On The Honeymooners, Alice Kramden went toe-to-toe with her loud-mouth husband, Ralph, firing back some of the show’s best zingers. “Eats and runs?” she once deadpanned. “The way you eat, you’re lucky you can walk!”
Off-screen, the woman who played her, Audrey Meadows, was no less formidable. The younger sister of screen star Jayne Meadows, Audrey began her career on Broadway and lobbied hard to win the role of Alice. “Jackie Gleason said Audrey was too pretty,” Peter Crescenti, coauthor of The Official Honeymooners Treasury, tells Closer Weekly, on newsstands now. “But she had the idea of having a photographer shoot her just after getting out of bed in ratty clothes. Jackie looked at the photos and said, ‘She’s Alice!’”
Though the costars got along, Jackie disliked rehearsals and kept the cast, which included Art Carney and Joyce Randolph, on their toes. “Jackie had a photographic memory. He would only read a script once,” says pop culture historian and author of The Lucy Book, Geoffrey Mark. “As a result, Audrey, Art and Joyce had to bond, because they depended on each other.”
In her private life, Audrey’s post-Honeymooners relationship with Continental Airlines CEO Robert Six created tension with her sister Jayne and her husband, talk show host Steve Allen. Both were close friends of Ethel Merman, the wife Six divorced before marrying Audrey in 1961. “Audrey chose well, because she ended up being a widow with millions!” noted Mark.
Audrey and sister Jayne were rivals, he added, “Audrey would sometimes make it sound like she was the bigger star.”
After Six’s death, Audrey and Jayne became close again. She also continued to periodically play Alice, the role she will always be remembered for, in TV specials throughout the 1960s and 1970s. “[Ralph] could get mad at me and say, ‘To the moon,’ and everything,” said Audrey, who passed away at 73 in 1996, “but at the end you always knew there was that tremendous tenderness and love between the two.”
For more on this story, pick up the latest issue of Closer magazine, on newsstands now.