Pert Kelton played Alice Kramden on “The Honeymooners” before Audrey Meadows. Kelton lost her role because of fears around Communism.
Kelton saw her name listed among other actors and entertainers in a book called “Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television.” It was released on June 22, 1950, and listed 151 people in the 251-page book.
In order to return to work, these actors and entertainers would have to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
It was chaired by Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. The committee had spent time investigating alleged Communist activities within the entertainment industry.
Jackie Gleason Wanted Kelton For ‘The Honeymooners’
Gleason wanted Kelton as part of his show. Because she was viewed as someone sympathizing with Communists, CBS would not allow her to come over from the DuMont Network with Gleason. When Gleason was asked why Kelton left the show, he made up an excuse that she was suffering from health issues.
Jayne Meadows, who was Audrey Meadows’ sister, said that Gleason did not want another actress to play Alice.
“When they took Audrey up to Gleason, he said ‘No, I want Pert Kelton,'” Jayne Meadows said. “They (the network) said, ‘Jackie, you can’t have her.’ And so he finally agreed to meet Audrey.”
“The Jackie Gleason Show” made its appearance on CBS with Meadows replacing Kelton.
Gleason Had Rather Special Signal If He Forgot His Line
For the 1955-56 television season, CBS ordered up not one but two years of “The Honeymooners” as a sitcom. They wanted to take the sketch prominently featured in Gleason’s variety show and make it a separate show. They only got one season, known as “The Classic 39,” out of Gleason.
Now Gleason was known to have a photographic memory. He could read a script, know it, and go out and perform.
Most of the time, that would be true. But in front of a live audience, you could not stop in the middle of a performance and re-shoot a scene. Gleason liked going out without rehearsing. It caused his co-stars some uneasy moments.
Yet he found himself, at times, forgetting a line. What would Gleason do to recover? He simply would look at either Meadows or Art Carney, who played Ed Norton, and pat his stomach. You couldn’t miss Gleason’s stomach as he was weighing between 280 and 300 pounds back in the day.
Once someone saw him pat his stomach, Meadows or Carney would guide Gleason back on script. They might ad-lib something to get back to what the writers put together, yet it usually worked.
“The Great One” always wanted to perform at his best for the audience. Thanks to professional cast members, Gleason’s character could be saved when he forgot a line.