20 Secrets About The Honeymooners That Reveal What Really Happened When The Cameras Stopped Rolling

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The Honeymooners may have only lasted a single season as a half-hour sitcom. But as one of the first U.S. comedies to shine the spotlight on the underbelly of the working class, it remains a pivotal show in TV history. Here’s a look at 20 things you may not know about Jackie Gleason’s ground-breaking creation.

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20. Gleason banned rehearsals

Due to Gleason’s background in improvisational and sketch comedy, he liked to keep things as fresh as possible while filming The Honeymooners. In stark contrast to most sitcoms, he banned the cast from rehearsing together and allowed only a single run-through of the script. The comedian wanted the crew to hear the gags at the same time as the audience.

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However, the cast didn’t always adhere to Gleason’s rule. They would often meet up secretly to run through the script together. As a result, when it came to the taping, actors Art Carney, Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph would be far more familiar with all the gags than the man who actually created the show.

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19. Gleason would pat his belly every time he forgot a line

Gleason, then, was less prepared than his fully rehearsed co-stars. Which mean he was inevitably the cast member who forgot his lines the most. The comedian, however, didn’t panic when suffering brain-freeze. In fact, he had a very novel method of dealing with any resulting awkwardness that left audiences none the wiser.

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While other actors would pause for thought or stammer their way through a line, Gleason simply rubbed his belly. As well as adding to Ralph’s list of quirks, this tactic also gave the actor time to think about his next words. And somehow he managed to get away with it throughout the entire season.

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18. Several bloopers were reworked into storylines

Gleason’s dislike of rehearsals and retakes meant that when an actor made a mistake it was usually left in the final cut. Because of their improv background, many cast members were able to cleverly work their blooper into the episode’s plotline. The most famous example of this came during the episode “Better Living Through Television.”

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In the episode, Norton and Ralph are busy getting ready for an infomercial showing off their Handy Housewife Helper. Unfortunately, and unintentionally, their creation falls apart and a blade goes flying through the studio. A quick-thinking Gleason simply leaves his mark to retrieve the blade before ad-libbing a joke about spear-fishing.

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17. The Bang! Zoom! catchphrase was never in the script

The cast’s ability to improvise on the spot also ended up producing one of the show’s most celebrated catchphrases. Ralph was famous for uttering “Bang! Zoom!” throughout its 39 episodes. But this zinger was never actually in the script. Gleason simply threw it in there whenever he felt it was appropriate.

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Gleason’s spontaneous remark quickly became one of Ralph’s trademark sayings, as did the now politically incorrect “Pow! Right in the kisser.” However, despite being inextricably linked with The Honeymooners, the latter was barely uttered during its single season run. In fact, Ralph only said the phrase on two occasions.

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16. Art Carney’s dad inspired Ed Norton’s mannerisms

Famed for gesturing wildly before undertaking any task, no matter how basic, Ralph’s best friend Ed Norton was played by Art Carney. And the actor didn’t have to look too far for inspiration on how to play the character. He simply replicated the animated behavior of his real-life father.

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Carney’s dad apparently couldn’t even sign a school report card without first carrying out a series of inessential tasks. For example, he’d move his desk lamp, double-check the pen was working and ensure that the paper was perfectly aligned. The actor’s imitation proved so popular with viewers that Gleason requested the actor go even bigger with his wild body language.

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15. Elaine Stritch was the first Trixie

Elaine Stritch was renowned for her force-of-nature personality, sharp sense of humor and love of a good old gossip. As a result, she carved out a Hollywood career that lasted an astonishing six decades. She didn’t, however, always fit the bill. In fact, after just a single appearance in The Honeymooners, Gleason gave her the boot.

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Stritch was the first actress to assume the character of Trixie in the classic sitcom. But Gleason had difficulty accepting the future icon in the role. After filming the pilot episode, the creator decided that he’d made a mistake in the casting process. He then gave Joyce Randolph the chance to make the part her own.

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14. The Kramdens address was the same as Gleason’s childhood home

Gleason certainly wasn’t afraid to get sentimental when it came to building the small, ramshackle world of The Honeymooners. The comedian would regularly add a personal touch to proceedings, often throwing a nod to his roots. One of the most notable childhood references is the home address of the Kramdens.

