‘The Honeymooners’ History, Part 1
In July of 1950, Jackie Gleason took over as host of Dumont’s hour long ‘Cavalcade Of Stars’ comedy/variety show. After playing with an idea based on the radio show ‘The Bickersons’, Gleason and his writers created Ralph and Alice Cramden and the Honeymooners debuted October 5, 1951 in a six minute sketch. Art Carney, who was already on the Cavalcade show was in that first sketch too, but played a policeman that had been hit by a sack of flower Gleason had thrown out the window. Soon after that original sketch, Gleason added Carney as a regular Honeymooner, Ed Norton and hired an actress to play his wife. Norton’s first wife, portrayed as a burlesque dancer, was played by Elaine Stritch, but she was soon replaced with a more mundane housewife type played by Joyce Randolph.
In 1952, Gleason’s Dumont contact was up and CBS hired him, and although Gleason was in total control of ‘The Jackie Gleason Show’, CBS made him replace “Alice”, played by Pert Kelton who was then on a blacklist during the McCarthy era red scare. Audrey Meadows took over as Alice that completed the now famous line up. Similar in format to the Dumont show, Gleason had a live, one hour show with lots of characters and sketches, of which The Honeymooners was a part, but those sketches with the Cramdens grew in popularity and could last from six minutes to thirty five minutes.
By 1955, Gleason felt he needed a break from live television but The Honeymooners were more popular than ever, so, Jackie took the cast to The Adelphi Theater and using the Dumont Electronicams (video and film) produced 39 half hour episodes on film. The first episode aired October 1, 1955 at 8:30 Saturday night and was against ‘The Perry Como Show’ on NBC and ‘Ozark Jamboree’ on ABC. In February of ’56, the show moved to 8 PM, but Perry Como was a strong contender. The last of the “Classic 39” episodes aired September 22, 1956. Gleason felt that the characters had done about as much as they could and although original plans called for a three year run of the half hour show, Jackie felt it was better to stop after a year for artistic reasons. One week later, ‘The Jackie Gleason Show’ returned in it’s original one hour comedy/variety format and not long after, so did The Honeymooners. Stay tuned for Part II.