The Honeymooners

1955 | United States

One of the USA's most fondly remembered shows which began life as short sketches on DuMont's Cavalcade of Stars with Jackie Gleason appearing as abrasive NY bus driver Ralph Kramden and Pert Kelton as his wife Alice. 

The characters also featured in The Jackie Gleason Show before becoming a twenty-five minute sitcom that is still seen in re-runs over fifty years on. Going out live with little rehearsal (apparently Gleason preferred it that way), and surrounded by painted cardboard sets with the only apartment doors in the world that opened outwards, the series took place almost entirely within the confines of those four walls at 328 Chauncey Street, Brooklyn, NY. 

Although Ralph and Alice (now played by Audrey Meadows) were always at loggerheads with each other, every show finished with them kissing and making up. Upstairs lived their neighbours and Ralph's best friend, sewer cleaner Ed Norton (Art Carney), and his wife Trixie. The series focused on the frustrations of the working classes as depicted through the characters as they tried desperately to maintain a modest standard of living on the little money they had, and as a result it became an instant hit in the USA. The Buick Motor Company backed it to the tune of $6 million, which at that time was the largest sponsorship deal in television history. 

The series ran from 1949 to 1954 and was revived in 1966 for part of Gleason's variety specials, then in the 1980's a collection of the original skits from 'Dumont's' and The Jackie Gleason Show were discovered in the basement of Gleason's home and were edited together to create a new series of half hour shows. The ultimate tribute to the show, however, was Hanna-Barbera's cartoon series The Flinstones, which unashamedly copied the characters and situations and placed them in a prehistoric setting. 

Inexplicably, The Honeymooners never really made much impact in the UK receiving only two airings in 1958 (ITV) and 1987 (BBC2). Gleason (real name Herbert John Gleason), who had first come to the attention of the TV watching public in a 1949 show called Life of Riley, passed away in 1987 after a long illness. Although very much of its time The Honeymooners boasted top class performances by an expert cast entirely at ease with their characters. Brashly funny and innocent in the way so beloved of US sitcoms of the day. Nevertheless beneath the laughter lay a solid core of perceptively disguised social comments which raised the show above the normal level of simple knockabout fun. 

Published on December 21st, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.

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