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The Honeymooners was really television's first spin-off. Originally it was a running sketch from "The Cavalcade of Stars" ('52).
Jackie Gleason got the idea for the Honeymooners in the fall of 1951. It was almost titled " The Lovers" or " The Couple Next Door" before settling on " The Honeymooners" . Originally, Pert Kelton played Ralph's wife, Alice. Art Carney appeared on the first Honeymooners sketch as a cop. The Ed Norton character was written in later. Elaine Stretch was the first Trixie Norton. She appeared for only one episode before being replaced by Joyce Randolph.
The Jackie Gleason Show
CBS hired Gleason for the Jackie Gleason show at the end of Jackie Gleason's second year on the Cavalcade of Stars in 1952.
When Gleason got his own variety show on CBS, the first half included some stand-up and a big production number by the June Taylor Dancers. The second half hour was the Honeymooners. Pert Kelton was replaced by Audrey Meadows, who almost didn't get the part because Jackie Gleason thought she was too young and pretty to be Alice.
In 1953 the Jackie Gleason show was a top ten hit thanks to the Honeymooners. In 1954 Art Carney and Audrey Meadows received an emmy for the Honeymooners. The Jackie Gleason show was the number one show in 1954 as well.
CBS at that time signed Jackie Gleason up for a multimillion dollar deal. Jackie changed the Honeymooners from a sketch to a real series. During the '55 to'56 season, 39 Honeymooners episodes were filmed before a live audience. These episodes are referred to as the classic 39. These are the episodes that have been reran for over 40 years.
In the fall of '56 Jackie Gleason went back to the one hour variety format and The Honeymooners was turned into a musical sketch. After 1957 Jackie Gleason went onto movies and the Honeymooners was gone for a while.
In the fall of 62, Gleason, who was back on television on the new Jackie Gleason show, did another Honeymooners sketch with Art Carney, but with a different Alice and Trixie, Suzanne Langdon and Pat Wilson. He wanted Audrey Meadows back but she was too busy with her real life husband to come to the show.
In 1965, Art Carney and Audrey Meadows made a guest appearance on the Jackie Gleason show doing a musical Honeymooners sketch. A year later Art Carney came back as a regular and The Honeymooners was back again increasing Gleason's ratings from 25th to 5th place. This time Sheila McCray played Alice and Jane Kean played Trixie. In 1967, Pert Kilting came back for a show playing Alice's mother. 1971 was the end for the Jackie Gleason show due to Gleason wanting more money from CBS for his show's production. Neither Gleason nor CBS would budge, so Gleason called it quits. Gleason would work again with the original Honeymooners cast in the late seventies on a series of specials.
The Lost Episodes
In 1985 Jackie Gleason sold episodes of the Honeymooners which were variety show sketches from the fifties that he had locked away for years.
Two years later Jackie Gleason passed away at age 71, and Audrey Meadows died ten years later in 1997. The Honeymooners have endured since the fifties and will most likely be shown in reruns from now on. The main reason for the Honeymooners success as Jackie Gleason put it "they're funny".
Art Carney and Joyce Randolph still do public appearances, and Art Carney shows up occasionally on tvland commercials as Ed Norton giving what they call Edvice.
Honeymooners Trivia Facts
Filmed at CBS' Studio 50 in New York, later used for The Ed Sullivan Show, now known as "The Ed Sullivan Theater."
turned down Audrey Meadows as Alice because he thought she was too
Gleason initially turned down Audrey Meadows as Alice because he thought she was too pretty.