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By CBS Television - eBay, Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

By CBS Television - eBay, Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

10 Bang, Zoom Facts About The Honeymooners

By CBS Television - eBay, Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

By CBS Television - eBay, Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

The Honeymooners is not only widely considered to be the first official TV spin-off series, it also served as the inspiration for the many blue-collar sitcoms that have since become syndication staples, including All in the Family, Roseanne, and The King of Queens. The series occasionally comes under fire in retrospect by folks who objected to Ralph Kramden’s occasional threats to send his wife, Alice, “to the Moon!,” but Alice was a strong woman who was never intimidated by Ralph’s bluster. In fact, her tongue was far sharper than his, and she regularly cut him down to size in most of their arguments, which is why he always ended up confessing to her, “Baby, you’re the greatest.” And away we go …

1. IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS A DIFFERENT ALICE.

The Honeymooners began as a semi-regular sketch on Gleason’s 1951 variety series Cavalcade of Stars. Most of the same elements that appeared on the later CBS series were already in place, except that Gleason’s waistline was noticeably smaller and “Alice” was played by a different actress.

Veteran vaudevillian Pert Kelton originated the role and would have remained on board had her husband, Ralph Bell, not sponsored an ad in The Daily Worker in 1948. Bell was branded a Communist and his name was published in the Red Channels pamphlet that served as an unofficial blacklist for potential employers. Kelton was guilty of fascism by association so, despite Gleason’s protests, the network terminated her while telling the viewing public that she’d left for health reasons due to a heart condition. Audrey Meadows took over the role for the CBS series.

2. JACKIE GLEASON ORIGINALLY REJECTED AUDREY MEADOWS FOR BEING “TOO YOUNG AND TOO PRETTY.”

When Meadows arrived to audition for the role of Alice, Jackie Gleason immediately rejected her, reportedly stating that she was “too young and too pretty” to play his working-class wife. Meadows went home, removed her makeup, changed her hairstyle and donned a plain house dress. She hired a photographer to take some de-glamorized shots of her and messengered them to Gleason. “That’s Alice!” Gleason declared, without realizing that it was the same actress he’d rejected the previous day.

3. ONLY ONE OF THE SHOW’S STARS EARNED A LIFETIME OF RESIDUALS FROM THE SERIES.

Meadows had two brothers, both of whom were attorneys. When it came time for her to sign her Honeymooners contract in 1952, they accompanied her to the bargaining table and insisted that a clause be inserted regarding residuals for any episodes that were re-broadcast. The network agreed, never imagining that the show would become every UHF station’s late-night filler fodder and that they would still be sending the actress checks 40 years later.

4. ART CARNEY’S DAD WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR MANY OF ED NORTON’S MANNERISMS.

Art Carney’s Ed Norton was famous for exasperating “Ralphie boy” with the elaborate gestures and flourishes he performed before the most mundane of tasks, whether it was signing a letter or playing the piano. Carney was simply imitating his father, who couldn’t perform the simplest of tasks—like signing his son’s report card—without going through a litany of routines, like adjusting the desk lamp just so, aligning the paper, moving other items on the desk, flexing his arms, and double-checking his pen. As much as Norton’s rituals exasperating Ralph, they delighted the audience, which prompted Gleason to encourage Carney to exaggerate and prolong his obsessive-compulsive motions.

5. NORTON’S SIGNATURE HAT BELONGED TO CARNEY.

The felt porkpie hat that Ed Norton wore was from Carney’s own wardrobe. He purchased the chapeau in 1935 when he was still in high school. It was the first hat he ever bought and cost him a whopping $5. In a 1985 interview with People magazine, Carney said that he still had the hat stashed in the closet of his home in Westbrook, Connecticut.

