Courtesy of Reuters....
Color Episodes of '60s 'Honeymooners' Return to TV
Thu June 26, 2003 09:33 AM ET
By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Cue the lush strains of Jackie Gleason's theme song "Melancholy Serenade." Enter the June Taylor Dancers, festooned in feathers and sequins.
From the fun and sun city Miami Beach, a version of Jackie Gleason's "The Honeymooners" not seen in more than 30 years is returning to television. As the Great One himself would no doubt say, "How sweet it is!"
Starting on Saturday, the fledgling cable channel GoodLife TV Network will broadcast the 42 "Honeymooners" episodes originally presented in color as part of "The Jackie Gleason Show" that aired during the 1960s on CBS.
Riding a wave of Baby Boomer nostalgia for old television shows, the 42 color shows are taking their place in TV afterlife beside two older black-and-white iterations of the landmark comedy -- 39 episodes that ran as a stand-alone sitcom in the 1950s and a collection of 68 segments taken from Gleason's old variety hour earlier that decade.
The color "Honeymooners," which last aired as a set of reruns in 1971, star Gleason reprising his signature role as loudmouth bus driver Ralph Kramden and Art Carney returning as his bumbling but affable sidekick, sewer worker Ed Norton.
Newcomers Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean played their respective, long-suffering wives, Alice and Trixie, replacing Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph from the earlier cast.
As in previous versions of "The Honeymooners," the show was set in the run-down New York City tenement inhabited by the Kramdens and often centered around the ill-fated get-rich-quick schemes forever hatched by the Gleason and Carney characters.
Besides airing in color, the one-hour show was produced on a grander scale than the half-hour "Honeymooners" series, complete with original songs and dance numbers performed by the four principal players.
"Doing it the way we did, live, with the original music and dancers, it was like doing a Broadway show every week, once a week, so there was that much pressure," Kean, 79, recalled in a telephone interview with Reuters.
Kean said Gleason, who died of cancer in 1987, was very much in charge of the show and known to be demanding, but she denied he was the insecure control freak suggested in a recent CBS made-for-TV movie about Gleason.
"I think they were a little too heavy on him. He did control the show. Everything had to be the way he wanted it. He was very good to the actors. We never had any complaints. He was a little tough on the writers," she said.
Likewise, Marilyn Gleason, a member of the June Taylor Dancers who became the entertainer's third wife in 1975, acknowledged, "There was a little bit of Ralph Kramden in Jackie, oh yeah .... He wasn't a patient man, and he never counted to 10. He said what was on the top of his head."
STICKING TO THE SCRIPT
One rule that Gleason rarely departed from was doing each show just once, without retakes. "He wouldn't go back over it because he said the audience is not going to laugh twice at the same joke," Kean said. And contrary to a widely held perception that much of the show was ad-libbed, Kean said the performers stuck very closely to the script.
"The Honeymooners" began in 1951 as a recurring comedy sketch within the Gleason-hosted "Cavalcade of the Stars," which later became "The Jackie Gleason Show."
In 1955-56, CBS aired 39 episodes of "The Honeymooners" as separate series, but the show failed to catch on and was pulled after a single season, though it lives on as a TV classic in syndication.
"When they went to the half hour and it was filmed, it took away the spontaneity," Marilyn Gleason recounted.
Gleason returned with a lavish hour-long variety program in 1962, later moving his show from New York to Miami Beach. Carney rejoined the cast in 1966, and "The Honeymooners" was revived as hour-long segments filling over half the remaining "Jackie Gleason Show" telecasts during its final four years.
Asked why "The Honeymooners" has endured for so long, Marilyn Gleason quoted her husband's famous terse explanation: "Because it was funny."
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