George O. Petrie and Frank Marth as various characters, Ethel Waite Owen as Alice's mother, Zamah Cunningham as apartment building neighbor Mrs. Manicotti, and Cliff Hall as the Raccoon Lodge president.
Ronnie Burns, son of George Burns and Gracie Allen, made a guest appearance as "Wallace" on one episode. On another episode, Ed Norton makes a reference to a co-worker "Nat Birnbaum" (as in "'nat," a three-letter word for bug," says crossword puzzle aficionado Norton). George Burns's real name was Nathan Birnbaum.
The Kramdens and Nortons lived in an apartment house at 328 Chauncey Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York, a nod to the fact that Jackie Gleason lived there after his family moved from his birthplace at 364 Chauncey Street. In the 1955 episode "A Woman's Work is Never Done," the address is referred to as 728 Chauncey Street. The landlord of the apartment house is Mr. Johnson. In the Honeymooners episodes taped from 1967 to 1970, the address of the apartment house changed to 358 Chauncey Street, and the number of the Kramden apartment is 3B. The actual 328 Chauncey Street is located in the Bushwick section of the borough, approximately eight miles northeast of the show's fictional location.
In July 1950, Jackie Gleason took over as the host of Cavalcade of Stars, a variety show that aired on the struggling DuMont Television Network. After the first year, he and his writers Harry Crane and Joe Bigelow developed a sketch that drew upon familiar domestic situations for its material. Based on the popular radio show The Bickersons, Gleason wanted a realistic portrayal of life for a poor husband and wife living in Brooklyn, his home borough. The couple would continually argue, but ultimately show their love for each other. After rejecting titles such as "The Beast," "The Lovers," and "The Couple Next Door," Gleason and his staff settled on "The Honeymooners." Gleason took the role of Ralph Kramden, a blustery bus driver, and he chose veteran comedy movie actress Pert Kelton for the role of Alice Kramden, Ralph's acerbic and long-suffering wife.
"The Honeymooners" made its debut on October 5, 1951, as a six-minute sketch. Ensemble cast member Art Carney made a brief appearance as a police officer who gets hit with flour Ralph had thrown out the window. The tone of these early sketches was much darker than the later series, with Ralph exhibiting extreme bitterness and frustration with his marriage to an equally bitter and argumentative middle-aged woman (Kelton was nine years older than Gleason). 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 later the Nortons when those characters were added—are childless, an issue only occasionally explored, but a condition on which Gleason insisted. Ralph and Alice did legally adopt a baby girl whom they named Ralphina (because he actually wanted a baby boy he could name after himself but fell in love with the baby girl the agency had placed with them). However, the biological mother requested to have her baby returned, and the agency asked whether the Kramdens would be willing to do so even though they were the legal parents. Ralph agreed and stated that they would visit her and she would have a real-life Santa Claus every Christmas. A few later skits had Ralph mistakenly believe for a while that Alice was pregnant.
Early cast additions in later sketches were upstairs neighbors Ed and Trixie Norton. Ed (Carney) was a sewer worker and Ralph's best friend, although his innocent and guileless nature was the source of many arguments between the two. Trixie (maiden name never mentioned), Ed's wife, originally portrayed by Elaine Stritch as a burlesque dancer but was replaced after just one appearance by the more wholesome looking Joyce Randolph. Trixie is a foil to Ed, just as Alice is for Ralph, but derivatively, and almost always off-screen.
Due in part to the colorful array of characters Gleason invented (including the cast of The Honeymooners), Cavalcade of Stars became a huge success for DuMont. It increased its audience share from nine to 25 percent. Gleason's contract with DuMont expired in the summer of 1952, and the financially struggling network (which suffered through ten layoffs from July through October 1953) was unable to re-sign him so he moved on to CBS.
CBS president William S. Paley in July 1952 made sure the cast of the former DuMont ensemble that was becoming The Jackie Gleason Show embarked on a highly successful five-week promotional tour across the United States, performing a variety of musical numbers and sketches (including the popular "Honeymooners"). However, actress Pert Kelton who played Alice Kramden and other roles, was blacklisted at the time and was replaced on the tour by Beulah actress Ginger Jones, who subsequently also was blacklisted (having earlier been named on the Red Channels blacklist) by CBS. All this political maneuvering meant yet another new Alice was needed.
Jones's replacement was Audrey Meadows, known for her work in the 1951 Broadway musical Top Banana and on the Bob and Ray television show. However, before being cast for CBS, Meadows had to overcome Gleason's reservations about her being too attractive to make a credible Alice. To accomplish this, she hired a photographer to come to her apartment early in the morning and take pictures of her wearing no make-up, clad in a torn housecoat, and with her hair undone. When the pictures were delivered to Gleason, he looked at them and said, "That's our Alice." When it was explained who it was, Gleason reportedly said, "Any dame who has a sense of humor like that deserves the job." With the addition of Meadows the now-iconic "Honeymooners" lineup of Gleason, Carney, Meadows, and Randolph was in place.