6. THE KRAMDENS’ APARTMENT WAS INTENTIONALLY DEPRESSING. 

By CBS Television - eBay itemphoto frontphoto back, Public Domain

Gleason designed the sparsely furnished Kramden apartment set to resemble the Chauncey Street tenement he grew up in in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Theoretically the Kramdens could have outfitted their flat with a few luxuries like the Nortons did, since Ralph and Ed made the same $62 per week salary (approximately $549 in today’s dollars). But Ed bought a lot of his furnishings on credit, which Ralph was dead set against.

Meadows received sacks of mail every week from concerned viewers containing decorative aprons, curtains, and knick-knacks so that she could spruce up her dreary living quarters.

7. THERE WERE NO DRESS REHEARSALS.

Gleason didn’t believe in rehearsals, mainly because he preferred his performance to be fresh and spontaneous, and partially because he preferred to spend his afternoons relaxing with friends at Toots Shor’s famous Manhattan watering hole. He usually did one run-through per script, with a minimal amount of crew on hand since he also wanted the cameramen and stage hands to hear and react to the jokes for the first time on filming nights.

Meadows, Carney, and Joyce Randolph preferred to go into each performance more prepared, so they would rehearse on their own with someone else reading Ralph’s lines. Gleason would occasionally forget some dialogue and would signal his distress by patting his stomach. That was a signal his co-stars (usually Carney) to ad lib enough to allow Gleason to regain his composure and continue on with the scene. Meadows also used body language—side-long glances, a jutting elbow from a hand on her hip—to discretely guide Gleason to his onstage “mark” when necessary.

The Great One also didn’t believe in retakes, so most bloopers were left in and papered over, like when the Handy Housewife Helper fell apart while Ralph and Norton were preparing for their infomercial in “Better Living through Television.”

8. THE SERIES HAD SOME A-LIST FANS.

Cary Grant, the very definition of a dashing and debonair Hollywood leading man, made a point of approaching Meadows on the Paramount lot one afternoon during The Honeymooners’s summer hiatus. As she recalled in her 1994 autobiography, Love, Alice, Meadows was flattered to have one of filmdom’s biggest stars so anxious to meet her and was just slightly crestfallen moments later to find out it was because he was a Honeymooners fan and wanted her to talk to Jackie Gleason about allowing him do a guest spot.

“I could be Ed Norton’s assistant in the sewer,” he suggested. Meadows couldn’t picture the dapper Grant wallowing in muck and replied, “But those sewer workers are exposed to all those rats and all that filth!” No worries, Grant assured her: “I’ve worked in Hollywood for years. I’ve seen worse filth and worked with bigger rats.” (Meadows would later co-star with Grant in That Touch of Mink, which was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between the two.)

9. JACKIE GLEASON BRIEFLY CONSIDERED SUING THE FLINTSTONES.

There’s no denying that Hanna-Barbera’s The Flintstones was heavily “influenced” by The Honeymooners: the primetime cartoon series focused on two couples who were neighbors, the main character was heavy-set and his nasal-voiced wife could be counted on to deflate his dreams of getting rich quick. Fred Flintstone and best friend/next door neighbor Barney Rubble were both members of the same lodge and bowling team, à la Ralph and Ed. Gleason noticed the similarities between the two shows and very briefly considered suing Hanna-Barbera, but decided against any legal action when his publicist asked him, “Do you want to go down in history as The Man Who Killed Fred Flintstone?”

While The Flintstones simply hinted at The Honeymooners, Warner Bros. was more blatant with their cartoon tribute. Their 1956 animated short was not only entitled The Honey-Mousers, but its main characters were named Ralph Krumden and Ned Morton. Somehow, Gleason got wind of the project after it was completed but before it was released to theaters and insisted on taking a look at it.

Director Robert McKimson dutifully sent him a print and shortly thereafter was told by Gleason (who, according to staff who’d been there for the viewing, had laughed himself silly throughout the episode) to “go ahead and make as many of ‘em as you want.”

