“Bang! Zoom!” “To the moon, Alice.” “Why I oughta!” “Pow, right in the kisser!” These are phrases that fans of The Honeymooners all know and love, more specifically, phrases that were spoken by the iconic character Ralph Kramden.
Things You Never Knew About The Honeymooners
Since the show marathons every New Year, it may seem like it’s easy to know every nook and cranny of every plot point of all 39 episodes of the ill-fated comedy show. That said, there’s still plenty of shocking facts that paint the show in a unique way. From behind-the-scenes trivia to scandals, these little-known facts will open anyone’s eyes about the revered sitcom.
The Honeymooners Wasn’t Where He Started
Most don’t know that The Honeymooners got its humble beginnings (see: whacky hijinks) from a recurring sketch that ran between 1951 and 1955, and then again in 1961 as a reboot of sorts.
The Jackie Gleason Show was a variety show, which showcased Jackie Gleason’s superb comedic talents. It was during the variety show, where he tested out his most memorable character, Brooklynite Ralph Kramden. Like The Honeymooners, the variety show was filmed in front of a live audience, as part of the DuMont network. The network featured all of Gleason’s shows including The Honeymooners, Cavalcade of Stars, and American Scene Magazine.
The Honeymooners Only Got 39 Episodes
The Honeymooners is one of the most well-known sitcoms in the history of American television. Every year more fans come on board, quoting lines from the whacky hijinks of Ralph, Ed, Alice, and Trixie. But, you might be shocked to hear that the show wasn’t a success when it aired from 1955 to 1956.
The show only lasted a year. At first, the show seemed to be a hit, as it did really well in the ratings, and then, as shows tend to do, dropped off to #19, and was shortly canceled, only producing a total of 39 episodes. Despite that, Art Carney won an Emmy for the show for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
The Running Improv Joke
Actor and creator of The Honeymooners, Jackie Gleason, was huge on improv. He was so big on it that his legacy is still honored at popular improv comedy clubs. When it came to The Honeymooners, he embraced improv, especially because it was filmed in front of a live audience.
That said, one little-known secret about the improvisation that went on in The Honeymooners had little to do with Gleason himself. Actor Art Carney, who played Ed Norton, the lovable goofball and sidekick to ornery Ralph Kramden had a running improv of his own. When the character would sign a document, the actor always waved his arms and made elaborate hand gestures. For the actor, it was a way to honor his father who did the same thing.
Gleason, Where Are You?!
Jackie Gleason came from improv beginnings, and so that meant he was famous for hating the rehearsal process. Gleason refused to rehearse, because like with improv, he wanted the spontaneity of a moment to flourish within a scene. Because Gleason almost never rehearsed for the sitcom, it proved to be difficult for the other actors since it was filmed in front of a live audience.
It’s said that there were creative differences over Gleason’s love of improv, as some of the other actors on the show didn’t exactly see it from Gleason’s perspective. Because Gleason ducked out of rehearsals for The Honeymooners, the others would read his lines during their own rehearsals so they would be prepared for their scenes.
Audrey Meadows Swapped Places
Audrey Meadows made the role of Alice Kramden iconic. Fans know and love her for playing opposite to Jackie Gleason’s bigger than life Ralph Kramden, so here’s something that will completely blow your mind. Meadows wasn’t the original Alice Kramden.
While Meadows’ image is famous for sharing the screen with Gleason, it was a different actress that had the part. In the original sketch, actress Pert Kelton had the role as part of The Jackie Gleason Show, but had to leave the role due to “health problems.” Later on, it came out that the actress was blacklisted by the industry. When Meadows was asked who would be suitable, she named a few actresses, and then finally, when none seemed to fit she suggested herself for the role.
Fight For What You Want
Once Meadows suggested herself, it would seem like a no-brainer to put her alongside Jackie Gleason, but you would be shocked to find out that originally Gleason rejected Meadows. Originally, Gleason was adamant that Audrey Meadows couldn’t have the role of Alice because she was “too young” and “too pretty” to portray his wife.
