It’s hard to believe that one of the most popular comedy shows of the 1950’s was not really a show at all, at least not in the way that we think of a television series today. The show began its life in 1951 as a segment on the popular Cavalcade of Stars. At that time only Jackie Gleason and Art Carney starred in their familiar roles. Alice was played by Pert Kelton. The series took its more recognizable look when it became part of The Jackie Gleason Show in 1955.That’s also when Joyce Randolph joined the series as Trixie Norton. The series would take up a half hour of the slot. The second half was taken up by a larger variety of pieces, usually a series called Stage Show. The show would come and go, with other cast members coming and going over time. Even Art Carney had left The Jackie Gleason Show at one time, only to return in 1957 to the role. The show’s history is a complicated one to which entire books have been devoted over the years. It wasn’t until syndication that the series was really a show unto itself. The original 39 episodes were joined with nearly 70 re-edited versions of the other various incarnations of the show have made up what most of us today think of as The Honeymooners. The final original versions of the show ended in 1971; both Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph were gone by then, replaced by Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean respectively.
But this show that wasn’t really a show had legs. The syndicated versions became hugely popular, and new generations of fans were being indoctrinated with each new package. The show even survived on pay television at Showtime for a while in the 1990’s when the 70 newly-formed “Lost Episodes” first aired. But the fever just never died. The show would influence a large number of series that would follow. Even the animated world of cartoons wasn’t safe. The Flintstones would come along and become a prehistoric cartoon show that was basically the same down to the characters. Fred and Barney couldn’t have been closer to Ralph and Norton if their names had been the same. Today, comedians constantly recall The Honeymooners and Jackie Gleason as their inspiration. To more than one generation of television viewers, Gleason really was “The Great One”.
Between 1976 and 1978 four Honeymooners specials were produced. They were filmed, once again live in front of a studio audience. This time they were made in color and filmed in Miami, Florida. Gleason and Carney returned to the star roles, accompanied by Audrey Meadows and Jane Kean, a mix-up, of sorts, of the last incarnations of the show.
In The Honeymooners A Christmas Carol we find Ralph bragging about taking Alice to Miami for a Christmas vacation. That is until his boss, played by long-time Lucille Ball foil Gale Gordon, approaches Ralph about finding a director for his wife’s charity play. The charity is to give homeless cats in New York City a Merry Christmas. Ralph believes the guy who takes the assignment is going to move up to traffic manager. Of course, he puts himself up for the job and his gladly accepted. Now he has to convince Alice that it’s worth giving up their vacation in Miami. The play is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and Ralph immediately decides to rewrite the iconic author. He also takes in a few endorsement deals that need to be worked into the production. The end result isn’t anything like the story we all know and love, but somehow it all works out, even with Norton playing both Scrooge and Tiny Tim in a sequence that delivers most of the show’s best laughs.
You get an interview with Jane Kean a a bonus episode of the 1960’s series.
This special aired toward the end of the run of the specials, and the cast is certainly showing their age by now. Still, everything that made The Honeymooners what it was is still there in 1977, nearly 30 years from when it all started in live television. The release isn’t going to win over any new fans to the show or Jackie Gleason. But if you are already a fan of the show, this one will hit you, “Pow! Right in the kisser.”