10. GLEASON CALLED IT QUITS AFTER JUST ONE SEASON.

For several months after it premiered, The Honeymooners was second only to I Love Lucy in popularity and Gleason was dubbed the “king of Saturday night television.” But in the fall of 1955, rival network NBC moved its popular variety series The Perry Como Show to the 8 p.m. time slot on Saturday nights, and The Honeymooners started losing momentum. By September 1956, the show had dropped down to number 19 in the Nielsen ratings, and CBS was considering cancellation. Gleason, however, pulled the plug himself after 39 episodes, stating that the writers had exhausted all the possible plots for a half-hour sitcom and he wanted to go out on a high note, before the writing suffered.

The Honeymooners would return once again as a recurring skit on The Jackie Gleason Show (1966-1970), whenever Carney was available. According to Gleason, Carney was “90 percent” responsible for the success of The Honeymooners.

Additional Sources:
Art Carney: A Biography, by Michael Seth Starr
Love, Alice: My Life as a Honeymooner, by Audrey Meadows
The Official Honeymooners Treasury, by Peter Crescenti and Bob Columbe

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15 Facts About the First Episode of The Simpsons
FOX
FOX

On December 17, 1989, The Simpsons premiered on FOX. Nearly 30 years later, the Simpson family and their fellow Springfield residents are still going strong. Let's look back at where it all started—"Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire."

1. IT WAS SUPPOSED TO PREMIERE IN SEPTEMBER.

The Simpsons was originally planned to premiere earlier in the fall of 1989, but because of animation problems, the series began on December 17 with "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire." The original pilot, "Some Enchanted Evening," later aired as the season finale.

2. MARGE WAS SUPPOSED TO GET DRUNK.

According to Al Jean, the original premise of the episode was that "Homer was worried that Marge was going to get drunk at a party and get him in trouble at the office."

3. IT'S LACKING THE SERIES' NOW-FAMOUS OPENING SEQUENCE. 

The episode lacked the now-famous opening sequence, which was added in the second episode, "Bart the Genius," because creator Matt Groening thought a longer opening sequence would mean less animation.

4. GWEN STEFANI'S BROTHER PLAYED A KEY ROLE IN ITS CREATION.

One of the layout artists for "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" was Eric Stefani, brother of Gwen Stefani and a founding member of No Doubt.

5. BARNEY LOOKED A BIT DIFFERENT.

In the first episode, Barney had yellow hair, which was the same color as his skin. This was later changed because the people behind the show thought that only members of the Simpson family should have yellow hair.

6. LISA REALLY WANTED A PONY.

Lisa asks for a pony six times on her Christmas list (it's her first line in the series). She would later get her pony in the season 3 episode "Lisa's Pony."

7. PART OF IT WAS INSPIRED BY MATT GROENING'S SECOND GRADE SCHOOL REPORT.

According to the DVD commentary, the "Santas of many lands" portion of the Christmas pageant was inspired by a second grade report Matt Groening did on Christmas in Russia.

8. IT DIDN'T INVENT THE ALTERNATE VERSION OF "JINGLE BELLS."

Additionally, Groening claims that this episode has been incorrectly credited with creating the "alternate version" of "Jingle Bells." (Bart sings, "Jingle Bells/Batman Smells/Robin Laid an Egg...")

9. IT WAS ONLY THE SECOND ANIMATED SERIES TO AIR IN PRIMETIME SINCE THE FLINTSTONES.

The Simpsons was just the second animated show to air in primetime since The Flintstones went off the air 23 years earlier. (The other was Wait Till Your Father Gets Home, which aired from 1972-1974.)

10. THE IDEA WAS CONCEIVED UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL.

According to executive producer James L. Brooks, "The Simpsons series began like many things begin: with an animator getting drunk at a Christmas party ... We were already doing Tracey Ullman, and David Silverman, who was with us then and would go on to direct The Simpsons Movie, cornered me and poured out his heart about what having a primetime Simpsons show would mean to animators."

11. LISA WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A "LITTLE HELL-RAISER."

The Simpsons in 'The Town'
Fox

According to Al Jean, in the original shorts, "Lisa was supposed to be this little hell-raiser like Bart, but their character differentiation was wider when we went to full series."

