TV Show Draft Pick – The Honeymooners

For my next pick in the Hanspostcard TV Show Draft, I chose a show that is one of my all time favorites. I don’t remember when I first was introduced to this show, but I am guessing my dad had something to do with it. Early on in the draft, I chose Police Squad, which only aired 6 episodes. This show is known for its “Classic 39” – The Honeymooners.

This isn’t my first blog about the show. Some time ago, I took part in a “Favorite TV Episode” Blogathon and picked 2 of my favorite episodes to present. You can read that blog here:

When you examine 50’s TV shows, there was very little struggle involved. Think about it. I Love Lucy, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Andy Griffith Show, and Leave it to Beaver all showed families who were living in nice homes or apartments, showed no signs of financial struggles, and while there may be a misunderstanding here and there, it was mostly “bliss.” In 1955-1956, however, The Honeymooners focused on two couples from New York, who were struggling to get by.

The show focused on the lives of Ralph (Jackie Gleason) and Alice Kramden (Audrey Meadows), and Ed (Art Carney) and Trixie Norton (Joyce Randolph). One article I found on the show says this about Gleason’s Kramden character: Ralph was the get-rich-quick scheming, short-tempered, soft-hearted guy who was always striving for greatness, but never made it out of that two-room Brooklyn apartment. And that’s one of the main attractions for even the most casual of viewers: the characters are so identifiable. As Jackie himself said at the time, “Everything we did could have happened. People like the show, because we are them.”

The show began as a simple sketch on the DuMont Television Network, on the Cavalcade of Stars. The original hosts were Jack Carter and Jerry Lester, but in July of 1950 comedian Jackie Gleason took over the hosting duties. In the process, Gleason took the struggling show and turned it around to be a hit. The show, which featured comedy skits and a number of different performers each week, was broadcast live in front of a theater audience. In 1951, Jackie and his writers came up with the idea for a sketch called The Honeymooners. It was about a struggling couple living in Brooklyn who frequently fought, but in the end, there was no question that they loved each other.

Leonard Stern was a writer on both The Honeymooners and The Jackie Gleason Show. In an interview with the Archive of American Television he stated, “We started doing one sketch of The Honeymooners every five or six weeks and the response of people on the street was tremendous. So we started doing them every other week. Eventually, though, everyone, including Jackie, lost interest in the other characters in the different sketches, so we started to do them every week until the fatigue level hit its high and we’d have to take a break. I think Gleason had fun doing them, because he recognized the impact Kramden and Alice and Norton and Trixie were having on the audience. I’m not a great fan of ratings, but let me say that 53% of the total television audience was watching the show. There’s nothing like that in existence today. It was astonishing and the show itself was live. Remember, the audience of 3,000 people filled that theater. You earned your laughs. It was a resounding success and very exhilarating for all of us. It was opening night every week.”

When Gleason left the Dupont Network and went to CBS, he hosted the Jackie Gleason Show, where the Honeymooners sketches continued. In the 1952 season, the sketches usually ran between seven and 13 minutes. In the following season, and those sketches ran for a minimum of 30 minutes, and sometimes longer. Then, in the 1954-55 season, they actually filled the entire hour of The Jackie Gleason Show, and was doing so well in the ratings that it occasionally surpassed the viewership of I Love Lucy. That is almost unheard of!

In the 1955-56 season, The Jackie Gleason Show literally became The Honeymooners! It aired as a half-hour sitcom that was filmed in front of a studio audience. In total, 39 episodes were produced, and these episodes are the ones that are still being broadcast today. These 39 episodes are the ones that most people remember.

I read an article that said Jackie Gleason had actually been given a three-year contract from CBS for 78 episodes of The Honeymooners to be produced in the first two seasons. The contract also included an option for a third season of 39 more. For whatever it is worth, Gleason felt the quality of the scriptwriting couldn’t be maintained, and the show was mutually canceled by him and CBS.