The rising popularity of The Honeymooners was reflected in its increasing prominence of the sketches as part of The Jackie Gleason Show variety lineup. During the first season, it appeared on a regular basis (although not weekly) as a series of short sketches ranging in length from seven to thirteen minutes. For the 1953–54 season, the shorter sketches were outnumbered by ones that ran for a half-hour or longer. Playing off its growing popularity, during the 1954–55 season most episodes of The Jackie Gleason Show consisted entirely of The Honeymooners. Fan response became overwhelming. Meadows received hundreds of curtains and aprons in the mail from fans who wanted to help Alice lead a fancier life. By January 1955, The Jackie Gleason Show was competing with—and sometimes beating—I Love Lucy as the most-watched TV show in the United States. Audience members lined up around the block hours in advance to attend the show.
The "Classic 39" episodes of The Honeymooners are the ones that originally aired as a weekly half-hour sitcom on CBS from October 1955 to September 1956.
Before Gleason's initial three-year contract with CBS expired, he was offered a much larger one by CBS and General Motors' Buick division (the carmaker having dropped their sponsorship of Milton Berle's Buick-Berle Show after two seasons on NBC). The three-year contract, reportedly valued at $11 million, was at the time one of the largest in show business history. It called for Gleason to produce 78 filmed episodes of The Honeymooners over two seasons, with an option for a third season of 39 more. He was scheduled to receive $65,000 for each episode ($70,000 per episode in the second season), but had to pay all production costs out of that amount. Art Carney received $3,500 per week, Audrey Meadows $2,000, and Joyce Randolph (who did not appear in every episode) $500 per week. Production for The Honeymooners was handled by Jackie Gleason Enterprises Inc., which also produced the show's lead-in, Stage Show, which starred The Dorsey Brothers. Reportedly, only Audrey Meadows, who later became a banker, received residuals when the "Classic 39" episodes were rebroadcast in syndicated reruns. Her brother Edward, a lawyer, had inserted language to that effect into her contract. However, Joyce Randolph, who played Trixie Norton, did receive royalty payments when the "lost" Honeymooners episodes from the variety shows were released.
The first episode of the new half-hour series aired on Saturday, October 1, 1955, at 8.30 pm Eastern Time (during prime time), opposite Ozark Jubilee on ABC and The Perry Como Show on NBC. Because it was sponsored by Buick, the opening credits originally ended with a sponsor identification by announcer Jack Lescoulie ("Brought to you by ... your Buick dealer. And, away we go!"), and the show concluded with a brief Gleason sales pitch for the company, all common practices at the time. However, all references to the carmaker were removed when the show entered syndication in 1957, although "And, away we go!" was a phrase Gleason frequently used in various shows and is inscribed at his gravesite as his memorial catchphrase.
The initial critical reaction to the half-hour sitcom Honeymooners was mixed. The New York Times and Broadcasting & Telecasting Magazine wrote that it was "labored" and lacked the spontaneity of the live sketches. But TV Guide praised it as "rollicking," "slapsticky" and "fast-paced." In February 1956, the show was moved to the 8 p.m. (EST) timeslot, but already had begun losing viewers to the hugely popular Perry Como Show. Gleason's writers also had begun to feel confined by the restrictive half-hour format—in previous seasons, Honeymooners sketches typically ran 35 minutes or more—and Gleason felt they were beginning to run out of original ideas. So, after just one season, Gleason and CBS agreed to cancel The Honeymooners, which aired its 39th and last original episode on September 22, 1956. In explaining his decision to end the show with $7 million remaining on his contract Gleason said, "The excellence of the material could not be maintained, and I had too much fondness for the show to cheapen it. Gleason subsequently sold the films of the "Classic 39" episodes of the show to CBS for $1.5 million.
On September 29, 1956, one week after The Honeymooners ended, The Jackie Gleason Show returned. The "Honeymooners" sketches soon were brought back as part of the revived variety show. In 1959, TV Guide magazine mentioned Gleason's interest in producing new Honeymooners shows. This did not happen for several years, but he did team up with Art Carney to revive an old Honeymooners scene for an October 1960 CBS special called The Big Sell, poking fun at US salespeople.
After the spectacular failure of Gleason's 1961 game show You're in the Picture, and the relative success of the eight-episode talk show that Gleason used to fill its time slot, Gleason's variety show returned in 1962 under the title Jackie Gleason and His American Scene Magazine. The "Honeymooners" sketches returned as part of that show whenever Carney was available. However, Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph were replaced as Alice and Trixie by Sue Ane Langdon and Patricia Wilson, respectively, for two sketches.
In January 1966, Meadows again returned as Alice for a musical special, The Honeymooners: The Adoption, a re-enactment of a 1955 sketch of the same name. When The Jackie Gleason Show (by then based in Miami Beach, FL, where Gleason lived) returned in 1966, the "Honeymooners" sketches, in color for the first time, incredibly returned as a series of elaborate musicals that, in effect, were the equivalent of a new Broadway musical each time. The sketches, which covered 10 of the first season's thirty-two shows, followed a story arc that had the Kramdens and Nortons traveling across Europe after Ralph won a contest (an updated version of a 1957 story arc, with musical numbers added). "The Color Honeymooners," as it has since become known, featured Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean in, respectively, the roles of Alice and Trixie, because Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph declined to relocate to Miami. Gleason raised no objections to that recasting, but was adamant that the Ed Norton role never be played by anyone other than Art Carney. One notable 1967 segment featured the return of Pert Kelton (in one of her last performances before her death in 1968 of heart disease at the age of 61), but this time she played Alice's mother, Mrs. Gibson.
