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Wisconsin State Journal from Madison, Wisconsin • 55

Location:
Madison, Wisconsin
Issue Date:
Page:
55
Extracted Article Text (OCR)

1 Wisconsin State Journal, Sunday, February 6, 1994 TVHMTEOTAillMEriT 9F Trixie and Alice stuck in endless TV honeymoon or years after that role, directors would say: "No, we can't use her. She's too well known as Trixie." Joyce Randolph 'A jLJLfter the series, I was lucky to do guest shots but almost all of the stuff I was offered was something in the kitchen, always in the damn Audrey Meadows By Bryan Miller New York Times NEW YORK Sometimes an actress becomes so identified with one role in her career that the character clings to her as stubbornly as puppy hair to a navy blazer, impossible to brush off. "For years after that role, directors would say: 'No, we can't use her. She's too well known as said Joyce Randolph, who was immortalized as the wife of Ed Norton, the rubber-limbed sewer worker in the 1950s television sitcom "The Honeymooners." A similar fate befell Audrey Meadows, who played the wisecracking wife of a blustering bus driver named Ralph Kramden, portrayed by Jackie Gleason. "After the series, I was lucky to do guest shots with Dinah Shore and Red Skelton, but almost all of the stuff I was offered was something in the kitchen, always in the damn kitch en," Meadows recalled over lunch recently at Le Cirque.

For both women, still close and affectionate, their famous television personae hover above them like giant balloon characters at a Macy's parade, attracting throngs of nostalgic admirers and prompting dozens of letters a week. Since "The Randolph's acting career has been limited to commercials and occasional musical summer stock. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, Richard Charles, a retired advertising executive. Meadows, who lives in Beverly Hills, and has been divorced once and widowed once, has made many guest appearances on television shows and was in two subsequent sitcoms, "Too Close for Comfort" and "Uncle Buck." She has recently completed a book about "The Honeymooners" titled "Love, Alice," which is to be r- "Ww' Joyce Randolph (far right) and Audrey Meadows, Trixie and Alice of "The Honeymooners," couldn't break away from their famed characters. i C'T published by Crown.

Entering the restaurant wearing a shimmering pink-and-white Chanel suit and oversize tinted glasses, Meadows was hardly recognizable as the tough-as-steel-wool spouse who fended off many threatened flights to the moon, courtesy of Ralph. Her once crystalline voice has taken on a cigarette-induced gruff-ness, but her distinctive inflection, familiar to all "Honeymooners" addicts, remains. Meadows began her career in musical comedies. The daughter of a missionary, she lived in China until age 5, when her family moved to California so the children could be educated in the United States. "I first got into musical comedy as a teen-ager as the result of singing in church," she explained.

She eventually joined road tours of shows like "High Button Shoes." Randolph had a similar theatrical background. After performing in local theater in her hometown of Detroit, she made the mythical trek to New York City in search of fame. i it ti i I i i CTM Productions presents FRIDAY'S CHILD by Pamela Sterling February 11-27, 1994 Madison Civic Center For tickets call 266-9055 urn fL i tana the commercial, and the can opener is supposed to come down on Jackie's hand so he can do his pain bit," Meadows recalled. "Then he starts running around the room, and he hits a prop wall that isn't fixed securely. He knocks down the wall and lands on his face.

Then, Artie goes to help him and Artie lands on his face. That scene, just as it happened, was left in and is still being shown today." Neither woman has anything nice to say about the most recent biography of Gleason, "The Great One," by William Henry III (Dou-bleday), which portrays Gleason as a moody, booze-soaked egomaniac who bullied his writers and abandoned his family. While both contend that the book presents a flawed portrait, Ran-: dolph concedes that Gleason sometimes mistreated his staff. "He was very mean to the writers," she said. "He kept them isolated.

He didn't get to know them." Meadows, to this day Gleason's greatest defender, attacked Henry's emphasis on Gleason's drinking. "Jackie did not drink on the' show, ever, not one sip." About the book's accusation that Gleason tried to thwart the richly talented Art Carney, both women strongly disagree. "Never, never," Meadows said. "There were times when he would say in rehearsal: 'Give that line to Artie. It would be funnier coming from Randolph said, "Art didn't want to be top banana.

He was always so 1 low-key and shy." When Gleason was once asked why "The Honeymooners" was so popular nearly 40 years later, he replied, "It's funny." Meadows curred. "We had such good writing," she said. "The money people running the industry today don't know good scripts." Moreover, "The Honeymooners" was a mini-morality play, in which the characters always learned les- sons about things like greed, vanity, trust, love and the importance of sharing. "You know what I thought was interesting about 'The Honeymoon- ers'?" Meadows said. "There we were, blowing whatever money we had from his driving a bus.

The Nortons lived a little better than we did because they put everything on credit. We were both lower middle-class people, but we had class. 'Ro- even though it's funny, do you think they have class?" Recommended for age 6 and up This production in supported in part by the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission. In 1945, after several years of touring and appearing in Broadway shows, she found herself in Schenectady, N.Y., where General Electric had some of its early television production studios. "Mostly I remember the lights, which were so harsh, and that terrible black lipstick," she said, rubbing her lips as if trying to remove it The first television sketches were largely reworks of popular radio mysteries.