A Closer Weekly article says: What’s particularly impressive about The Honeymooners living on the way it has is the fact that back in the day, there needed to be a minimum of 100 episodes of a show available so that local stations could run it five days a week. Any less made syndication difficult, since the cycle would be repeated that much sooner. But then there was The Honeymooners, with a mere 39 episodes to offer up, yet it worked. And continues to do so.

In a 1996 appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Jackie was asked why the show ended. He told Carson, “We were running out of ideas. I liked The Honeymooners and I liked doing them, and I didn’t want to denigrate them by forcing scenes that didn’t mean anything. So I wanted to quit, but they didn’t believe me. They thought I had another job someplace, but I didn’t. I’m glad I did stop them, because what we had done was good and if we had gone any further, we might have spoiled it.”

Those “Classic 39” are classic for a reason. They are still funny. The situations that The Kramdens and the Nortons muddle through every week will make you laugh, cry, think, and smile. They still hold up today. Each one of them has memorable scenes and quotable lines.

In one episode Ralph tells his boss he is a great golfer and is immediately asked to go play a round with him. Now Ralph needs to learn how to play – and fast. He finds the perfect teacher in his best friend Ed Norton. In pure Art Carney fashion, Ed reads from a book that you must “address the ball,” to which he takes the club, stands in front of the ball, looks down and says, “Hello, Ball!”

An episode of the show was featured in the movie Back To The Future. When Marty McFly winds up in 1955, a family is watching the episode The Man From Space. Intending to win the $50 first prize at the Racoon Lodge’s costume ball, Ralph decides to create his own outfit. And what an outfit! After appropriating (among other things) a faucet, a pot, a radio tube and the icebox door, he presents himself as the Man from Space.

In another episode, Alice says she wants to go dancing. Ralph has Ed come over to teach him how to dance. Ralph’s outfit is hilarious (he tells Alice it is “what all us cats wear! I’m hip!”). The dance (to the song The Hucklebuck) is worth the watch.

To me, sometimes the funniest stuff can be as simple as Ralph’s face …

In another classic episode, Ralph and Norton appear on a TV commercial trying to sell their Handy Housewife Helper, a kitchen gadget that can, among other things, open cans, remove corns and “core a apple.” In the inspired, ad-lib-laden episode, “Chef of the Future” Ralph demonstrates the wonders of the gizmo to “Chef of the Past” Norton. Rehearsal goes great, but in front of live cameras, Ralph freezes up.

Art Carney was the perfect second banana. The play between him and Gleason is classic. In one episode Norton’s sleepwalking becomes a waking nightmare for Ralph. Ralph can’t get any sleep because he’s been asked to keep his pal from wandering off on late-night strolls around the neighborhood.

Another classic episode takes place at the pool hall where Ralph gets into an argument with the diminutive guy named George. “My friend is even bigger than me,” he tells Ralph. “I have a friend Shirley that’s bigger than you,” Ralph counters. But then he comes eye-to-chin with George’s friend, the towering Harvey, who challenges Ralph to a fight. This prompts Norton to observe: “He’s even bigger than your friend Shirley.”

Many of the plot lines from the classic episodes made it into the Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy novelty hit “The Honeymooners Rap.”

In the 1980’s, Jackie Gleason announced that in his vault he had found a number of Honeymooners skits from The Jackie Gleason Show that had been shot on Kinescope, which is a way of filming directly through a lens that actually focused on the screen of a video monitor. 107 of those skits were released on DVD and syndicated to television stations. These would have been shot before the “Classic 39” and two of them stand out to me.

Jackie had been a guest star on the Jack Benny show, so Jack makes an appearance in one of those “lost” episodes as the Kramden’s landlord. The rent is being raised and Ralph is mad. When there is a knock on the door, Ralph opens it and Jack Benny is standing there. The audience chuckles in anticipation. Ralph calls to Alice that “the Landlord’s here” and the audience erupts. Benny stands there quietly as Ralph reads him the riot act! He calls him a “penny pincher” (which plays into Benny’s “cheap” character”) and says that he pinches a penny so hard that when he is through “both heads and tails are on the same side of the coin!”