12. YEARDLEY SMITH AUDITIONED FOR BART.

Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa, originally auditioned for Bart. "That lasted a good eight or nine seconds," Smith recounts, "It was like: "Cut, cut, cut! You sound too much like a girl!"

13. A SECOND CITY PERFORMANCE GOT DAN CASTELLANETA AN AUDITION.

Dan Castellaneta was invited to read for Homer Simpson after Tracey Ullman saw him perform a sketch comedy bit about a blind, crippled comedian at Second City in Chicago.

14. IT WAS MILLHOUSE'S FIRST APPEARANCE, BUT HE ALREADY EXISTED.

"Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" is the first time Milhouse appeared on the show, however he was featured in a Butterfinger commercial in 1988.

15. SANTA'S LITTLE HELPER WENT MISSING.

Because "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" was originally meant to be the eighth episode, Santa's Little Helper is mysteriously absent from the next episode ("Bart the Genius"). According to DVD commentary, the creators of the show received letters of praise for heightening the awareness of the abandonment of racing dogs even though they didn't know it was a real problem when they created the episode.

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27 Festive Facts About Christmas Vacation
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

On December 1, 1989, a new chapter of Griswold family dysfunction was unleashed upon the world when National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation made its debut in movie theaters and an instant holiday classic was born. Here are 27 things you might not know about everyone’s favorite Christmas comedy.

1. THE MOVIE IS BASED ON A SHORT STORY.

Like the 1983 original, Christmas Vacation is based on a short story, “Christmas ‘59,” written by John Hughes for National Lampoon in December 1980. Its literary predecessor is paid tribute to when Clark is trapped in the attic and pulls out a box of old home movies, including one labeled “Christmas ’59.” (Eagle-eyed viewers might notice that when Clark is watching the film, it actually says “Christmas 1955.”)

2. CLARK GREW UP IN SAMANTHA STEVENS’S HOUSE.

If Clark’s childhood home featured in those old movies looks familiar, that’s because it’s the same house featured on Bewitched as well as The New Gidget. Except it’s not a house at all; it’s part of the Warner Bros. back lot, located on what is known as Blondie Street. The rest of the Griswolds’ neighborhood is on a studio back lot as well. And if the home of their snooty neighbors, Todd and Margo, looks familiar, that’s because it’s where Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and his family lived in Lethal Weapon.

3. JOHN HUGHES WASN’T A FAN OF SEQUELS.

Though many of Hughes’ films have spawned sequels, the man himself was not a fan of retreads. “The only sequels I was involved in were under duress,” Hughes once stated in an interview. Though he’s credited as a writer on European Vacation, he said that was only because he had created the characters. “But the studio came to me and begged for another [Vacation movie], and I only agreed because I had a good story to base it on. But those movies have become little more than Chevy Chase vehicles at this stage. I didn't even know about Vegas Vacation until I read about it in the trades! Ever since it came out, people have been coming up to me with disappointed looks on their faces, asking ‘What were you thinking?’ ‘I had nothing to do with it! I swear!’”

4. IT’S ONE OF ONLY TWO CHRISTMAS MOVIES RELEASED IN 1989.

Though the holiday season is usually packed with Christmas-themed movies, Christmas Vacation was one of only two that were released in 1989. The other was John Hancock’s Prancer. Johnny Galecki, a.k.a. Rusty Griswold, starred in both.

5. AUDREY IS (MIRACULOUSLY) OLDER THAN RUSTY.

Johnny Galecki, Beverly D'Angelo, Chevy Chase, and Juliette Lewis in 'Christmas Vacation' (1989)
Warner Bros.

In both the original Vacation and European Vacation, Rusty is believed to be the older of the two Griswold children. In Christmas Vacation, Rusty somehow morphs into Audrey’s younger brother.

