‘The Honeymooners’: Only 1 of Jackie Gleason’s Co-Stars From the Classic TV Show Attended His Funeral
Actor Jackie Gleason was known as The Great One, a nickname given to him by fellow actor Orson Welles. Gleason would later say he wasn’t sure if Welles had given him the handle because of his talent or his ‘drinking capacity.’
Although the actor had quite an impressive television and film résumé, he was known and beloved most for his role as Ralph Kramden on the 1950s TV comedy, The Honeymooners.
When Gleason died in 1987, just one of his co-stars from the classic program went to his funeral.
Gleason was ‘The Greatest’ of his generation
Inarguably one of television’s most important pioneers, Gleason was a bright light in the medium’s early days. From his early role as Chester A. Riley in The Life of Riley to his work in Cavalcade of Stars, which eventually led to The Honeymooners, Gleason was a force to be reckoned with.
“In his art, he has the grace and exquisite timing of a Chaplin,” author Jim Bishop said of Gleason in his book The Golden Ham: A Candid Biography of Jackie Gleason. “He is a good actor because he loves to act and he studies acting. And yet he never immerses himself in a part. Once, after a hilarious scene in The Honeymooners, he came offstage mopping his face, walked up to a stagehand and said: ‘I was thinking of your problem while I was out there, and I think I have the answer.’”
Working with Gleason was not for the faint of heart, this co-star said
In her role as Trixie Norton, Joyce Randolph told the Television Academy Foundation, she witnessed the frenetic pace Gleason set. While the actor said the experience was exhilarating, it was also at times painstaking.
Once Gleason arrived for work on the set of The Honeymooners, there were, ironically, no laughs. The actor who was also the comedy’s showrunner kicked things off at a frantic pace and never let up.
“Nerves were very high,” Randolph recalled. “And then people who came on just for that week were not used to this fast pace. I saw an actor vomit in the wings once from nerves. It was scary.”
Randolph praised her other two co-stars, Audrey Meadows and Art Carney, for their ability to keep up with Gleason’s stage tempo.
“I don’t know how Art and Audrey did it,” she said. “They had so many lines with him. They carried the whole thing. My part was generally smaller, I was always thrilled if it was longer. But it was tough. Art’s a genius, [he’s] wonderful.”
Gleason’s funeral was for family only – but Audrey Meadows was there
Gleason died of colon and liver cancer at age 71. Private to the end, the actor didn’t want others knowing of his diagnosis, which he learned of while filming his final role in the comedy-drama Nothing in Common with Tom Hanks.
According to The Los Angeles Times, only 150 people attended Gleason’s final respects. It was a small group considering how many knew and loved the performer.
The outlet reported that, while services were “closed except to family members,” one notable guest was his onscreen wife, Audrey Meadows. The Alice Kramden actor held a “single red carnation,” as did Gleason’s wife, daughters, and sister-in-law.
It was not made clear why Meadows was invited to attend and not Gleason’s other Honeymooners’ co-stars.
The actor’s casket was on view to the public the day before his funeral. His Ed Norton co-star Art Carney said that he had spoken with Gleason just days before his death.
“We hit it off beautifully from the beginning,” Carney said. “It was the right chemistry from the first handshake in 1950. He was 35 and I was 32. He was a helluva good actor and a very funny man. We always worked easily together.”