The Honeymooners ended again when The Jackie Gleason Show was canceled in 1970, the result of a disagreement in direction between Gleason and the network. Gleason wanted to continue interspersing "The Honeymooners" within the confines of his regular variety show, while CBS wanted a full-hour "Honeymooners" every week. (CBS's ongoing effort to move its product toward younger audiences and away from established variety show stars was another potential factor in the show's demise.) On October 11, 1973, Gleason, Carney, MacRae and Kean reunited for a "Honeymooners" skit called "Women's Lib" as part of a Gleason special on CBS. In a major move as far as affiliations go, the Kramdens and Nortons were brought back for four final one-hour specials on ABC, which aired from 1976–1978. Alongside Gleason and Carney, Audrey Meadows returned as Alice. Meanwhile Jane Kean continued to play Trixie. (Joyce Randolph, the actress most identified as Trixie, never played the part again after the 1950s.) These four specials came at a time when Gleason and Carney each achieved new-found expanded fame, with Gleason's prominent role in the box office smash Smokey and the Bandit and Carney winning an Academy Award for his leading role in Harry and Tonto, which actually brought some more attention to these series of specials. These were the final original "Honeymooners" productions.
In 1955, many television shows (including The Jackie Gleason Show) were performed live and recorded using kinescope technology, though sitcoms already largely were recorded on film, e.g., The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, My Little Margie, and I Married Joan. I Love Lucy, which was recorded directly onto 35mm film, had influenced television production companies to produce directly on film. For The Honeymooners, Gleason utilized the Electronicam TV-film system, developed by DuMont in the early 1950s, which allowed for a live performance to be directly captured on film. As a result of the superior picture and sound quality afforded by the system, episodes of The Honeymooners were much more suitable for rebroadcast than were most other "live" shows of the era.
All 39 episodes of The Honeymooners were filmed at the DuMont Television Network's Adelphi Theatre at 152 West 54th Street in Manhattan, in front of an audience of 1,000. Episodes never were fully rehearsed because Gleason felt rehearsals would rob the show of its spontaneity. A result was that, while the cast was able to bring a fresh approach to the material, mistakes often were made. Lines either were recited incorrectly or altogether forgotten, and actors did not always follow the scripted action directions. To compensate, the cast developed visual cues for each other. For example, Gleason patted his stomach when he forgot a line, while Meadows would glance at the icebox when someone else was supposed to retrieve something from it.
In contrast to other popular comedies of the era (such as Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet), which depicted their characters in comfortable, middle class suburban environments, the set design for The Honeymooners reflected the blue collar existence of its characters. The Kramdens lived in a small, painfully sparsely furnished two-room apartment (the main set) in a tenement building at least four stories high (the Kramdens were on the third floor and the Nortons' were one floor above them), badly aired and with insufficient lighting. They used the single main room as the kitchen, dining and living room. It consisted of a functional table and chairs, a plain chest of drawers, a curtainless window with a view of a fire escape, a noisy sink, and an outdated icebox. The Kramdens' bedroom never was seen, although in the episode about Ed Norton's sleepwalking the Nortons' bedroom is. One of the few other sitcoms about a blue collar family was The Life of Riley, whose first season (1949–50) had featured Jackie Gleason in the lead role, although veteran movie actor William Bendix, who had originated the role of Chester A. Riley on the radio show, thereafter took over the role on television.
The instrumental theme song for The Honeymooners, called "You're My Greatest Love," was composed by Gleason and performed by an orchestra led by Ray Bloch -- who previously had been the orchestra leader on Gleason's variety show, as well as The Ed Sullivan Show. Although lyrics were composed, they were never sung. Sammy Spear, who later became Gleason's musical director, provided the arrangement. The music heard in the episodes was not performed during the show, so to enhance the feeling of a live performance for the studio audience an orchestra performed before filming and during breaks. The show's original announcer was Jack Lescoulie, who also was a spokesman for the sponsor, Buick. For the non-sponsored syndicated version, the introduction was voiced by CBS staff announcer Gaylord Avery.
Art Carney won five Emmy Awards for his portrayal of Ed Norton—two for the original Jackie Gleason Show, one for The Honeymooners, and two for the final version of The Jackie Gleason Show. He was nominated for another two (in 1957 and 1966) but lost. Gleason and Meadows both were nominated in 1956 for their work on The Honeymooners. Gleason was nominated for Best Actor–Continuing Performance, but lost to Phil Silvers, while Meadows was nominated for Best Actress-Supporting Role but lost to Nanette Fabray. Meadows also was nominated for Emmys for her portrayal of Alice Kramden in 1954 and 1957.
