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!

A Holiday Dozen

I mentioned to my friend Max that I had hoped to post a Christmas song every day from December 1st through Christmas Day. When it comes to holiday tunes, I could probably post a favorite Christmas song for every day of the year …

At any rate, rather than spend the time to do that, I was asked by a friend to pick my Top 10 favorite Christmas Albums. How can I do that? I have so many! I could easily pick my Top 10 Christmas albums for each genre – pop, country, classical, jazz, etc… So here is what I decided to do. I took a piece of paper and jotted down the 10 albums I felt were “must have” albums for me every year. I couldn’t narrow it down to just 10, so I made it 12.

In no particular order, here is the Holiday Dozen I came up with:

Ok, you gotta have Bing! He was often referred to as “The Voice of Christmas,” and for good reason! It was an album that often accompanied us while we opened gifts.

A great album of great songs – Brenda Lee, Bobby Helms, Stevie Wonder, Roy Orbison, The Drifters, James Brown, and Aretha Franklin are all represented in this amazing collection!

When Charles Schulz was asked to write a Christmas Special, he said he would on one condition – it had to include the story of Christ’s birth. When he chose the soundtrack for the special, he wanted something that he felt could relate to everyone – so he picked Jazz. Vince Guaraldi’s songs are synonymous with Christmas for me.

Growing up, I always disliked The Christmas Song. I guess I couldn’t relate to it as a kid. As I grew up, it became more and more meaningful to me. This album is full of many other fantastic cuts that never get played on the radio.

This one represents the “novelty” side of Christmas! Yes, it includes the Chipmunks, but it also includes some classic novelty songs from Allan Sherman, Bob & Doug McKenzie, Cheech & Chong, and Weird Al Yankovic. It is also one of the few places you can find Stan Freberg’s Christmas Dragnet. Oh, yeah, and that dumb Hippopotamus song is on here, too (but I skip that one).

This is one that a friend told me about. The story goes that a couple of members of the Glenn Miller Orchestra were sitting around talking one day. They asked each other what they thought Glenn would be doing if he were still around. One of them said “Probably working on a Christmas album.” The idea was born. They contacted former members of the Glenn Miller Orchestra and they recorded this one. It is truly a great album and tribute to Miller.

Bing Crosby may have been called the “Voice of Christmas,” but Frank Sinatra was THE VOICE. This collection includes one of my favorites: Whatever Happened to Christmas. You also get his amazing version of Have Yourself a Marry Little Christmas and other classics.

Some great songs from Al Martino, Jo Stafford, Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney, and other pop singers of the 40’s and 50’s.

I have talked about this one before. It is just an amazing album with something for everyone. I love listening to Doc and the Tonight Show Band jamming on songs like Winter Wonderland, Let It Snow, and my favorite version of Jingle Bells! You’ll also love the Children’s Choir and Bell Choir on other numbers.

Mel, of course, wrote The Christmas Song, and I just love to hear his version of it. Nat King Cole’s version doesn’t include Mel’s extra lyric: “Love and joy come to you, and a Merry Christmas, too. And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year.” Known as “The Velvet Fog,” Mel’s voice is perfect on Christmas Time Is Here, The Christmas Medley, Sleigh Ride, and a Christmas version of The Glow Worm.

I have so many favorite Elvis Christmas songs that aren’t on this album, but I love how they have added the orchestra to his classics on this album. Santa Claus is Back in Town sounds so much fuller with them. I only wish that they had done If Every Day Was Like Christmas for this album.

Before both of his Christmas albums were made available, they took tracks from both his “Winter Romance” album and “The Dean Martin Christmas Album” and combined them for this collection. I have both of those albums now, but for one collection – I pick this one. Marshmallow World is one of my favorite cuts!

How about you? What’s your Holiday Dozen??

Tune Tuesday – True Love

Today’s tune is another one that you have probably never heard before.  It’s from a 1991 album that the critics gave poor reviews.  That’s the thing about music – we each have our own tastes and not everyone is going to agree on what’s “good” or “bad”.  I happen to really like this album, and play it often in the car.  Here’s how I discovered it, and maybe you’ll find it different and interesting, too.

Ludington

In 1991, I had broken up with a girl I had been dating for 3 years.  I was working part time in radio and an old buddy called me up and asked if I’d like to move to the west side of the state to do afternoon drive for his country station.  It didn’t really pay well, but it was a full time job.  Since the relationship was over, I decided maybe it was time to move out.  In April of 1991, I moved to Ludington, MI.

As a 20 year old guy, who had never been away from home, it was a bit scary.  I won’t lie to you, my first night away, I heard every noise inside and outside of my apartment. I really hated being away from my friends and family.  I knew a few of the people at the station and that was the extent of it.

I worked from noon-8pm.  My on air shift was 2p-7p.  I ran an satellite show until 8p and someone came in after me to keep the station on the air until midnight. I lived about 10-15 minutes from work and when I would get home I would sit in front of the TV.  The internet was probably around at the time, but I didn’t have a computer (and if I did, it would have been dial up!!).

I only had 3 or 4 stations, because I couldn’t afford cable TV.  It was during this time that I really began watching Johnny Carson and David Letterman and gained an appreciation for late night TV.  One night, Carson had Pat Benatar on as a musical guest. I was familiar with her music, as it was a big part of my childhood.  Love is a Battlefield, We Belong, and Hit Me With Your Best Shot were huge hits in the 80’s!  When Johnny introduced her, I was waiting for some kind of rock guitar lick, but it never came.

pat

The song opens with a very bluesy bass line, and I was completely thrown for a loop.  Pat’s vocal was sultry, smooth and sexy!  I was totally digging this song!  It was a HUGE departure from what she was known for.  Word is that she had always wanted to do a “jump blues” album, and this was it.  The album featured some covers (BB King and Wynonie Harris) and originals.  True Love was an original.