6. THE FILM HAS TIES TO IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.

In addition to footage from the Frank Capra classic actually appearing in the film, Christmas Vacation has another fun tie to It’s a Wonderful Life: Frank Capra’s grandson, Frank Capra III, is Christmas Vacation’s assistant director.

7. THE CAST OF CHRISTMAS VACATION WAS PRETTY IMPRESSIVE.

In addition to featuring future stars Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis (who scored a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination three years later for her role in Cape Fear), star Beverly D’Angelo was most impressed with the older actors who came along for the Christmas Vacation ride. “I attribute that to Jeremiah Chechik and his direction in bringing in E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, and Diane Ladd,” she noted. “That was really a special cast.”

8. IN A WAY, STANLEY KUBRICK IS TO THANK FOR CHRISTMAS VACATION.

Christmas Vacation marked the directorial debut of Jeremiah Chechik, who began his career as a fashion photographer for Vogue then moved into commercial directing. “I had made these commercials that became quite iconic here in the U.S.,” Chechik told to Den of Geek! in 2011. “They were very dark and sexy and sort of a little bit ahead of their time in terms of style. And what happened was they gained the notice of [Stanley] Kubrick, who had mentioned them as his favorite American filmmaking, ironically, in a New York Times article.” It didn’t take long for Chechik’s phone to start ringing and for studios to start sending him scripts. “And the script that really piqued my interest was Christmas Vacation," he said. "And the reason is I had never done any comedy—ever.”

9. CHECHIK HAD NEVER SEEN A VACATION MOVIE.

“I hadn't seen the first two [Vacation movies], and so I wasn't really influenced by anything other than the fact that it was a big—at the time—their big Christmas movie, and comedy,” Chechik said. “And I just felt if I could crack this maybe there's a whole other world of filmmaking for me.” Following Christmas Vacation, Chechik directed Benny & Joon, Diabolique, and The Avengers plus episodes of The Bronx is Burning, Gossip Girl, Chuck, and Burn Notice.

10. THE MOVIE HAD A HUGE BUDGET, PARTICULARLY FOR A COMEDY.

A $27 million budget, to be exact. Which was particularly high considering that the film had no special effects a la Ghostbusters (which was made for $30 million). But it had no trouble making its budget back; the film’s final domestic gross was $71,319,526.

11. ROGER EBERT DID NOT LOVE THE FILM.

Though it has become a bona fide holiday classic, not everyone was a fan of Christmas Vacation. In his two-star review of the film, Roger Ebert described the movie as “curious in how close it comes to delivering on its material: Sequence after sequence seems to contain all the necessary material, to be well on the way toward a payoff, and then it somehow doesn't work.”

12. IT’S THE ONLY SEQUEL IN THE VACATION FRANCHISE TO HAVE ITS OWN SEQUEL.

Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure DVD
Warner Home Video

But don’t be disappointed if you didn’t know that. Or haven’t seen it. The 2003 film, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure, was made for television. It finds Randy Quaid and Miriam Flynn (as Eddie and Catherine) stranded on an island in the South Pacific for the holidays. Yes, really. It currently holds a 12 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

13. AUDREY IS THE ONLY GRISWOLD TO APPEAR IN CHRISTMAS VACATION 2.

Dana Barron, who played Audrey in the original Vacation, reprised her role for the Christmas Vacation sequel. Eric Idle, who appeared in European Vacation, also makes an appearance, playing “English Victim.”

14. COUSIN EDDIE IS RANDY QUAID’S BEST-KNOWN CHARACTER.

At least it’s the role that gets him the most recognition. In a 1989 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Quaid admitted that he was amazed by the impact the character made. “People still come up to me and quote lines from that part. I get a lot of recognition from that role—probably as much, if not more, than any other.”

15. COUSIN EDDIE IS BASED ON A REAL GUY.

Quaid borrowed many of Cousin Eddie’s mannerisms from a guy he knew growing up in Texas, most notably his tendency toward tongue-clicking. But Eddie’s sweater/Dickie combo? That was an idea from Quaid’s wife.