The following table summarizes award wins by cast members, both for The Honeymooners and The Jackie Gleason Show.
|Art Carney||Emmy, Best Series Supporting Actor (1954)||The Jackie Gleason Show|
|Emmy, Best Supporting Actor in a Regular Series (1955)||The Jackie Gleason Show|
|Emmy, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (1956)||The Honeymooners|
|Emmy, Special Classifications of Individual Achievement (1967)||The Jackie Gleason Show|
|Emmy, Special Classification of Individual Achievements (1968)||The Jackie Gleason Show|
|Audrey Meadows||Emmy, Best Supporting Actress in a Regular Series (1955)||The Jackie Gleason Show|
Most of The Honeymooners takes place in Ralph and Alice Kramden's small, sparsely furnished two-room apartment. Other settings used in the show included the Gotham Bus Company depot, the Raccoon Lodge, a neighborhood pool parlor, a park bench where Ralph and Ed occasionally meet for lunch, and on occasion the Nortons' apartment (always noticeably better-furnished than the Kramdens'). Many episodes begin with a shot of Alice in the apartment awaiting Ralph's arrival from work. Most episodes focus on Ralph's and Ed's characters, although Alice played a substantial role. Trixie played a smaller role in the series, and did not appear in every episode as did the other three. Each episode presented a self-contained story, which rarely carried over into a subsequent one. The show employed a number of standard sitcom clichés and plots, particularly those of jealousy, get-rich-quick schemes, and comic misunderstanding.
As to the occasional plot continuations, there were two such sequences—one concerning Ralph being sent to a psychiatrist because of "impatient" behavior during work that resulted in several passengers lodging complaints about his professional demeanor, and one that continued for two sequential shows in which Aunt Ethel visited and Ralph hatched a scheme to marry her off to the neighborhood butcher.
The series presents Ralph as an everyman and an underdog who struggles to make a better life for himself and his wife, but who ultimately fails due to his own shortcomings. He, often along with Ed, devises a number of get-rich-quick schemes, none of which succeed. Ralph would be quick to blame others for his misfortune until it was pointed out to him where he had fallen short. Ralph's anger then would be replaced by short-lived remorse, and he would apologize for his actions. Many of these apologies to Alice ended with Ralph saying in a heartfelt manner, "Baby, you're the greatest," followed by a hug and kiss.
In most episodes, Ralph's short temper got the best of him, leading him to yell at others and to threaten comical physical violence, usually against Alice. Ralph's favorite threats to her were "One of these days ... One of these days ... Pow! right in the kisser!" or to knock her "to the Moon, Alice!" (Sometimes this last threat was simply abbreviated: as "Bang, zoom!") On other occasions, Ralph simply told Alice, "Oh, are you gonna get yours." All of this led to criticism, more than 40 years later, that the show displayed an acceptance of domestic violence. But, Ralph never carried out his threats, and others have pointed out that Alice knew he never would because of their deep love for each other In retaliation, the targets of Ralph's verbal abuse often responded by simply joking about his weight, a common theme throughout the series. Incidentally, Alice never was seen to back down during any of Ralph's tirades.
For the "Classic 39" episodes of The Honeymooners, there was no continuing story arc. Each episode is self-contained. For example, in the series premiere episode "TV Or Not TV," Ralph and Norton buy a television set with the intent to share it. By the next week's show, the set is gone although in later episodes a set is shown in the Nortons' apartment. In the installment "The Baby Sitter," the Kramdens get a telephone, but in the next episode it is gone. And, in the episode, "A Dog's Life," Alice gets a dog from the pound which Ralph tries to return. But, in the end, Ralph finds himself growing to love the dog and decides to keep it along with a few other dogs. However, in the next episode, the dogs are nowhere to be seen and are never referred to again.
Occasionally, references to earlier episodes were made, including to Ralph's various "crazy harebrained schemes" from the lost episodes. Norton's sleepwalking in "The Sleepwalker" was referenced in "Oh My Aching Back." But, it was not until the 1967 "Trip To Europe" shows that a Honeymooners story arc is finally used.
|Day & Time||Preceded by|
|Saturdays at 8:30 pm (October 1, 1955 – February 18, 1956)
Saturdays at 8:00 pm (February 25 – September 22, 1956)
|The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show at 8:00 pm (January 7 – February 18, 1956)
Stage Show at 8:30 pm (April 14 – June 2, 1956/September 22, 1956)
Two for the Money at 8:30 pm (September 8–15, 1956)
|No.||Title||Written by||Original air date|
|1||"TV or Not TV"||Marvin Marx and Walter Stone||October 1, 1955|
Too cheap to pay the full price, Ralph cons Norton into paying for half a TV Set; Ralph fights with Norton over a TV that they share but is in Ralph's apartment. This episode has Ralph doing a double take when Norton watches Captain Video and His Video Rangers!In 1997, TV Guide ranked this episode #26 on its list of the 100 Greatest Episodes.
|2||"Funny Money"||Marvin Marx and Walter Stone||October 8, 1955|
|Ralph finds a suitcase full of money and goes on a spending spree. However, it is revealed that the money is phony, and Ralph is forced to fear for his life, and also having to return everything he got with said money.|
|3||"The Golfer"||A.J. Russell and Herbert Finn||October 15, 1955|
Ralph needs to bone up on becoming a good golfer to impress his boss. This episode is punctuated by a hilarious impromptu golfing lesson in the Kramden apartment, including the classic moment when Norton "addresses the ball."