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Yes, Gleason grew up in an apartment on 328 Chauncey Street in the New York City neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn. And so the creator decided to give his character, Ralph, and wife, Alice, exactly the same address. The comedian also took inspiration from his childhood home for the Kramdens’ décor.

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13. Fans bought the characters items for the home

The Honeymooners set itself apart from other sitcoms of the 1950s by featuring a more rundown and sparse setting. Some of the show’s more ardent fans, however, believed that the Kramdens deserved the finer things in life. As a result, they began sending in gifts to Alice, a.k.a. Audrey Meadows, to help spruce up their apartment.

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Aprons and pairs of curtains were just two of the items Meadows received in the mail. And the fans’ dedication didn’t end there. Some of the show’s most devoted viewers even formed a club named R.A.L.P.H., which stands for Royal Association for the Longevity and Preservation of The Honeymooners.

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12. The Honeymooners once had to censor a joke

The show may have been regarded as grittier than many of the other upper-middle class sitcoms beaming into viewers’ homes at the time. However, even The Honeymooners could only go so far. On one occasion, in fact, Gleason was forced to rewrite a risqué joke to avoid upsetting the censors.

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The gag in question involved a reference to Trixie’s burlesque dancer past. TV bosses believed that simply saying the word “burlesque” was far too suggestive for a prime-time audience. Gleason was left with no option but to omit the word from the final broadcast in order to keep the men in suits on his side.

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11. There was a Honeymooners reunion on Gleason’s sketch show

The Honeymooners may have been taken off air after just one season, but that wasn’t the last we ever saw of its characters. There were four specials screened on ABC in the late 1970s. And the cast also returned to their sketch show roots for appearances on Jackie Gleason’s eponymous hit.

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However, both Trixie and Alice were portrayed by other actors for the skits on The Jackie Gleason Show. Sheila MacRae and Sue Ane Langdon both enjoyed stints as the latter, while Jane Kean and Patricia Wilson shared the role of the former. Gleason reportedly wouldn’t allow anyone but Carney to play Ralph’s best friend Norton.

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10. It almost beat I Love Lucy in the ratings

I Love Lucy was the jewel in American TV’s crown for the first half of the 1950s. The vehicle for comedic icon Lucille Ball once pulled in an astonishing 44 million viewers, 72 percent of American TV owning-households, for one particular episode. However, it was very nearly dethroned in the ratings by a much less glamorous sitcom.

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Yes, in its early stages The Honeymooners often gave Ball and co. a run for their money when it came to attracting American viewers. However, its success proved to be short-lived. NBC cannily repositioned The Perry Como Show to the same timeslot as Gleason’s CBS sitcom. The move saw The Honeymooners sink from number two in the Nielsen ratings all the way down to number 19.

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9. The original Alice was blacklisted

The Honeymooners’ cast underwent a second significant change just seven episodes in to the season. Pert Kelton had initially taken on the role of Alice Kramden, but she soon departed citing health problems. However, this wasn’t the real reason behind her sharp exit. The actor had found herself blacklisted when her husband was labeled a Communist.

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All the drama began when it emerged that Kelton’s other half, Ralph Bell, had sponsored an advertisement that appeared in The Daily Worker. This was a newspaper deemed to be a voice of the United States’ Communist Party. Despite the best efforts of Gleason to keep his co-star in employment, she was essentially found guilty by association.

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8. Audrey Meadows was considered too pretty to play Alice

Following Kelton’s shock departure, Gleason was forced to quickly look elsewhere for his new Alice. However, he initially turned down the actor who would go on to successfully inhabit the character. The comedian believed that Audrey Meadows was both too pretty and too young to play his long-suffering wife.

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However, a determined Meadows didn’t give up. After being rejected, she hired a photographer to take some less glamorous shots of her, sans makeup, sporting ripped clothing and messy hair. The actors’ quick-thinking worked and Gleason, without realizing who the images were of, gave her the job.

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7. Meadows was the only cast member to receive residual payments

Meadows certainly appeared to be the most financially astute member of The Honeymooners cast. Thanks to some guidance from her lawyer brothers and her manager, the actor managed to negotiate a different contract to the rest of her co-stars. And this meant that she would be paid residuals for the sitcom throughout her entire life.