Something that comedian and actor Adam Sandler would probably balk at! To convince Gleason to give her a chance, Meadows had a photographer set up shop at her house the next day, and posed for the camera, without a stitch of makeup on. She also did her hair up to make herself look like the quintessential 1950s housewife. When Gleason saw the photos he said, “That’s Alice!”
The Old Belly Trick
There’s something to be said about being prepared for a scene, but when it comes to some actors, they know how to make the most out of the unpredictable. While Jackie Gleason didn’t come to work prepared in the traditional sense, he was prepared to expect the unexpected.
Due to the fact that he didn’t like to rehearse his lines, this made it easy for the actor to forget his lines. Instead of stammering on set, or allowing for a long pause for awkward moments, Gleason used this as an opportunity to add to his character’s idiosyncrasies. Every time you see Gleason pat his belly on The Honeymooners, odds are is he forgot a line. The actor did this whenever he couldn’t remember Ralph’s lines.
Wild Fan Mail
TV is all about creating an illusion, and back in the 1950s characters never broke the fourth wall or spoke to the audiences. Press was limited to promote the show, so this jived well with creating a realistic atmosphere, but according to trivia, it was a little too realistic for some. When audiences tuned into The Honeymooners, some people thought they were being invited into the home of a real family, which meant for some strange fan mail.
Fan mail consisted of household items that fans thought Alice needed in her home. It’s said that fans sent these items because they wanted the character to have “nice things” for her home. In some cases, fans sent the Krandens money, too! No word on whether or not the studio kept these items or the money.
Ed Norton Not An Original?
Although no one can imagine Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden without Art Carney’s Ed Norton character, as they were the original buddy duo that we know so well in film and TV, there was once a time where Kramden was without his bumbling sidekick.
Ed Norton wasn’t in the original sketch in The Honeymooners that was originally featured on The Jackie Gleason Show. That said, that doesn’t mean Carney wasn’t a familiar face when the show was launched. Although Ed wasn’t introduced until the television show went live in front of an audience, Carney still appeared in the original sketch. The actor played the role of a neighborhood officer.
Pumping Out Two A Week
As far as content goes, Jackie Gleason knew how to keep things rolling. Because he came from a sketch comedy background, Gleason knew how to run at neck break speed, which meant that he could perform his energetic wise-cracking character double the amount than his colleagues.
Back in the 1950s, most shows filmed an episode a week, but The Honeymooners filmed two episodes a week. That wasn’t the only innovative filming technique that The Honeymooners did. Instead of filming on a sound stage, the whole production filmed at the Adelphi Theater. You would never know it just by looking at how well the “set” looked.
Elaine Stritch Was Originally Trixie
The character of Trixie Norton, the wife of Ed Norton, wasn’t originally played by Joyce Randolph. The biggest shocker yet is that the character of Trixie Norton was actually played by actress and comedian Elaine Stritch. Stritch played the role as part of the DuMont networks sketch of The Honeymooners.
While Gleason did like the original actress that portrayed Alice, it’s said that the actor did not like Elaine Stritch in the role of Trixie, and the role was recast and eventually given to Joyce Randolph. Fortunately for Elaine Stritch, she went on to become a huge success in the industry.
Jackie Gleason Couldn’t Lay Off The Booze
The most scandalous tidbit to come out of The Honeymooners was Jackie Gleason’s behavior “on set.” According to actress Joyce Randolph, it wasn’t an easy time working with the comedy legend. In addition to never rehearsing, which caused her to break out in “cold sweats” while acting, Randolph said that Gleason was “terribly moody.”
Elaborating, Randolph said that one day he would be “fun and charming” and the next, “he’d be barking out orders as if he hated everyone!” While she didn’t gossip about his drinking habit, she did admit that his favorite drink of coffee with whiskey “affected his moods.”
Did You Think They Were BFFs?
Another shocker from the “set” of The Honeymooners is the not-so-friendly relationship between Jackie Gleason and Art Carney. While the two were buddies on television and seemed to have flawless chemistry together as Ralph and Ed, the two didn’t get along.
