Remembering Jackie Gleason

Jackie Gleason, in an interview at 60 Minutes, was asked why The Honeymooners are still so popular: Because they were funny. It is clear and simple.

Nowadays, any actor or better yet any artist could consider his career fulfilled if he came up with one single enduring piece of work. Jackie Gleason had 39: the Classic 39, as they are now called. But how did it all started?

Actually, The Honeymooners is the first spin-off in the history of television, being at first just a recurring sketch during Cavalcade of Stars. And this sketch didn’t even have the full cast seen later on: it was just Ralph and Alice and the show lacked the humor and the pathos which made the show a cult series.

However, Jackie Gleason auditioned several actresses to take in on the role of Alice. When glamorous Audrey Meadows came for the role, Jackie immediately said that she wasn’t the wife he imagined. But the actress quickly sent him a picture (in which she wore a frumpy house dress and apron and in which she had combs stuck in her hair) – seeing this, Gleason exclaimed that a woman having this sense of humor deserves to be in the show.

As far as he was concerned, Alice shouldn’t have been just Ralph’s wife, but also his protector (a sort-of mother figure). In his opinion, considering the (inconceivable) dreams Ralph had, he was just a baby. That is also why he didn’t want the Kramdens to have any children.

Another interesting idea with which Jackie Gleason came was that no rehearsals were needed, because this would have ruined the spontaneity of the show. That is why he developed a system which prevented him from remaining without lines during the shooting: whenever he patted his stomach, the lines were fed to him.

It is said that television is a writer’s medium, which means that it is here where he has the most freedom to create. And Jackie Gleason understood what that freedom was. After the scriptwriters ran out of ideas and after it was obvious that the show couldn’t go any further, he pulled the plug.

After just one season, he said that he loved The Honeymooners too much to cheapen it for the sake of the ratings. And he was right – even if the characters returned in the 70’s, they lacked the magic they brought the first time on the small screens.

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