In another lost episode, Ralph must lose weight for work. All through the episode he is starving. Finally, he is left alone in the apartment and sitting at the kitchen table. He notices a cake pan. He lifts the lid and sees the cake. His eyes bulge and he goes nuts. As he is about to tear into the cake Alice walks in. “Everybody get back,” he yells! The brief 3 minutes of him staring at the cake before getting ready to eat it is comedy genius!

As brilliant as Jackie Gleason was as Ralph Kramden, he never won an Emmy Award for it. Art Carney, however, won 5 Emmy’s for Best Supporting Actor on The Honeymooners and the Jackie Gleason Show.

The Honeymooners influenced a huge 1960’s cartoon – The Flintstones. It is a blatant rip off of the show, and was a huge hit. It is said that Gleason considered suing Hanna-Barbera Productions because of the similarities, but decided that he did not want to be known as “the guy who yanked Fred Flintstone off the air”

The Honeymooners is over 65 years years old! Joyce Randolph, who played Trixie Norton is 97 years old and still going strong. I wonder if Gleason ever thought that those 39 episodes would still find an audience today and that they would still bring much laughter.

In 1990, Audrey Meadows joined Bob Costas on Later to discuss the show. You can see that footage here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKhMKQaqn7w

If you have never seen an episode, I encourage you to do so. The two episodes I mentioned in a previous blog are good places to start – TV or Not TV or A Matter of Record. Most are available on Youtube.

Thanks for reading!

Home Sweet Home – Sanford and Son

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This blog is part of the 6th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon, hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts.  This is my second year taking part in it.  The rest of the entries can be found here:

http://mercurie.blogspot.com/2020/03/the-6th-annual-favourite-tv-show.html

Home Sweet Home – Sanford and Son

I could have picked a few episodes from Sanford and Son.  It remains one of those classic shows that makes me laugh out loud.  Home Sweet Home is from the fourth season of the show.  It is the 7th episode of that season.  It originally aired on October 25, 1974.  The episode is full of some great lines and physical comedy from Redd Foxx.

Greed is a powerful thing.  It is also a great premise for comedy (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is a classic example).  Fred and Lamont return from a miserable camping trip when their neighbor, Julio comes knocking on the door with news.  He informs them that a Japanese company wants to buy up all the houses on their block to build a brewery.  All they need to close the deal is Fred and Lamont to accept their offer and the deal is done.

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Greed begins to take hold.  Fred knows that he is in a position to take advantage of the fact that they need him to sign in order to make it happen.  He is going to hold out for the most money.  Julio and Lamont beg him not to mess up the deal.  All of his neighbors are counting on him.   As he leaves, he reminds Fred that the Japanese representative will be by “first thing in the morning.”  Fred responds, “I know.  They always attack at dawn.”

The following morning, Julio returns wondering if the Japanese realtors have been by.  They have not.  Fred is stuffing fortunes he wrote in fortune cookies (“You’ll meet a tall, dark, handsome stranger.  Give him what he wants!”). Again, Julio begs Fred not to blow it for everyone.  He reminds him that as soon as he signs, they all get their money.  “Mr. Sanford, we are all in the boat!”  Fred’s reply cracks me up – “This is your captain speaking.  Get your poop off my deck!”

The realtor is not at all what Fred expected, in that she is a young and pretty Japanese lady who introduces herself as Miss Funai.  She explains that they have appraised the house and factored in extra money for “sentimental value” and offer them $20,000.  Upon hearing the price, Lamont becomes frantically excited and rushes to get a pen (a very funny moment, as he continues to try to keep a calm voice).  Fred, of course, plays up the whole “sentimental value” aspect and fakes some tears.  She explains that she will leave, discuss this with her partners and return later.  As she leaves, she says “Sayonara” to which Fred replies, “Frank Sinatra to you, too!”

