‘The Honeymooners’: This Actor Had a Noticeable Tell to Signal a Forgotten Line in Front of Live Audience

by Joe Rutland

Jackie Gleason had a photographic memory. Sometimes, though, he’d forget a line when going live on stage for “The Honeymooners.”

As bus driver Ralph Kramden, Gleason would enter the flat he shared with his wife Alice, played by Audrey Meadows, and start talking. Gleason, during “The Honeymooners” one-season run on CBS, was a hefty fellow. That’s putting it mildly. Anyway, there were times Gleason would get lost during some dialogue.

If he did, then he would pat his stomach and that would be a sign to his fellow cast member to help.

Gleason was notorious for hating rehearsals. He never did them because he wanted to feel the immediacy of an audience’s response. Now Meadows, Art Carney (Ed Norton), and Joyce Randolph (Trixie Norton) would rehearse with a stand-in for Gleason. It didn’t actually mirror what would happen in front of a live audience, but it was better than nothing at all.

‘The Honeymooners’ Starts Out As Sketch On TV Show

“The Honeymooners” originally was a short sketch on the DuMont network’s “Cavalcade of Stars,” which Gleason hosted. When CBS offered him more money, then Gleason moved over there and started “The Jackie Gleason Show.” The sketch continued over there, becoming one of the fan favorites.

Ironically, CBS signed Gleason to a – wait for it – $1 million contract for two seasons of “The Honeymooners.” That’s $1 million circa mid-1950s. It was a massive contract, something that Alice might say the only thing bigger than that was Ralph’s pants. But Gleason told the network after one season that he was done with the half-hour series. It did so-so in the ratings, finishing at No. 19 for the one season. Yet Gleason felt like there wasn’t any more good material for his writers to do a half-hour comedy show.

The one season that “The Honeymooners” was on CBS was 1955-56. Gleason, though, wasn’t done with the TV world or CBS. He returned to his variety show format in the 1956-57 season. Gleason even had “Honeymooners” sketches in there, which belies his reasoning for ending the comedy show.

Jackie Gleason Helped a Young Larry King Kickstart Career

When Jackie Gleason moved his variety show from New York City to Miami Beach, it made headlines. A major television star gets a network to go along with his desire to be in a warm climate. It sounds like a Kramden scheme, but it was nothing of the sort.

Gleason moved down to Florida in 1964, having his Saturday night variety show open from “The Sun and Fun Capitol of the World.” But even he knew that good press was needed for his show.

Enter a young radio host named Larry King, who was growing his influence in South Florida. King, who died in January, was a part of “The Great Gleason Express.” That was a train that brought everyone from New York City to Florida. It made numerous stops in towns along the route. Gleason would get out and say a few words, even wave for pictures, too.

King took all this down as part of the press junket. He and Gleason started talking, found out they both were Brooklyn kids, and the rest is history. Gleason was one of the first guests on King’s initial nationally-syndicated radio show, “The Larry King Show,” in the 1970s.

Their friendship continued until Gleason died from cancer in 1987.