Audrey Meadows died in 1996 of lung cancer, but her portrayal of Alice Kramden on The Honeymooners lives on in television history. The 1950s sitcom about a married couple living in Brooklyn was relatively short-lived but is considered one of the most beloved television shows in history. Meadows almost was not Alice, though. In fact, her persistence and sense of humor are the only reasons she was given a chance to take on the role.
Alice Kramden was originally portrayed by Pert Kelton
The Honeymooners was not the first time television audiences were introduced to Ralph and Alice Kramden. The couple first appeared on Cavalcade of Stars in a series of sketches. Jackie Gleason portrayed Ralph, but Meadows was not his wife in the skits. Alice, instead, was portrayed by an actor named Pert Kelton.
Kelton was dropped as Alice when the sketch idea moved to CBS. Initially, it was reported that Kelton was suffering from a heart problem and was unable to continue in the role. MeTV, however, claims that Kelton was blacklisted from Hollywood and only remained on Cavalcade of Stars at the urging of Gleason. Kelton eventually died of a heart attack, but her death occurred years after The Honeymooners went off the air.
Audrey Meadows was initially passed over for the role of Alice In The Honeymooners
When CBS was looking to replace Kelton, they auditioned a series of actors. Meadows was one of those actors. Her Broadway background was of interest to CBS executives, and they had seriously considered offering her the role, but Gleason reportedly vetoed the idea. According to The Los Angeles Times, Gleason objected because he didn’t think Meadow’s pairing with his own character was believable.
According to the publication, Gleason suggested Meadows was too young and too pretty to be a blue-collar housewife. Meadows wasn’t substantially more youthful than her co-star, though. Meadows was 28 the year The Honeymooners premiered. Gleason was just six years her senior.
Meadows was finally given the role after she sent photos of herself looking “unglamorous”
Meadows refused to accept no for an answer. To prove she could portray Ralph’s long-suffering wife, she reportedly hired a photographer to take pictures of her looking disheveled. She told The Los Angeles Times in 1993 that the photographer took photos of her with no makeup on while she stood in a kitchen holding a frying pan. The pictures were so different that Gleason reportedly didn’t recognize her the first time he looked at the photos.
She told the publication that Gleason told executives to hire her the second he saw the photos. The decision turned out to be the right one. While The Honeymooners only ran for 39 episodes, it remains immortalized as one of the most beloved shows in history. Meadows will always be Alice Kramden to fans.