The Honeymooners Lost Episodes: The Complete Restored Series
by Elaine Hegwood Bowen
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I never knew that anyone other than Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph played as the wives of the two scheming husbands on The Honeymooners, but I found out just the opposite when I watched The Honeymooners Lost Episodes: The Complete Restored Series, which is available on DVD October 4. Elaine Stritch played Trixie Norton for one episode, before Randolph took over, and Pert Keltman played Alice Kramden, before Meadows came along. It’s always Ralph Kramden, played by Jackie Gleason, scheming and conniving to get rich quick, and he’s always pulling Ed Norton, played by Art Carney, into the mix some kind of way. And I believe that if this series were filmed and airing now, domestic violence advocates would be heavy on the case, because Ralph is forever threatening Alice and speaking down to her. But in the end—as broke as they are—they make up and love one another, until the next round of spats.
The DVD collection holds a treasure trove of more than 50 hours included in a 15-DVD set. Indeed many episodes haven’t been seen in more than 50 years. And how sweet it is! It was good to sit and watch a series that I remember watching when I was younger and had not explored New York yet, wondering where this place was on the map. The Honeymooners, which was Jackie Gleason’s best-loved creation, started as a sketch on the Cavalcade of Stars program, and Gleason was a relatively unknown comic. From the moment it debuted on the DuMont Network, the variety show that starred Gleason in 1951, The Honeymooners has been an American television treasure.
When Gleason moved to CBS a year later he took the show with him, and between 1952 and 1957, The Honeymooners became a regular feature of The Jackie Gleason Show on CBS. Viewers fell in love with beleaguered Brooklyn bus driver Ralph, his long-suffering wife Alice and their best friends and neighbors, sewer worker Norton his wife Trixie.These classic Honeymooners episodes were broadcast live and never seen again until Gleason opened his private film vault in 1985 and announced that he had kinescopes – films made from a television monitor - of these thought-to-be-lost live Honeymooners shows. Now, in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the very first Honeymooners broadcast, MPI Home Video and Jackie Gleason Enterprises present the most complete collection possible of these rare gems. Many have not been seen anywhere in 50 years and numerous sketches and episodes are making their DVD debut.
In Guest Speaker, Ralph is excited because he’s been invited to deliver a speech at his lodge meeting; at least he thinks he’s been invited to speak. After haranguing Alice all evening about the speech and his pants, which are still at the cleaners, he finally realizes that he’s not really giving the speech. He is just introducing the featured speaker. Of course, he is crushed, and Alice soothes his wounded soul, as always.
In Champagne and Caviar, Ralph tries to play big dog and invites his boss to his home, so he can ask for a raise. There’s a meeting of the board the next morning, and he boss is delighted and humbled by being invited to Ralph’s home. But after Ralph curries the boss’ favor, with Champagne, caviar and cigars, the boss asks how much he makes. When he’s leaving, while grabbing a handful of cigars, he tells Ralph that since he can make it so well on the small salary that he’s receiving, the boss is going to vote that any raise be halted. Again, Ralph has a sour look on his face; he thought he was beating the boss, but he overcompensated this time.
The New Television Set is a touching episode that has Alice testing out a new television set, while Ralph is at work. Of course, when he returns home from work, he’s livid because they can’t afford the set. But when the salesman comes to retrieve the set, he talks about how Alice’s eyes were like those of a kid, while watching the screen. Ralph is touched, and he agrees to buy the set, even though they sorely can’t afford it. In the end, Alice and Ralph share the chair together and watch a bit of television themselves—all cuddled up.
Other episodes include:
The collection has been digitally restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and includes a deluxe 42-page booklet containing the full Honeymooners history and rare photos, compiled by Honeymooners expert Robert S. Bader. With “The Great One,” Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden – one of television’s most beloved and iconic characters – The Honeymooners remains as hilarious as when it was first seen more than half a century ago. Generations of Honeymooners fans can rejoice as the most complete collection of these classic shows is now available.
Look for The Honeymooners Lost Episodes: The Complete Restored Series October 4 from MPI Home Video. Visit www.mpihomevideo.com.
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Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago and serves as a news editor at FilmMonthly.com.
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