‘The Honeymooners’ Starring Jackie Gleason Hits TV Sets for First Time Today in 1955

by Joe Rutland
(Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

“The Honeymooners” starring Jackie Gleason, a major TV star at its center, appeared as a sitcom on CBS on this day in 1955.

Gleason played Ralph Kramden, a bombastic bus driver in New York City. Audrey Meadows played his long-suffering wife Alice while Art Carney and Joyce Randolph played their upstairs neighbors, Ed and Trixie Norton.

“The Honeymooners” would just last for one season (1955-56) on CBS. Gleason told the network that he didn’t think there was enough material for a second season. This news probably didn’t sit well with Buick, who signed Gleason to a three-year, $11 million contract.

‘The Honeymooners’ Was Taken Out of Being Sketch in Gleason Variety Show

That was one of the biggest deals in television history at the time. Still, Jackie Gleason would take “The Honeymooners” and tuck it back into a sketch for his weekly variety show, “The Jackie Gleason Show.”

So many moments, though, from what fans call “the Classic 39” episodes are etched in TV viewers’ minds. Seeing Norton wear the “Captain Video and His Video Rangers” helmet. Watching Ralph stumble when trying to answer “The $99,000 Question” after spending the entire episode gathering more music knowledge. For golf fans, watching Norton help Ralph learn how to swing a golf club is a moment in time.

“The Honeymooners” set put Ralph and Alice in a flat. Not much to the decor but an oven, a dinner table, chairs, and a dresser. Yet Gleason, Carney, Meadows, and Randolph made it work.

Sitcom Goes Into Syndication In 1957, and Gleason Would Add ‘Lost Episodes’ Years Later

The sitcom went into syndication TV back in 1957. Jackie Gleason, though, did not let that keep him from having the sketch as part of his repertoire.

Back in the 1980s, “The Great One,” as Orson Welles called Gleason, sold what was called “The Lost Episodes” of his famed sketch to Showtime and Viacom. It led to longtime fans getting a look at the sketch’s start as part of Gleason’s “Cavalcade of Stars” show on the old DuMont Television Network.

Before Meadows played Alice, actress Pert Kelton was the first Alice Kramden. When the show moved to CBS, Meadows entered the scene as the most famous of Gleason’s Alices. Sue Ann Langdon and Sheila Macrae would play Alice in other “The Honeymooners” sketches in the 1960s.

When Gleason’s variety show was canceled by CBS in 1970, he would bring “The Honeymooners” back for specials on ABC.

The Kramdens and Nortons remain popular with classic TV fans, right up there with “I Love Lucy.” Gleason and Lucille Ball, at one time, were the two biggest stars on TV. CBS had both of them and, oh, how sweet it is.