This is one of those songs I can listen to over and over again.  I just love her vocal and the arrangement.  Give it a listen –

True Love

Never been no fragile flower
I always got too much to say
Never had much luck with love and romance
I guess it’s always been that way

But I’ve been seriously thinking
About slippin’ on the velvet gloves
I know it’s strange but my lucks about to change
‘Cause what we got here is true love, yeah, yeah

True love, you can’t buy it no, no
You know it ain’t like nothin’ else
True love, you really ought to try it
You owe it to yourself to get you some true love

You know I wake up every morning
It’s the first thing on my mind
This is a permanent condition
Of the most serious kind

Now let me tell you baby
That you were sent from up above
Give me a sign let’s not waste any more time
‘Cause what we got here is true love, yeah, yeah

True love, you can’t buy it no, no
You know it ain’t like nothin’ else
True love, you really ought to try it
You owe it to yourself to get you some true love

I called the man at the video store and I said
Cancel my membership, I won’t be needing it no more
Found something else to occupy my nights
And baby it’s just the right amount of true love, true love, yeah

I called the man at the video store and I said
Cancel my membership, I won’t be needing it no more
Found something else to occupy my nights
And baby it’s just the right amount of true love, true love, yeah

Everybody wants it, everybody needs true love
Don’t get me wrong about the bad love
I gotta have good love
True love, yeah true love oh

True love

PAT2

Pat actually did 4 songs from the album on the Tonight Show.  The night she did True Love, she returned to do The Good Life, which was a blast because all of the Tonight Show Band members joined the band.  It was pretty cool.  It’s probably on You Tube somewhere.  She also, on another show, did the mellow So Long, and Wynonie Harris’ Bloodshot Eyes.

It doesn’t always work, but I am always curious to hear when a singer tries something a bit out of their genre.  Pat is a very talented singer and I really enjoy this album.

pat-benatar-213028-2-raw

 

Tune Tuesday – Mack the Knife

 

bobby2

Bobby Darin was a talent.  He was a songwriter, a singer, an actor, and played multiple instruments.  Today is the anniversary of his birth – he was born May 14, 1936.  As a baby, he had bouts of Rheumatic Fever, which caused some damage to his heart.  He beat many odds and lived longer than most doctors expected him to.

He began his career writing songs for Connie Francis, and eventually recorded his first song, “Splish Splash” which was a hit in 1958.  He followed it with many other hits including “Dream Lover,” “Beyond the Sea,” “If I Were a Carpenter”, and “Mack the Knife.”

Mack the Knife was Bobby’s biggest hit spending 9 weeks at #1.  It was the #1 record of 1959.  It won a Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1960, and Bobby won a Grammy Award for Best New Artist of the Year.  The song later received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.  But it was almost NOT released as a single.

The song is from The Threepenny Opera.  Bobby saw this show at a theater in Greenwich Village in 1958 and thought he could present it in a more “jazzy” way.  He began to sing it in his nightclub act and got a good response.  He recorded it on an album and the sales of the album and his nightclub act had audiences wanting more of it.  Originally Bobby did not want to release the song as a single.  After all, he was a teen idol and had an image to uphold.  A old song about a murderer could easily tarnish that.  The record label decided that it should be released – and the rest is history!

One cool piece of trivia (at least for me, as a trumpet player):  Doc Severinsen, who would go on to work with Johnny Carson as the bandleader of the Tonight Show Band, is one of the trumpet players on this song.

Mack The Knife

Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear
And he shows them pearly white
Just a jackknife has old Macheath, babe
And he keeps it out of sight

You know when that shark bites with his teeth, babe
Scarlet billows start to spread
Fancy gloves, though, wears old Macheath, babe
So there’s never, never a trace of red

Now on the sidewalk, ooh, sunny morning, uh-huh
Lies a body just oozin’ life
Eek, and someone’s sneakin’ ’round the corner
Could that someone be Mack the Knife?

There’s a tugboat down by the river, don’t ya know
Where a cement bag’s just a-droopin’ on down
Oh, that cement is just, it’s there for the weight, dear
Five’ll get ya ten, old Macky’s back in town

Now d’ya hear about Louie Miller? He disappeared, babe
After drawin’ out all his hard-earned cash
And now Macheath spends just like a sailor
Could it be our boy’s done something rash?

Now Jenny Diver, ho, ho, yeah, Sukey Tawdry
Ooh, Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown
Oh, the line forms on the right, babe
Now that Macky’s back in town

I said Jenny Diver, whoa, Sukey Tawdry
Look out to Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown
Yes, that line forms on the right, babe
Now that Macky’s back in town

Look out ol’ Macky’s back!

There are many biographies available about the life of Bobby Darin.  His son, Dodd, wrote one entitled Dream Lovers which talks much about his dad and his mom (Sandra Dee).  It’s an honest read.

Bobby had health issues throughout his life and his heart already had issues.  In 1973, he neglected to take the antibiotics he was prescribed for his heart before a dentist visit.  He ended up developing sepsis which spread throughout his body.  This made him weak and affected one of the valves in his heart.  He checked himself into the hospital for another open heart surgery (he had two heart valves replaced in 1971).  After a six hour surgery, he died in the recovery room on December 20, 1973.  He never regained consciousness.  Bobby Darin was 37 years old.

Bobby