NOTE: "Addressing the ball" is the term used for placing the club behind the ball in preparation for striking it, in particular with the ball on a tee prior to the first stroke of any hole.In 1996, TV Guide included this episode as part of its '100 Most Memorable Moments in TV History', ranking it #56.
|4||"A Woman's Work Is Never Done"||Marvin Marx and Walter Stone||October 22, 1955|
|Ralph and Alice hire a maid to ease Alice's burden of housework. As Alice sternly tells Ralph, "Man works from sun to sun, but woman's work is never done!"|
|5||"A Matter of Life and Death"||Marvin Marx and Walter Stone||October 29, 1955|
|When he sees the vet's report on his mother-in-law's sick dog, Ralph mistakenly concludes that he has only six months to live.|
|6||"The Sleepwalker"||A.J. Russell and Herbert Finn||November 5, 1955|
|Ralph is forced to deal with a sleepwalking Norton.|
|7||"Better Living Through TV"||Marvin Marx and Walter Stone||November 12, 1955|
Ralph devises a get-rich-quick scheme – selling Handy Housewife Helpers on TV. Features a rare gone-wrong moment when one of the gadgets flies off the handle, forcing Gleason to retrieve it and then ad-lib his way back into the scene. It classically devolves into another one of Ralph's schemes failing royally.In 2009, TV Guide ranked this episode #7 on its list of the 100 Greatest Episodes.
|8||"Pal o' Mine"||Leonard Stern and Sydney Zelinka||November 19, 1955|
|Ralph finds a gift from Norton that he thinks is for him, but when he discovers otherwise, his friendship with Norton is jeopardized. This changes when he finds out Norton was injured in an explosion in the sewer.|
|9||"Brother Ralph"||Marvin Marx and Walter Stone||November 26, 1955|
|Alice is forced to find a job after Ralph is temporarily laid off due to too many buses on Madison Avenue, his route. But to get the job, Alice has to claim that Ralph is her brother, because a lot of employers do not like to hire married women due to their commitments to home and family. Ralph gets jealous when he realizes that Alice's boss is interested in her.|
|10||"Hello, Mom"||Marvin Marx and Walter Stone||December 3, 1955|
Ralph's foul mood is worsened when he finds out that Alice's mother is coming for a visit. The last time she stayed according to him "was Christmas and New Year's, except she came New Year's and stayed 'til Christmas." Later it is revealed in the end that it is his mother coming for a visit.It is revealed that Alice's mother was commenting on Ralph's weight even at their wedding. She said: "I'm not losing a daughter, I'm gaining a ton!"
|11||"The Deciding Vote"||A.J. Russell and Herbert Finn||December 10, 1955|
|Ralph blames Norton when he loses an election for Raccoon Lodge convention manager by one vote, only to find out Norton did vote for him and it was another member who changed his vote because of a defective appliance Ralph convinced him to buy. This episode includes a conspicuous flub in that the lodge member who Ralph told about his vacuum cleaner was introduced to Alice as Joe Muncey, but later spoken of as Joe Rumsey.|
|12||"Something Fishy"||Leonard Stern and Sydney Zelinka||December 17, 1955|
|Ralph and Norton want to go fishing with their fellow lodge members, but without their wives, who, meanwhile, will not stand for such treatment.|
|13||"'Twas the Night Before Christmas"||Marvin Marx and Walter Stone||December 24, 1955|
|Ralph sells his bowling ball to get Alice a last-minute Christmas gift. After the end of this show, Jackie Gleason and the cast wish the audience a Merry Christmas. It is the only time in the series the fourth wall is broken.|
|14||"The Man from Space"||A.J. Russell and Herbert Finn||December 31, 1955|
Ralph wants to attend a costume party as Henry VIII, but is forced to improvise when he cannot get the money to rent the costume. Norton wins the contest when he arrives at the party at the last minute from work in his work gear.Several scenes from this episode are prominently shown in the movie Back to the Future. There is an anachronism, as this episode originally aired on December 31, 1955 and the time frame it was shown in Back to the Future was November 5, 1955. Episode #6 The Sleepwalker would have been on television while the Baines family was eating supper.
|15||"A Matter of Record"||A.J. Russell and Herbert Finn||January 7, 1956|
|The classic "blabbermouth" episode in which Ralph throws out his mother-in-law after she gives away the ending of a new Broadway murder mystery Ralph was about to see. Alice soon follows, leaving Ralph alone in the apartment. In a last-ditch effort to win Alice back, Ralph records a message on record to apologize to Alice and her mother.|
|16||"Oh, My Aching Back"||Leonard Stern and Sydney Zelinka||January 14, 1956|
|Ralph feigns illness to avoid visiting his mother-in-law. Then the pain gets real: he injures his back at bowling.|
|17||"The Baby Sitter"
|Leonard Stern and Sydney Zelinka||January 21, 1956|
|Ralph is furious when Alice has had a telephone installed. Confusion ensues when she secretly starts babysitting to pay for it. In the end, everything gets sorted out - but the telephone does not appear in any of the subsequent episodes.|
|18||"The $99,000 Answer"||Leonard Stern and Sydney Zelinka||January 28, 1956|
Ralph is a contestant on The $99,000 Answer (a spoof of The $64,000 Question) and is determined to go all the way in spite of Alice's concerns. This episode features a running gag of Norton's when he practices the opening bars to Swanee River to warm up. Unfortunately, Ralph flubs the first question, which asks for the composer of that song.In 1997, TV Guide ranked this episode #6 on its list of the 100 Greatest Episodes.