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With impressive foresight, Meadows’ manager recognized that The Honeymooners was likely to be re-run long after it came to an end. The studio behind the sitcom, however, didn’t have as much faith and so happily agreed to pay Meadows royalties should it enter syndication. Her manager’s intuition and the studio’s naivety ensured that the actor was still receiving money for her performances four decades later.

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6. Gleason nearly sued Hanna-Barbera

At the turn of the 1960s a different kind of sitcom debuted on American prime-time television, animated show The Flintstones. But Gleason soon noticed that its characters, Fred, Barney, Betty and Wilma, shared several similarities with The Honeymooners’ central gang. The comedian even thought about filing a lawsuit against the cartoon’s creators, Hanna-Barbera. However, he was deterred when asked by his publicist, “Do you want to go down in history as the man who killed Fred Flintstone?”

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Just four years previously, another animated copycat had caught the comedian’s attention. The Honey-Mousers was a Warner Bros. short featuring characters named Ned Morton and Ralph Krumden. But instead of threatening legal action as he did with The Flintstones, a flattered Gleason told the studio they could produce as many shorts as they liked.

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5. Gleason admitted he soon ran out of ideas

The sitcom world could learn a lot from Jackie Gleason. Where many comedies continue to run long after their natural expiration date, The Honeymooners’ creator realized that he’d already done his best work after a single season. Instead of flogging a dead horse, the comedian decided to quit while he was ahead.

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Of course, there’s a chance that The Honeymooners would have been taken off air regardless of Gleason’s honesty. The show had nosedived in the ratings and its home network, CBS, was apparently preparing for a cancellation before it slipped down even further. Nevertheless, you have to admire the comedian for admitting that his writing team had exhausted all avenues.

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4. Gleason’s drinking caused problems on set

It doesn’t appear as though Gleason was the easiest boss to work for. As well as cutting out any rehearsal time, the show’s creator also had a significant drinking problem which often caused friction on set. Joyce Randolph, a.k.a. Trixie, once revealed that the cast were often at the mercy of the comedian’s mood swings.

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Randolph stated that Gleason could be charm personified on any given day. But she also revealed that just 24 hours later he could turn into something of a monster. The comedian’s fondness for adding whiskey to his morning coffee was reportedly a major factor in his Jekyll-and-Hyde behavior on The Honeymooners set.

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3. Gleason and Norton didn’t get on

This fact may be disheartening for The Honeymooners fans to discover. But, sadly, not all the cast members got on like a house on fire. In fact, while they played best friends Ralph and Norton on camera, Gleason and Carney were reportedly very frosty off it. They even once made a pact to never work on the same project again.

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So what was behind their difficult relationship? Well, some believe that Carney couldn’t respect the show creator due to his inability to take his craft entirely seriously. Others argued that Gleason harbored a jealousy over his co-star’s more promising career. Either way, the pair did end up sharing the screen again more than three decades later in 1985’s Izzy and Moe.

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2. Several ‘lost’ episodes were later found

In the 1980s, Gleason sparked the interest of long-time The Honeymooners fans who had already watched every episode countless times. He revealed that he still had a treasure trove of skits featuring Ralph, Alice and co. that were originally presumed lost forever. They first aired on The Jackie Gleason Show but hadn’t been seen since.

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The skits had been captured by a form of filming known as Kinescope, in which the action was captured through a camera pointed at a video monitor screen. In the end, 107 different skits were rescued from Gleason’s vault. As well as being syndicated to various TV networks, they were also made available on DVD.

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1. ABC planned a remake

During an interview with the Archive of American Television, Dean Valentine revealed that ABC once planned to revive The Honeymooners in the 1990s. The producer recalled a meeting where network boss Michael Eisner proposed a money-saving remake featuring the original scripts. Valentine, however, certainly wasn’t a fan of the idea, telling Eisner, “It’s the f***ing stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

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Valentine explained, “These things were written 40 years ago and had completely different pacing, completely different jokes, completely different everything. And if you look at it, most of the comedy really comes out of Jackie and his genius as a comedian. It was the writers and the comedian working together to create something for him.”

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