Monkey See
3:12 pm
Tue October 4, 2011

DVD Picks: 'The Honeymooners'

Originally published on Tue October 4, 2011 5:52 pm

Time for our movie critic Bob Mondello to suggest something for home-viewing. Today, he's exploring a 15-disk collection of classic TV comedy that nobody's seen for a while: The Honeymooners: The Lost Episodes.

What are known as the "classic" 39 Honeymooners half-hours first aired on CBS in 1955 and 1956, but they played in syndication for decades. That's how most of us know the show's iconic characters: Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason), his wife Alice (Audrey Meadows), their sewer-worker neighbor Ed Norton (Art Carney) and his wife Trixie (Joyce Randolph).

But before it was a sitcom, The Honeymooners was a sketch, and this collection goes back to the very beginning: 6 minutes and 38 seconds from the Oct. 5, 1951, edition of the variety show Cavalcade of Stars. Their run-down New York tenement looks just as it would later, but Alice doesn't. She's played not by Meadows, but by Pert Kelton, who lost the part after that first season of sketches, when her husband sued the anti-communist magazine Red Channels, which had labeled him a subversive.

Kelton's tougher, raspier Alice does serious battle with Gleason's Ralph in that first episode, hurling stuff out the window, including a can of flour that hits actor Art Carney on the head. Only he's not playing sewer-rat Ed Norton yet; he's just a passing policeman.

If the characters aren't always familiar early-on, the plots often are — short versions of what would later turn into half-hour episodes. Also those catch-phrases that both Alice and the audience knew were empty threats: "To the moon, Alice!" and "One of these days ... Pow, right in the kisser."

Gleason kept the original kinescopes in a private vault for decades, and though some of these "lost" episodes have been available since the '80s, this 60th Anniversary collection still has fresh treats, including the home-video debut of eight musical Honeymooners episodes from 1957, when the Kramdens won a trip to Europe.

Other curiosities include Honeymooners parodies on the Jack Benny show, scripts from missing episodes, and some Cold War-era sarcasm, in a bit where Ralph is mistaken for a Soviet Commissar and asked to comment on the sad plight of the American worker. Who better than TV's proletarian, after all, to set that record straight? A prole who's blustery, but can always be tamed in the final scene by his wife.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

GUY RAZ, Host:

And I'm Guy Raz.

TV: The Lost Episodes."

BOB MONDELLO: Thirty-nine "Honeymooners" half-hours played in syndication for decades, but before it was a sitcom, "The Honeymooners" was a sketch. And this collection goes back to the very beginning, October 5, 1951, on a variety show called "Cavalcade of Stars."

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW, "CAVALCADE OF STARS")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This evening, Jackie Gleason introduces two brand new characters, Ralph and Alice Kramden. As the curtain opens, we find Alice preparing dinner for Ralph, who is due home from a hard day driving a bus.

MONDELLO: Their rundown New York tenement looks just like it would later, but Alice doesn't. She's played not by Audrey Meadows, but by Pert Kelton, who lost the part after just a few sketches when her husband was blacklisted.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW, "THE HONEYMOONERS")

PERT KELTON: (as Alice Kramden) (Singing) They say I'm much too young to learn.

MONDELLO: Kelton's tougher, raspier Alice does serious battle with Gleason's Ralph, hurling stuff out the window that hits actor Art Carney on the head, only he's not playing sewer rat Ed Norton yet, just a passing policeman.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW, "THE HONEYMOONERS")

ART CARNEY: (as Policeman) Don't let it happen again. Sheesh.

MONDELLO: If the characters aren't always familiar early on, the plots often are, shorter versions of what would later be half hour episodes and those catchphrases that both Alice and the audience knew were empty threats.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW, "THE HONEYMOONERS")

JACKIE GLEASON: (as Ralph Kramden) One of these days, Alice, one of these days. Pow. Right in the kisser.

MONDELLO: Gleason kept the original kinescopes in a private vault for decades and though some of these 100 or so lost episodes have been seen since, this 60th anniversary collection still has fresh treats, including the home video debut of eight musical "Honeymooners" when the Kramdens won a trip to Europe.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW, "THE HONEYMOONERS")

GLEASON: (as Ralph Kramden) (Singing) I'll visit all the suave cafes and have a round of drinks and while I'm there in Paris, I may stop to see the Sphinx.

AUDREY MEADOWS: (Singing) The Sphinx?

GLEASON: (Singing) The Sphinx.

MONDELLO: Other curiosities include a Jack Benny honeymooners' parody, scripts from missing episodes and some Cold War sarcasm when Ralph is mistaken for a Soviet commissar and asked to comment on the sad plight of the American worker. Who better than TV's proletarian to set that record straight? A proletarian who's blustery, but can always be tamed in the final scene by his wife.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW, "THE HONEYMOONERS")

GLEASON: I start screaming and ranting and raving and I don't even know why I'm yelling.

MEADOWS: You'd better hurry up, champ. We'll be late.

GLEASON: Baby, you're the greatest. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Related Program