|19||"Ralph Kramden, Inc."||A.J. Russell and Herbert Finn||February 4, 1956|
|When Ralph is $20.00 short on his day's receipts on the bus, he convinces Norton to give him that amount by saying that it is an investment in the imaginary Kramden Corporation. When they learn that Ralph is mentioned in the will of a long-time passenger, they go the reading of the will, expecting to inherit the old lady's fortune.|
|20||"Young at Heart"||Marvin Marx and Walter Stone||February 11, 1956|
Ralph tries to prove to Alice that he can still do all the things he used to do when they were younger.Ronnie Burns makes an appearance in this episode as Wallace.
|21||"A Dog's Life"||Leonard Stern and Sydney Zelinka||February 18, 1956|
|Ralph thinks he has found a great idea for a new food product, not realizing it is actually dog food for the puppy Alice bought behind his back.|
|22||"Here Comes the Bride"||Marvin Marx and Walter Stone||February 25, 1956|
|Ralph nearly ruins the imminent marriage between a fellow Raccoon Lodge member and Alice's sister, Agnes, after he provides some advice to the groom. This episode contains a veiled reference to Willie Mays, who was, by then reaching the peak of his baseball career. Ralph says that, out of habit, Alice's sister caught the bouquet herself. Alice says it was because her foot slipped, to which Ralph responds, "I wish my foot could slip like that, I'd be playing center field for the New York Giants."|
|23||"Mama Loves to Mambo"||Marvin Marx and Walter Stone||March 3, 1956|
|Ralph and Norton are annoyed with a new neighbor, a mambo dance instructor, (Charles Korvin), who is unwittingly winning their wives' hearts – and their cooking time.|
|24||"Please Leave the Premises"||Marvin Marx and Walter Stone||March 10, 1956|
|The Kramdens and the Nortons are at war with the landlord over a rent increase of $5 per month, though the only one who really wants to fight is Ralph.|
|25||"Pardon My Glove"||A.J. Russell and Herbert Finn||March 17, 1956|
|Alice tries to surprise Ralph for his birthday, but her plans are ruined because of his jealousy.|
|26||"Young Man with a Horn"||A.J. Russell and Herbert Finn||March 24, 1956|
In the hopes of securing a civil service job, Ralph tries to improve himself by writing down his good points and bad points, and working on eliminating the bad points.The song that Ralph tries to hit the high note on is "Carnival of Venice".
|27||"Head of the House"||Leonard Stern and Sydney Zelinka||March 31, 1956|
|After boasting that he is the boss of his household, Ralph accepts a bet that he can order Alice to cook a special dinner.|
|28||"The Worry Wart"||Marvin Marx and Walter Stone||April 7, 1956|
|Ralph frets after being summoned to his local IRS office to clear up a mysterious tax problem.|
|29||"Trapped"||Leonard Stern and Sydney Zelinka||April 14, 1956|
|Ralph witnesses an armed robbery and murder. He arrives home a nervous wreck. And for good reason: the killers are after him.|
|30||"The Loudspeaker"||Marvin Marx and Walter Stone||April 21, 1956|
|Thinking he is about to be named Raccoon of the Year, Ralph prepares an acceptance speech. In the end, Alice finds out from the Grand High Exalted Mystic Ruler that the honor is going to Norton.|
|31||"On Stage"||Leonard Stern and Sydney Zelinka||April 28, 1956|
|When Ralph is asked to take the lead in a play, he lets it go to his head.|
|32||"Opportunity Knocks But"||Leonard Stern and Sydney Zelinka||May 5, 1956|
|Ralph gets a chance to impress his boss and earn a promotion, but Norton gets the job instead.|
|33||"Unconventional Behavior"||Marvin Marx and Walter Stone||May 12, 1956|
Ralph and Norton are sure to be a riot at the annual Raccoon convention...if they ever manage to get out of Norton's "trick" handcuffs.In the meantime Norton saves up spending money ($50 in 1955 = $400 in 2017) for the trip, unlike Ralph. So Ralph, in order to get spending money for the trip from Alice, decides to take her along, to Norton's chagrin -- since it means Trixie will force him take her along as well. He finds out too late that Alice had decided to give him the money anyway. When Norton asks him how he gets them into these fixes, Ralph replies that he has a "BIG MOUTH!"