16. YOU CAN BUY YOUR OWN DICKIE.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Collectibles is a website dedicated to all things Christmas Vacation (obviously). Among the many fun items are Cousin Eddie wardrobe staples, moose mugs, and punch bowls.

17. EDDIE’S SON, ROCKY, DOESN’T SPEAK IN THE FILM.

Nope, not a word.

18. AUNT BETHANY IS BETTY BOOP.

Christmas Vacation marked the final film of Mae Questel, who began her career as the voice of Betty Boop in 1931. She passed away at the age of 89 in January of 1998.

19. BETHANY AND LOUIS’ ENTRANCE MADE THE EARTH SHAKE.

At the same time the production filmed the arrival of Uncle Louis and Aunt Bethany at the Griswold house, a minor earthquake struck. The camera shakes slightly as a result of it as Bethany walks through the front door.

20. CHRISTMAS VACATION WENT STRAIGHT TO VIDEO IN ENGLAND.

Though the movie is a popular holiday film in the UK too, it was never actually shown in theaters there. Instead, it went straight to home video.

21. YOU WON’T HEAR “HOLIDAY ROAD” IN CHRISTMAS VACATION.

Christmas Vacation is the only movie in the series that doesn’t feature Lindsey Buckingham’s song, “Holiday Road.” Instead, a new song—the aptly titled “Christmas Vacation”—was written for the film by married songwriting duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. A cover of the song appears on the 2007 Disney Channel Holiday album.

22. RANDY QUAID IS THE THIRD COUSIN OF GENE AUTRY.

Which may just sound like a random. But at the end of the film, when the police raid the Griswold home, the version of “Here Comes Santa Claus” being used is Autry’s.

23. ELLEN GRISWOLD LIED TO THE COPS.

In the same scene, Ellen Griswold apologizes to Mrs. Shirley—the wife of Clark’s boss and Eddie’s kidnapping victim—assuring her that “This is our family's first kidnapping,” when, in fact, it is their second. At least the second that we know of: In the first Vacation film, the Griswolds force Lasky, the security guard at Wally World (played by John Candy), to open the park for them.

24. CHEVY CHASE, BEVERLY D’ANGELO, AND JULIETTE LEWIS REUNITED IN 2012.

The trio got together to film a series of Old Navy commercials for the holiday season. Though Johnny Galecki wasn’t there, two previous Rustys—Anthony Michael Hall and Jason Lively—were. As was Dana Barron.

25. JOHNNY GALECKI RECEIVED AN AWARD FROM CHEVY CHASE.

In a 2012 interview, The Sydney Morning Herald asked Johnny Galecki whether he has kept in touch with Chevy Chase. He admitted that “the only time I’ve seen him since that movie, which was 21 years ago I think, is when he presented us with our People’s Choice Award, so that was really neat. If you’re going to run into Chevy again it may as well be as he’s giving you an award.”

26. CHEVY CHASE AND BEVERLY D'ANGELO WERE ANXIOUS TO SEE ANOTHER VACATION MOVIE HAPPEN.

On July 29, 2015, the latest film in the Vacation franchise—simply titled Vacation—made its debut. And it couldn't have happened soon enough for Chase and D'Angelo. In 2011, Chase told Ain’t It Cool News that “I just got off the phone with Beverly D’Angelo. We are trying to work up a new Vacation and apparently Warner’s is working on one with grandchildren, but the one that Bev and I want … You know, we are just trying to think of ideas, because she is very funny and very brilliant, so when you get her in a writing mood and me in writing mood, it’s good, but it’s very hard to get the time.”

27. THE STUDIO WON THAT ONE.

Chase and D’Angelo may have had their own ideas, but the studio moved ahead with that whole “one with grandchildren” thing. Written and directed by John Francis Daley (Sam from Freaks and Geeks) and Jonathan M. Goldstein (who wrote Horrible Bosses), Vacation featured a grown-up Rusty (played by Ed Helms) taking his own family on a road trip.

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