Rumor has it that Gleason might have been jealous of Carney’s illustrious acting career. On the other end of things, it was said that Carney didn’t like Gleason because he didn’t think the comedian took his craft seriously. The two butted heads so often that after the show ended, they vowed never to work together again.
Audrey Meadows Brought In The Big Bucks
As far as syndication goes, these days, once a show goes into syndication, the whole cast makes money every time an episode runs as a “repeat.” In the case of The Honeymooners, that wasn’t the case. In fact, the only cast member that received residuals for the repeat episodes was none other than Alice Kramden (Audrey Meadows.)
At the time, getting paid for a syndicated show was unheard of, because repeats didn’t exist, so no one thought to make a deal for residuals. That said, Meadows’ manager was very business savvy and decided to strike a deal. Many people think that this deal, in particular, set the precedent in the history of actors getting paid for repeats.
“Bang! Zoom!” Was Never In The Script
Ralph Kramden’s popular phrase”Bang! Zoom!” might have been a saying that became synonymous with The Honeymooners, but that phrase was never written into any of the scripts. Due to Jackie Gleason’s stellar improv skills, he always came up with the “Bang! Zoom!” phrase, and would insert it spontaneously when he thought the moment called for it.
The phrase cracked up audiences and became one of those phrases that viewers repeated for decades to come. Additionally, another famous phrase, “Pow! Right in the kisser!” was repeated just once in all 39 episodes, but that also became synonymous with the show.
The Honeymooners’ Influence
Despite the show’s ill-fated single season, The Honeymooners, went on to become a huge influence on television shows to come. One of those shows is the animated television show The Flinstones, which became an iconic series in its own right. The Flinstones took a few formulas that were invented by The Honeymooners.
Fred was believed to be the Ralph Kramden character, a working man, who was boisterous in personality and ruled the roost at home, while his bumbling friend Barney was said to be the Ed Norton character. There were so many similarities that at one point, Jackie Gleason thought about suing the show, but ultimately decided not to. Another show to take a page from Gleason’s book was the sitcom King of Queens.
Art Imitated Reality
When it came to The Honeymooners, sometimes art imitated reality. Since the show was so close to Jackie Gleason’s heart, and it was developed by the man himself, he brought little touches that called back to his childhood.
One little-known fact is that the address of the Kramden’s home (328 Chauncey Street in Brooklyn, New York) was the actual address of Gleason’s childhood apartment where he grew up. It’s said that the actual address is located in Bushwick. Odds are if the character of Ralph Kramden was living today, he wouldn’t have any patience for all the hipsters living in the area currently.
Jackie Gleason Canned The Show
It’s not often that the creator pulls the plug on his own show, but after the first season, Jackie Gleason had other plans. Although the ratings for The Honeymooners weren’t exactly encouraging, the executives, CBS and Buick, which was the show’s sponsor, wanted to push for a second season of the sitcom.
Unfortunately, Gleason didn’t think the quality was there, or that they could sustain the show for a second season, because of the writing. This is a peculiar tidbit, given the actor’s disdain for the written word in general. Who knows? If The Honeymooners would’ve gone on for a second season, it might not have been the timeless hit that it is today.
Define Too Racy
It’s said that one of Jackie Gleason’s bits in the earlier years of The Honeymooners sketch had to be omitted for the television show. Gleason had a running gag that included a swipe at the character Trixie. One of those insults included a call back to Trixie’s days as a burlesque dancer.
This was considered too racy for television, so instead of saying “burlesque dancer,” Gleason had no choice but to change it to “dancer,” which really didn’t have the same zing as the original line, but it made the people in suits happy, and when you have Buick as a sponsor, that counts for something.
The Honeymooners Returned…Sort Of
Although the show ended after one season, The Honeymooners characters didn’t die on stage at the Adelphi Theater. After The Honeymooners, went off the air, Jackie Gleason still had a job and a vision for these characters, and he was asked to bring them back as part of The Jackie Gleason Show, a revived version of the 1952 variety show that he was known for.
Carney and Gleason revived the characters, but the actresses in the roles of Alice and Trixie were recast with Sue Ane Langdon and Patricia Wilson. It didn’t last long, as there were only two Honeymooners sketches on the show.