Legendary comic Jackie Gleason wasn’t called The Great One for nothing. He knew what worked and what didn’t work on the now-iconic comedy he was in charge of.
Things were done on The Honeymooners set Gleason’s way, no questions asked. As Audrey Meadows’ co-star Joyce Randolph told the Television Academy Foundation in 1999, this prompted the Alice Kramden star to break down in tears of frustration.
‘The Honeymooners’ ran for 39 episodes
Gleason didn’t create The Honeymooners but he made every last decision relating to the show’s success as he saw it.
His most important decision on the series was to call it quits after a single season. The comedy has had staying power even with just 39 episodes. As far as the star’s reasoning for ending it early, he claimed he didn’t want the show to overstay its welcome.
“We were running out of ideas,” Gleason told Johnny Carson in 1996. “I liked The Honeymooners and I liked doing them, and I didn’t want to denigrate them by forcing scenes that didn’t mean anything.
“So I wanted to quit, but they didn’t believe me,” he added. “They thought I had another job someplace, but I didn’t. I’m glad I did stop them, because what we had done was good and if we had gone any further, we might have spoiled it.”
Those 39 episodes never required 1 single retake
Alice Kramden actor Meadows, appearing in 1989 on Pat Sajak’s late-night talk show, explained that making those 39 episodes was basically a thrill ride. Each episode was shot once, as Gleason insisted on no do-overs. How the scene came out was how the scene came out said Meadows, who died in 1996.
“What people don’t know,” she told Sajak, “is that back then you did 39 shows and you had 13 weeks off. We did our 39 shows, two a week, and we never had to reshoot one single shot or word.”
Meadows added, “There was one show called ‘Chef of the Future,’ where Ralph and Ed go on television and are trying to sell some dreadful kitchen equipment. A piece of it broke off and it flew off the set and the two of them just kept going. You never did it over; Jackie wanted it fresh.”
Meadows’ tears helped the cast learn their lines
According to Joyce Randolph, her co-star was in tears when the show first started. Gleason’s edict of “one and done” rehearsal was difficult for her to work with.
“Audrey was amazed at the small amount of rehearsal,” Randolph recalled. “She said she was in tears on the first show. I didn’t see her crying, but she said she was in tears. But she got through it, because Audrey is very smart. “
The Trixie Norton actor explained that Meadows figured out a work-around. It involved rehearsing without Gleason.
“Audrey learned everybody’s words in the script,” Randolph said. “And then we would all run after we had this one rehearsal with Jackie on Saturday afternoons, we’d go on up to Audrey’s dressing room.
“Her manager would read in Jackie’s words, and that would help everybody a great deal to run it a number of times that way,” she revealed.
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