|34||"The Safety Award"||Leonard Stern and Sydney Zelinka||May 19, 1956|
|Ralph wins an award as the safest bus driver in the city, but a series of mishaps, disagreements, and even an accident on the way to the award ceremony haunt his every step.|
|35||"Mind Your Own Business"||Leonard Stern and Sydney Zelinka||May 26, 1956|
|When Norton loses his job in the sewer after listening to advice from Ralph on how to obtain a promotion, he starts selling steam irons door-to-door. Ralph, convinced of Norton's success, wants to do the same.|
|36||"Alice and the Blonde"||Leonard Stern and Sydney Zelinka||June 2, 1956|
|Alice and Trixie feel unappreciated after being ignored by Ralph and Ed. A rare flub in the dialog consists of Alice asking who Bert Wedermeyer is after Ralph mentions Bert Wedermauer.|
|37||"The Bensonhurst Bomber"||Marvin Marx and Walter Stone||September 8, 1956|
|Ralph (with Norton's help) inadvertently challenges a tough guy to a boxing match. After scheming with Norton to make the tough guy think that Ralph really can clobber him, a classic trick ending ensues.|
|38||"Dial J for Janitor"||A.J. Russell and Herbert Finn||September 15, 1956|
|Ralph decides to save some money and avoid a feud with the landlord by becoming the new building janitor, but quickly finds out there is more to the job than he thought.|
|39||"A Man's Pride"||Leonard Stern and Sydney Zelinka||September 22, 1956|
|When Ralph runs into one of Alice's old boyfriends, he pretends that he runs the Gotham Bus Company to impress him. Another scheme collapses when the Kramdens and the Davises go to dinner in a fancy restaurant.|
The Honeymooners gained its greatest fame in syndication, where it has aired continually since its original cancellation. WPIX in New York City has aired the series for more than five decades (after initially running in 1957–1958 on WRCA-TV, which now is WNBC), with occasional brief breaks. It regularly airs on WPIX with a marathon that begins on the final hour of New Year's Eve and runs well into New Year's Day. In the United Kingdom it originally aired on ITV between 1958–1963. BBC Two aired 38 of the original 39 episodes beginning in 1989 and ending in 1991. The show also has aired in Australia, Iran, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, and Suriname. It previously was seen on WGN America from June 2008 to September 2009 and on Me-TV from December 2010 to September 2011. In April 2012, the show returned to Me-TV. The show currently airs on the network on Sunday nights.
In 1984, the Museum of Television and Radio announced the "discovery" of four original Honeymooners sketches from the original series The Jackie Gleason Show. Later, when they held a public viewing for three of them the response was overwhelmingly positive. In January 1985, Gleason announced the release of an additional group of "lost" episodes from his private vault. As with the previously released sketches, these "lost episodes" actually were kinescopes of sketches from the 1952–55, 1956–57 run of The Jackie Gleason Show. (Kinescopes were recordings of TV programs on motion picture film, shot directly through a lens focused on the screen of a video monitor.) Because the prints had not been stored under ideal conditions, parts of the soundtracks of three episodes were unusable, and the voices had to be redubbed. Gleason personally approved the soundalike actors, with noted voice actor Joe Alaskey—Joseph Francis Alaskey III (1952–2016), a native of Troy, NY—providing Kramden's lines.
Gleason sold the broadcast rights to the so-called "lost" episodes to Viacom, and they first were aired from 1985–1986 as a series of sixty-eight 22-minute episodes on the Showtime cable network. They since have joined the original 39 episodes in syndication, and also have been released on VHS and DVD. In September 2004, another "lost" episode reportedly was discovered at the Peabody Award archives in Georgia. This episode, titled "Love Letter," originally aired on The Jackie Gleason Show on October 16, 1954. It aired for the first time since then on October 16, 2004, its 50th anniversary, on TVLand. CBS Television Distribution (the modern-day successor to Viacom), via CBS Broadcasting, owns the "Classic 39" series outright, while the Gleason estate owns the "lost episodes" (although CTD does distribute them).
Paramount Home Entertainment/CBS DVD released the six-disc DVD box set The Honeymooners "Classic 39" Episodes in November 2003 (only available in Region 1). The set contains all 39 episodes from the series' original 1955–56 broadcast run. Also included in the set is an edited version of a 1990 anniversary special hosted by Audrey Meadows, as well as original show openings and closings sponsored by Buick that were removed when the show went into syndication.
MPI Home Video released 80 of the "lost episodes" in Region 1 DVD format during 2001–02, spread out on 24 single-disc volumes. MPI subsequently re-packaged the 24 volumes into six 4-disc box sets. Both the 24 individual volumes and the six 4-disc box sets went out of print during the course of 2008. However, MPI has since renewed its deal with Jackie Gleason Enterprises LLC and has continued to release new editions of the "lost episodes" and other Honeymooners material not currently owned by CBS. On July 28, 2011, MPI Home Video announced the release of a complete restored set of all existing Honeymooners Lost Episodes from 1951 to 1957. The 50-hour, 15 DVD set would contain 107 Honeymooners sketches, included the home video debut of the nine existing original DuMont Network sketches, six other sketches never before released on home video and the eight musical Honeymooners episodes from 1957, which are collectively known as the "Trip To Europe" shows that have been long sought after by Honeymooners fans. The new restored set of Lost Episodes was released on Oct. 4, 2011, sixty years after the first Honeymooners sketch aired.
