Welcome to another Situation Comedy Tuesday! Today we’re continuing with The Honeymooners, highlighting the best sketches from the 1951-1952 season of DuMont’s Cavalcade of Stars and both the 1952-1953 and 1953-1954 seasons of CBS’s The Jackie Gleason Show.
Ralph Kramden is a New York bus driver who dreams of a better life. With his eccentric good friend, Ed Norton, the sewer worker, Ralph constantly finds himself involved in a bevy of crackpot schemes. All the while, his exasperated wife, Alice, is there to bring him down to earth (or pick him up, if he beats her to it). For as much as they fight, even big-mouth Ralph knows that, his baby, she’s the greatest.
The Honeymooners stars JACKIE GLEASON as Ralph Kramden, ART CARNEY as Ed Norton, AUDREY MEADOWS as Alice Kramden, and JOYCE RANDOLPH as Trixie Norton. (PERT KELTON plays Alice in the Cavalcade of Stars sketches.)
The Honeymooners had an interesting history. It originally began as a sketch on the 1951-1952 season of DuMont’s Cavalcade of Stars. Most sketches were under ten minutes and featured the iconic foursome minus Audrey Meadows, whose role in this first year was played by Pert Kelton. For the following season, Jackie Gleason moved to CBS for The Jackie Gleason Show, and The Honeymooners went with him. Kelton was replaced by Meadows and the sketches played on the Gleason Show for the next three years (until the summer of 1955). By then the sketches had stretched to about 40 minutes in length and were undoubtedly the highlight of every show. For that reason, Gleason dispensed with his variety show for the 1955-1956 season, and instead committed to a single year of filmed half-hour episodes of The Honeymooners. These episodes, which for a while were the only ones seen in syndication, became known as “The Classic 39.” After this initial season was completed, Gleason declined to continue with The Honeymooners, opting instead to return for another year of The Jackie Gleason Show. Once again, The Honeymooners went with him. But as Gleason’s show ended in 1957, so did The Honeymooners… for the time being. Over the next two decades, Gleason brought back the Kramdens and Nortons in a slew of skectches, specials, and even a new series. But without Meadows and Randolph, the series was never quite the same. The best Honeymooners stuff comes from the ’50s and that’s what I’ll be covering here on That’s Entertainment!
After covering the best episodes of the “Classic 39,” the filmed and syndicated half-hour series that originally aired during the 1955-1956 television season, today I’ll be highlighting the best sketches from the 1951-1952 season of DuMont’s Cavalcade of Stars and both the 1952-1953 and 1953-1954 seasons of CBS’s The Jackie Gleason Show. With a different Alice on the DuMont episodes (and a single appearance by diva Elaine Strich as Trixie), these sketches, most of which are less than 15 minutes, are much coarser and less funny than the “Classic 39.” When Gleason and the gang moved to CBS, Meadows joined the cast and the quality of the sketches began to improve. Though the Honeymooners has a string of strong sketches near the end of the 1953-1954 season, the best material comes the following year. (I’ll be covering that next week.) These sketches, especially the DuMont ones, will probably only appeal to established fans, and there may be a few surprises among my picks. This post shall serve as a reference for anyone who has access to the 100+ lost episodes, but doesn’t know where to start. For interested newbies, check out last week’s post and get yourself hooked from there!
Here are my picks for the thirteen best sketches featuring The Honeymooners from 1951-1954. (They were all performed and shown live and are featured here in AIRING ORDER.)
Cavalcade of Stars (1951-1952)
01) “Bread” (Aired: 10/05/51)
Ralph and Alice argue over the fact there is no bread to go with Ralph’s dinner.
This is the first Honeymooners sketch and it is surprisingly funny. It runs over six minutes and features Gleason, Kelton, and Carney as a cop. (He’d make his first appearance as Norton in November.) The funniest bit has the sparring couple throwing things out the window, until she threatens to throw herself out too. “I wouldn’t give you the satisfaction,” was one of the sketch’s early catchphrases.
02) “Alice And Ralph Get Dressed For A Date Last Night” (Aired: 11/30/51)
Ralph and Alice argue on a night they are to join the Nortons on a night on the town.
This is the funniest surviving Kelton sketch, featuring some great physical stuff — the best being Gleason’s struggles with the dresser. This one runs over eight minutes.
