She played one of America’s all-time favorite neighbors. As “Trixie Norton” on The Honeymooners, Joyce Randolph was that pal that you wished lived upstairs. She was friend to Audrey Meadows’ “Alice Kramden,” other half to Art Carney’s “Ed Norton,” and along with Jackie Gleason, made up one of the funniest foursomes in television history. In her Archive of American Television interview from 1999, Randolph speaks in detail about her time as “Trixie,” sharing what it was like to do the show with very little rehearsal, since Jackie Gleason preferred it that way, and recalling her memories of the “Classic 39″ episodes.
She shares how she won the role:
Describes her co-star Audrey Meadows:
And gushes about the talents of her on-screen husband, Art Carney:
Learn more about Randolph’s time on The Honeymooners, and about her early stage and television work by watching her full Archive interview.
About this interview:
In her two hour Archive Interview, Joyce Randolph discusses her early years as an actress on the stage and speaks of her first appearance on television in 1946 — on experimental station WRGB in Scenectady, NY. She outlines her roles in early television on the Dumont network, on shows Martin Kane, Private Eye; The Plainclothesman; and The Famous Jury Trials. She describes her first appearance on The Cavalcade of Stars in a dramatic role, before landing the part of “Trixie Norton” in the show’s “Honeymooners” sketches, opposite Art Carney’s “Ed Norton.” Randolph then details her appearances in the “Classic 39” episodes of TheHoneymooners, when the sketches were launched as a 30-minute sitcom series for the 1955-56 season, and shares what it was like to work with Jackie Gleason and Audrey Meadows. She chronicles her continued appearances as “Trixie” on The Jackie Gleason Show (which ran through 1959) and her return to the role for an episode of the 1991 television series, Hi Honey, I’m Home. Michael Rosen conducted the interview on October 27, 1999 in New York, NY.
We’re very sad to report that legendary comedy writer Leonard Stern died at 88 on Tuesday. Stern was a passionate advocate for writers and was a great friend of the Archive of American Television.
Known as a “comedy writer’s comedy writer,” Leonard began his career in radio, writing for such luminaries as Milton Berle and Abbott and Costello. He transitioned to television for The Jackie Gleason Show, and is credited with turning the “The Honeymooners” sketches into longform shows (best known as the “classic 39″). In the 1960s, he wrote for The Phil Silvers Show and The Steve Allen Showand later became a writer-producer on such series asI’m Dickens He’s Fenster and Get Smart (where he also served as executive producer). He also was creator-writer-producer of such series as The Hero, He & She, and The Governor and J.J. and served as a writer-producer-director of McMillan and Wife and Lanigan’s Rabbi and Partners in Crime. One of his other main contributions to American popular culture was his co-creation of “Mad Libs” with Roger Price. Leonard was interviewed in 2000 and 2008 by the Archive of American Television. Here are some selections from his 5-hour interview:
On his comedy beginnings
I’ve thought about that a great deal. Why was I writing comedy at age 14, 15, 16, 17? Why did I know what the structure of a joke was? And I finally came to the conclusion that I was a product of radio. And I spoke to many of my peers who are comedy writers, and we kind of agree that you listened to Fred Allen and to Jack Benny, to Milton Berle, to Burns and Allen, and you started to understand the cadence and rhythm of a joke. Consciously or not, it became almost a daily lesson. I think this explains why some of us who grew up in California; some of us grew up in Texas, others in North Dakota and, and many of us in New York, all could write the same joke or a reason facsimile thereof. I think we became, and maybe radio is responsible for some of the best comedy writers, we became students of the medium and we collaborated.
On turning Jackie Gleason’s “Honeymooners” sketches into longform shows
I argued effectively because eventually we did it. It wasn’t the full hour. He still came out and did the monologue and the dancing girls but then, the next 40 or 45 minutes were “The Honeymooners” sketch. And it worked so well that eventually we did more “Honeymooners” than anything else and in our second and third years, the variety show was mostly “Honeymooners” with an occasional Reggie Van Gleason, poor soul, Joe the bartender character. And then, of course the classic 39 are all on film and are honeymooners. They’ve endured and held up. I always thought to myself: if we’d known they were going to be classics, we would have written them better!
On the legacy of The Honeymooners
It’s funny. And, it deals with hope and dreams. It makes you comfortable that you’re not them. I don’t know, it’s kind of a mystery. Gleason used to say, “it’s funny and it’s never going to go out of style because it makes you laugh and it’s not current.” Certain shows have a topicality and they are probably hilarious at a given time. But then times change, and then the shows are less meaningful.
On the genesis of Get Smart [video clip]
On filming the famous opening sequence of Get Smart
I thought we needed something distinct and unique, but everybody has that thought. What qualifies as distinct and unique is the idea of it being so difficult to get into this agency, almost a sense of it’s impenetrable-ness. So we had the car sequence, we pulled up in a lavish car and to exit it if possible without opening the door and then entering the building. And actually I did not shoot the first moment as well as I had envisioned it would play. I wanted to go from his entering the building to the elevator dial as it slowly moved and came down and then the doors opened and reveal a staircase. It’s funnier as I tell it than as I shot it. That was the first of the odd things that would happen. Then I wanted each door to open in its own way and to have, I think four doors, ones that part, ones that go up, ones that go in, ones that come toward you and then ultimately the phone booth. So I just wrote that and envisioned it and then the phone booth. I was greatly concerned that we would have to do something with the floor. Do we have to cut a hole in the floor to make it seem that when Don dialed a number, hung up the phone, turned and faced, when it disappeared –never realizing that all Don did was drop to his knees and it worked. I had envisioned and put in the budget an enormous amount for some kind of hydraulic system.
On creating Mad Libs with Roger Price
I was writing for The Honeymooners and Roger was at the house. I was doing a polish on a script and I said, “I need an adjective.” And Roger said “naked!” before I explained what I needed the adjective for. I started to laugh because the vision of a naked Gleason was hardly sustainable without laughter. So suddenly he’s saying “what are you laughing about?” And I told him and out of this came this word game where you somebody asked you for an adjective or noun, and parts of speech. We didn’t have a name for it, but we played it at parties and it always worked. One day, I was at Sardi’s and somebody said something about adlibs and somebody else said it’s “Mad Lib” and we looked at each other and in that moment we recognized, this is it!
On how he would like to be remembered
For making people feel better. For bringing a smile into the world for a half-hour or an hour.
The Honeymooners was a sketch on Jackie Gleason’s variety series before and after it ran for a single season as its own half-hour series. The episodes from that season, known to fans as the “Classic 39,” ended their run on September 22, 1956.
What is your favorite episode of The Honeymooners‘ “Classic 39″?
Is it “The Golfer” where Ed tries to teach Ralph how to golf? “A Matter of Life and Death” where Ralph, thinking he’s dying, tries to sell his story to a magazine? “Brother Ralph” where Alice gets a job and Ralph does the housework? “The Man From Space” where Ralph creates his own Halloween costume in the hopes of winning the prize at the Raccoon Lodge party? “The $99,000 Answer” where Ralph hopes to take home the big money as an expert on popular songs? “A Dog’s Life” where Ralph accidentally gives dog food to his boss trying to sell him on a new mystery appetizer? “Trapped” where Ralph witnesses a a bank robbery and the thieves are on his trail? or is it another one of the “Classic 39″?