|DVD name||Ep #||Release date|
|The Honeymooners – Lost Episodes Collection 1||13||October 30, 2001|
|The Honeymooners – Lost Episodes Collection 2||13||October 30, 2001|
|The Honeymooners – Lost Episodes Collection 3||15||January 29, 2002|
|The Honeymooners – Lost Episodes Collection 4||15||March 26, 2002|
|The Honeymooners – Lost Episodes Collection 5||12||June 25, 2002|
|The Honeymooners – Lost Episodes Collection 6||12||August 27, 2002|
|The Honeymooners – Lost Episodes: The Complete Restored Series||107||October 4, 2011|
In June 2006, MPI Home Video released The Color Honeymooners – Collection 1 (NTSC and PAL), which collects the "Trip to Europe" story arc presented on The Jackie Gleason Show in 1966. It has since released an additional three volumes featuring additional episodes from this story arc. AmericanLife TV Network has also aired The Color Honeymooners shows under license from Gleason Enterprises and Paul Brownstein Television.
|DVD name||Ep #||Release date|
|The Color Honeymooners – Collection 1||9||June 27, 2006|
|The Color Honeymooners – Collection 2||8||February 26, 2008|
|The Color Honeymooners – Collection 3||12||May 27, 2008|
|The Color Honeymooners – Collection 4||12||August 26, 2008|
Steven Sheehan explains the popularity of The Honeymooners as the embodiment of working-class masculinity in the character of Ralph Kramden, and postwar ideals in American society regarding work, housing, consumerism, and consumer satisfaction. The series visually demonstrated the burdens of material obligations and participation in consumer culture, as well as the common use of threats -- even though The Honeymooners never showed or even hinted at actual violence -- of domestic violence in working class households.
Due to its enduring popularity, The Honeymooners has been referenced numerous times in American pop culture, and has served as the inspiration for other television shows, notably The Flintstones. The show also introduced memorable catchphrases into American culture, such as "Bang, zoom, straight to the moon!", "One of these days ... one of these days ...," "Homina, homina, homina," and "Baby, you're the greatest".
In 1960, the Hanna-Barbera-produced animated sitcom The Flintstones debuted on ABC. Many critics and viewers noted the close resemblance of that show's premise and characters to that of The Honeymooners. In various interviews over the years, co-creators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera each stated that The Honeymooners was used as a basis for the concept of The Flintstones. Mel Blanc, the voice of Barney Rubble, was asked to model Barney's voice after Ed Norton, but reportedly refused. Gleason later said that he considered suing, but decided that becoming known as "the guy who yanked Fred Flintstone off the air" was not worth the negative publicity.
The success of The Honeymooners in countries outside the United States has led to the production of new shows based entirely on it.
Two series, 26 episodes in all were made for R.C.T.I. in 1996. It was the first sitcom of that style ever attempted in Indonesia. It was entitled Detak Detik and starred Mat Sola as the Jackie Gleason character. Art Carney rang the cast prior to production to give them his best wishes. It was decided to make Mat Sola a Silver Bird taxi driver, as they had a bit more prestige in Indonesia. They left Nurbuat, who mirrored Ed Norton, as a sewerage worker. The chemistry worked well. The series had to remove any references to alcohol, as Indonesia is a country with a Muslim majority population.
French Canada was entertained for years in the 1960s and '70s by a sitcom titled Cré Basile, with Olivier Guimond, Béatrice Picard, Denis Drouin and Amulette Garneau, which was an uncredited Quebecois version of The Honeymooners. It could, by contemporary standards, qualify as plagiarism.
In 1994, the Dutch broadcasting network KRO produced a version of The Honeymooners titled Toen Was Geluk Heel Gewoon ([Back] then happiness was very normal), using translated scripts of the original series but changing its setting to 1950s Rotterdam. After the original 39 scripts were exhausted, the series' lead actors, Gerard Cox and Sjoerd Pleijsier, took over writing, adding many new characters and references to Dutch history and popular culture. The series was a hit in the Netherlands and it finished its run after 16 years and 229 episodes in June 2009. The actors reprised their characters five years later in a feature-length movie.
In 1994, the Swedish network TV4 produced a version of The Honeymooners titled Rena Rama Rolf, but changing its setting to modern-day Gothenburg, where Rolf (Ralph) is working as a streetcar driver. The show ran until 1998.
In 1998, the Polish network Polsat produced a version of The Honeymooners titled Miodowe lata which translates to "Honeymoon years", using both translated scripts of the original series and new ones, but changing its setting to modern-day Warsaw. The original series ran until 2003 and was continued in 2004 as Całkiem nowe lata miodowe.
On June 10, 2005, a feature film remake of The Honeymooners was released, featuring a predominantly African American cast. The roles of Ralph, Alice, Ed, and Trixie were played by Cedric the Entertainer, Gabrielle Union, Mike Epps, and Regina Hall, respectively. The movie was a critical and commercial failure, earning slightly more than US$13 million worldwide. The film was released by Paramount Pictures.
In 1988, First Row Software released a Honeymooners computer game for the Commodore 64 and DOS systems. The game involves the Kramdens and Nortons trying to earn $223 for train fare to Miami Beach, where Ralph wants to host the annual Raccoon Lodge convention, by playing a variety of mini-games related to the series. Additionally, players have the option of trying to double their money after each round by answering a Honeymooners-related question in a bonus round based on "The $99,000 Answer" episode.
It was announced in December 2016 that CBS will develop a reboot of The Honeymooners with Bob Kushell writing and executive producing the series along with Sarah Timberman, Carl Beverly, Eric & Kim Tannenbaum, and Jeff Greenstein.
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