Lamont is upset, but Fred explains that since they are t he last to sign, he knows they will be back with an offer for  more money. When she returns, the offer has indeed increased – by $2500.  Fred refuses and she asks if she can use their phone to call her partners.  While in the kitchen on the phone, Lamont rips into Fred saying he is going to blow the deal.  When Miss Funai returns, she explains that she cannot discuss any further, however, if they would come to dinner at her house, they can discuss with the other business partners.  Lamont says that they will be there.

Upon arriving at the home of the Funai’s, they are asked to remove their shoes and jackets, which makes Fred a bit uneasy.  In the next scene, the two emerge in Japanese robes.  Lamont notices a Samurai sword on the wall and asks about it.  Miss Funai says that he uncle used it to kill himself.  Fred says to Lamont, “What’s the big deal about killing yourself.  My Uncle Alfonzo killed himself in St. Louis and you don’t see me hanging wine bottles around the house!”

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Miss Funai’s father and grandfather enter the room and they are asked to sit at the table.  The table is on the floor and there are no chairs, allowing some very funny physical comedy from Redd Foxx as he tries to (and eventually does) sit on the floor.  On the table is traditional Japanese food.  Miss Funai tells them what each dish is, and Fred passes.  He instead says he’ll eat “some of these grapes” which he describes as “a little slippery.”  Miss Funai applauds him for trying them and informs him that he is eating fish eyes! This brings about another magical moment of visual comedy as Fred spits out the fish eyes.  His face is priceless.

Fred is told by the father that the grandfather is impressed by their sentimental attachment to their home.  Because of that they are offered a “top price” of $27,000.  He immediately asks for $30,000 as a “tip top” price, to which Lamont tells him he is going to take this deal and sign the paperwork.  Fred is handed a pen, which he cannot hold onto because of “his arthritis” which he says may have happened as he tried to sit on the floor.  The father asks if he has a bad back.  Fred says he does, and the father instructs a family member to get acupuncture needles to help him.

Upon seeing the needles, Fred jumps to his feet and claims they are going to torture him.  This is my favorite scene in the show.  He yells, “Stand back!  I know kung fu!  I never miss a show!”  Fred begins to move his arms and body around doing some hilarious kung fu like moves before running out of the house.

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The Sanfords return home and Lamont is sure that the deal is off.  Fred has obviously offended their Japanese hosts.  Fred insists that they need their house, so they will be back.  He has his eyes set on much more money.  Sure enough, there is a knock on the door and it is Miss Funai and her grandfather.

The grandfather speaks Japanese to him and Miss Funai translates.  She says, “Never is his life had he met a man as great as you.  He respects your great love for your home.  He wouldn’t dare ask you to leave it.”  Lamont reacts and rolls his eyes.  Now Fred starts to insist that they buy his house.  “Ask me!” he says.  She says that her grandfather wouldn’t think of uprooting them.  “Uproot me!” Fred yells.

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Before leaving, Miss Funai hands Fred a gift.  She says, “As a gesture of respect and friendship we offer you this sea shell” and they walk out the door.  Fred continues to try to get them to reconsider as they leave.  As the door shuts, Fred stands next to Lamont and looks down at the sea shell.  Fred asks, “What am I gonna do with this?” Lamont’s reply is priceless.  In a calm voice he says, “It’s a sea shell, Pop.  Hold it up to your right ear (which Fred does), and (angrily) push it through to your left!”

In the final scene, Lamont comes in and asks if the neighbors have called to yell at Fred yet.  He says they haven’t.  Lamont says he thought they’d have been all over him for messing up the entire real estate deal.  He goes upstairs and we find out why the neighbors haven’t gotten angry – Fred is calling them, disguising his voice saying they aren’t going to buy the properties.  His call to Julio ends the show in standard Sanford fashion.

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In Closing

Sanford and Son has so many great episodes.  My dad, my grandparents, and I would often spout out quotes from our favorite episodes.  Thanks to Terence from A Shroud of Thoughts for allowing me to participate again this year!  I am already looking forward to next year.  There are so many great shows to chose from, but then again, there are still plenty of Sanford and Son episodes to chose from …

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