The Jackie Gleason Show (1952-1953)
03) “The New Bowling Ball” (Aired: 09/20/52)
Ralph gets his thumb stuck in his new bowling ball.
This is the first sketch with Meadows, and gives them some great physical stuff to play: trying to remove the bowling ball from Gleason’s finger. This one runs less than ten minutes.
04) “Six Months To Live” (Aired: 12/13/52)
When Ralph finds a letter from a doctor he believes he only has six months to live.
This was one of the few sketches that was later turned into a “Classic 39” episode. (I featured it last week.) This performance is just as funny, featuring only the extended scene where Ralph reads the letter. It works best this way, and the audience howls with delight. A great sketch that runs less than 14 minutes.
05) “Alice Plays Cupid” (Aired: 01/17/53)
Ralph sabotages Alice’s efforts to play matchmaker for her friend and Ralph’s boss.
This sketch has always appealed to me. The idea isn’t novel, but the predictability adds to its hilarity. Of course, Ralph ends up with egg on his face, but we wouldn’t have it any other way, right? This one runs about 12 minutes.
06) “Hot Tips” (Aired: 04/11/53)
Ralph is accused of being a bookie after collecting bets for people before going to the track.
Just another funny sketch that leaves Ralph, as ever, a lovable loser. This one runs over 11 minutes.
07) “Norton Moves In” (Aired: 04/18/53)
The Nortons stay with the Kramdens while their apartment is being painted.
Here is probably the funniest sketch of the season. With lots of great lines, the best stuff occurs between Gleason and Carney as they try to get to sleep in the living room. Highly recommended. This one runs about 12 minutes.
The Jackie Gleason Show (1953-1954)
08) “Bus Accident” (a.k.a. “Sprained Thumb”) (Aired: 09/19/53)
Ralph sprains his thumb in a bus accident and demands round-the-clock care.
This is the first sketch of the new season and features a delightfully hammy Ralph. This one runs under 13 minutes.
09) “Letter To The Boss” (Aired: 11/14/53)
Ralph writes a nasty letter to his boss after mistakingly believing he’s been fired. Then he tries to get the letter back.
This sketch was remade in 1955 with an identical script. Here we have a classic sitcom plot — lead character tries to retrieve a letter or money or something after a mixup has caused it to be sent. But what really makes this episode work are the twists. Ralph thinks the boss will berate him, only to learn that he forgot to sign his name. Of course, things never seem to work out for Ralph, especially with Norton as his friend. Very funny sketch. This one runs about 32:30.
10) “This Is Your Life” (Aired: 01/16/54)
Ralph suspects Alice of cheating, but she’s secretly planning his appearance on This Is Your Life.
Once again, Ralph’s jealousy leads him to assumptions that ruin whatever good thing is coming up. In this case, it’s an appearance on This Is Your Life. Ralph sees two tickets to California in the apartment and thinks Alice is running away with another man. When he learns that his friend Phil, the man who introduced Ralph to Alice, is also going to California, Ralph assumes the two are carrying on. So what does Ralph do? He makes an ass of himself. This one runs under 38 minutes.
11) “The Fortune Teller” (Aired: 04/03/54)
A palm reader tells Ralph that he will murder someone.
This is a funny episode with a unique premise and a hilarious climax. It runs under 35 minutes.
12) “Move Uptown” (Aired: 04/24/54)
Ralph tries to get kicked out of the apartment building so he can rent a nicer one in the Bronx.
The best part of the episode has Ralph making a shambles of his apartment so that the superintendent will kick them out. This one runs about 37 minutes.
13) “The Man In The Blue Suit” (Aired: 05/01/54)
When Alice gives away a jacket that contains Ralph’s poker winnings, he and Norton scheme to retrieve it.
Again with a similar premise — retrieving something that was taken accidentally. Ralph’s shenanigans at the “Help the Needy Society” are incredibly funny. This one runs about 34:30.
ETA: Special mention must also be given to “The Dinner Guest” (Aired: 05/02/53) and “Two Men On A Horse” (Aired: 05/29/54).
Come back next Tuesday as I cover the best Honeymooners sketches from 1954-1955 and 1956-1957! And remember to tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!