For Art Carney, Life Was a Battle With Personal Demons Before, During and After ‘The Honeymooners’

Sidekicks. Who would want to imagine Classic TV without them? Lucy without Ethel on I Love Lucy, Richie without Fonzie on Happy Days, Kirk without Spock on Star Trek? And what about Ralph Kramden without Ed Norton on The Honeymooners? That last one is truly unimaginable — for as incredible a talent as Jackie Gleason was, his Kramden without Art Carney’s Norton simply isn’t the same.

“If you watch those Honeymooners episodes today,” suggests Michael Seth Starr, author of Art Carney: A Biography, “they really stand the test of time — and a lot of that has to do with the chemistry between Jackie Gleason and Art Carney. People talk about Martin and Lewis and Abbott and Costello, but I think you have to put Gleason and Carney right up there with the great comedy teams, even though it was only in the context of The Honeymooners. And if you look at the ‘Classic 39,’ there’s rarely a bad moment in any of those episodes. Art is a big part of that and he proved himself later on to be quite an actor in his own right.”

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CBS Television Distribution

One of the most prominent voices in Honeymooners fandom is Peter Crescenti who, along with Bob Columbe founded the fan club for the show and is credited with bringing it back to national prominence and for bringing to light the “Lost Honeymooners” episodes from kinescopes of the live broadcasts (currently being aired by the Decades TV network) in the 1980s. “A lot of actors and actresses that are put together are OK,” muses Peter, who also co-wrote The Official Honeymooners Treasury, “but Art Carney and Jackie Gleason were magic on TV. In music, The Beatles were magic. You look at any of those magic moments in entertainment history and I think Art and Jackie had this magical relationship on stage that is unmatched. They were like two facets of one person; so tight and cohesive.”

Geoffrey Mark, author of The Lucy Book: A Complete Guide to Her Five Decades on Television and Ella: A Biography of the Legendary Ella Fitzgerald, observes, “Jackie was a nightclub comedian who was barely famous before he ever came to television. He was in films and I don’t know that he even knew Art Carney existed at that point. Art was not a costar of his variety show until The Honeymooners really popped, and then Jackie began giving him other characters to play in other sketches.

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CBS Television Distribution

“Jackie continued his own career without Art on Broadway and in films, and in the first two or three or four years of the continuation of The Jackie Gleason Show, Art was barely there,” he adds. “But they were magic together the same way that Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance were. Although Ms. Ball was better with Ms. Vance, remember Ms. Ball did nine seasons of television without her. I think it would be accurate to say that Jackie needed Art; Jackie’s work was better with Art. The sketches were better, because Art was there. One has to have somebody to play off of, to react to, to interact with, and Art gave him that kind of magic the same way Vivian Vance gave it to Lucille Ball, the same way Don Knotts gave it to Andy Griffith. Their careers weren’t made by these people, but when they worked together it was the best of their work.”

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