"For a while I was publicized as the most murdered girl on television," Randolph said, laughing. Acting jobs were easier to find then than they are today. "We all were in the same kinds of bars and restaurants Sardi's, Lindy's, the Blue Angel," Meadows recalled. Randolph found her way to the DuMont television network, where she was asked to do a Clorets commercial. She was such a hit that CBS asked her to do the same commercial on "Cavalcade of Stars," a variety show whose host was Gleason, a former nightclub comic who was a rising star.

It was on this show that Gleason began developing characters like Reginald Van Gleason III, Rudy the Repairman and Ralph Kramden. "Cavalcade of Stars" opened in 1950 and ran for two seasons, followed by two years of "The Jackie Gleason Show" and then, in 1955, "The Honeymooners." Gleason liked the young "Clorets girl." So when he began casting "The Honeymooners" he offered the part of Trixie to Randolph. For his stage wife, named Alice, he chose a seasoned actress named Pert Helton. The part of the sewer worker went to Art Carney. Meadows, who eventually replaced Kelton as Alice, was a pioneer in the early days of television, too, in both Chicago and New York City, doing bit parts in skits on variety shows as well as commercials.

Her mellifluous voice won her a job in the comedic sketches of the radio duo Bob and Ray. While working on radio, she was asked to take a leading part in the Broadway musical "Top Banana," starring Phil Silvers. On Broadway she became acquainted with Gleason's manager, Bullets Durgom. "He actually looked like a bullet bald, short, roundish," she said. By this time, Gleason had moved his variety show, which included a "Honeymooners" sketch, to CBS.

Just two weeks before the first show, he had to find a new actress to portray Alice because Kelton had fallen ill. Gleason supposedly rejected Meadows for being "too young and too pretty." As Meadows relates the story, she went home that evening, put on a frumpy housedress, changed her hair and had a photographer take pictures. Gleason saw the photos and hired her on the spot, not knowing he had rejected her the day before. Did the two young actresses have any idea they were about to make television history? "Heavens, no," Randolph said, placing an open hand on her cheek, a la Trixie Norton. "Everything was so casual in those days, you never thought it would be important." In fact, Meadows was the only one of the supporting cast who drew up a contract calling for residuals.

"The Honeymooners" achieved immortality with the 1955-56 television season, when 39 episodes were filmed at the Adelphi Theater on West 54th Street in Manhattan. The cast performed twice a week, Tuesday and Friday nights, before an audience of about 1,000 people. Gleason loved spontaneity; hence, there was little or no rehearsal. Often the cast received the script the night before performing; it was not unusual for them to try on their costumes just before going on the air. Both actresses recalled one memorable fiasco on stage, during an episode called "Better Living Through TV," in which Ralph buys a warehouse full of fancy can openers and tries to sell them fast by appearing in a television commercial with Norton.

"The two of them are making COUPON- Only ahy ozjb mm xrmi mmm Excludes Sala Itsras Coupon Qcca rctauary C-D i "1 i tu i 4 I Tomr Arts Cxatta Czrerstorss I L. m'imm 'mm mm mm Zmm' CUUPUXJ i mm EUR (30S 1 It's that time of year again; time to rummage through those negatives and photos you've shot during the past year and submit them (or The Capital Times' annual Amateur Photo Contest. Amateur photographers are once again invited to submit their favorite photographs in two 1 categories, color and black and white for This Emmy Award-winning kids' series pro- i (oj Above; Sonya Barham of Madison captured Second Pbce in the 1993 Black White division with her entry "Untitled. VVlSCOnsm siociuucibmxs naauunuuiL xs uatR iui a second season thanks to major underwriting from: Foundationjc Wisconsin Automobile Truck Dealers NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION 3. The contest is open to anyone except employees of The Capital Times or Madison Newspapers, their immediate families or professional photographers.

4. Entries will be judged by The Capital Times photographers Dave Sandell, Henry A. Koshollek, Rich Rygh and Mike DeVries. All decisions of the judges will be final. Questions on the contest may be answered by calling Ann Burl-Meyer at 252-641 7 or Gary Neuensch wander at 252-642 1 5.

TheCapitalTimeswillnotacceptresponsibility for the negatives, prints or transparencies submitted as entries to the contest. Winning entries will become the property of The Capital Times and will not be returned. Other photos will be returned if accompanied by self-addressed, stamped envelope. 6. Entries should be sent to: Photo Contest, The Capital Times, P.O.

Box 8060, Madison, Wl 53708. Each entry must be postmarked by Thursday, March 31, 1994. judging competition. One photo out of the two categories will be selected "Best of Show" by contest judges and win $200. In addition, first, second and third place winners will be selected in EACH category and receive $100, $75 and $50 respectively.

All winning photos will be published in The Capital Times. IhoRules: 1 All photos and slides entered in the contest must have been taken no earlier than January 1993 Contestants may submit three photos in each of the two categories. 2. All entries must have the name, address, home and work telephone numbers of the entrant as well as the theme or title of that photo printed clearly in ink on the back of the photo or the mounting of the slide. Black and white prints and color prints must be no larger than 1 Vety small prints are not advisable.

Prints should not be mounted or framed. Color slides must be in paper or plastic mounts. No slides will be accepted for black and white photo entries. Additional funding provided by The Glenn Gertrude Humphrey Foundation MAHSfiFiELD CHILDHirfS Sundays at 6:30 PHs Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. TheGepitalTinies.

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