© Copyright 2015 by Sara Jacobelli
Sure. Great actors, terrific writers, but I suspect me and my brother Nicky hit upon the real reason for the show’s timeless appeal. Ralph and Alice, Ed and Trixie, and that bare-bones set. It was the only TV show that allowed us to say, “We got better stuff than they do.”
On all the other shows, whether black and white stalwarts like Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show or the newer color shows like The Brady Bunch, the Dads all had terrific jobs where they made pots and pots and pots of money. They wore suits to work and were accountants or attorneys or architects or in advertising. Everyone lived in huge one family homes, had extra space, extra rooms: dining rooms-dens- family rooms-play rooms-guest bedrooms. They had huge back yards, nicer than a city park. June Cleaver always looked great and never bitched to Ward about money or his drinking or gambling.
No one we knew lived like that. The men in my neighborhood had crummy dead-end jobs, like Ralph Kramden the bus driver or Ed Norton the sewer worker. The women worked as diner waitresses or department store sales clerks. One of my friend’s fathers had the most exciting occupation: fireman. We lived in crowded apartments in noisy apartment buildings. Neighbors banged broom handles on the ceiling to tell you to shut up. No one had any privacy. Financial problems and marital squabbles were instant public knowledge. Franny Ruggerio would sit on her front stoop, hair in curlers, drinking beer and announcing embarrassing facts about our families for the amusement of the whole block. “Heard your old man’s on unemployment. Heard your aunt and uncle’s getting divorced. Your phone got turned off. Your Ma’s drinking too much.” This was said to children, not adults, and the kids usually hung their heads in red-faced shame, though behind her back we’d make fun of her.
The Honeymooners were already in syndication and fairly old but we loved it more than the current shows. We also loved Lucy, of course, but the show biz world of I Love Lucy was terribly exotic. When The Honeymooners came on, I’d jump around and yell, “Look, Mom, they don’t got a living room! We’ve got a living room! They just got a kitchen and a bedroom!
She’d take a drag on a non-filter Lucky Strike. “Oh God, look at that ice-box. I remember those.” Our ancient, groaning refrigerator gleamed as the newest marvel of technology.
The stuff that Kramden and Norton did was the same stuff my father and his pals did. Shoot pool, go to the fights. Fight with their wives. Poppy didn’t bowl, but my Aunt Ruthie and Uncle Moe did. They all worked blue collar jobs. The rich, mysterious people on the other programs were strange to us. Our neighbors worked low paying jobs, struggled to pay the rent in tiny apartments, worked overtime to pay high heating bills in the New England winters. The dinners out and vacations and lavish homes of the other TV families were more unbelievable than Star Trek.
More than screaming with glee over our two bedroom apartment, living room couch, and TV set—compared to that familiar Kramden kitchen with the ice box, table and chairs and dresser–we loved the scams and schemes. No matter how many times we saw the shows, we’d always hold our breath and hope one of Ralph’s and Ed’s escapades would pay off. Every time my aunt Ruthie played the numbers, Poppy played poker, Uncle Leo got a job, I entered a contest, and Ralph and Ed invested in a get-rich-quick scheme, we crossed our fingers. If only things could work out, there’d be enough money, the grown-ups could be happy, just this one time.
“To the moon, Alice, to the moon!”
The Honeymooners was an American TV show that aired from 1955-1956. According to IMDB, there were only 39 episodes. It starred comedian Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden, Audrey Meadows as Alice Kramden, Art Carney as Ed Norton, and Joyce Randolph as Trixie Norton. The entire series was filmed in black and white and syndicated reruns were popular throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
Leave it to Beaver was an American TV show that aired from 1957-1963.
Father Knows Best was an American TV show that aired from 1954-1960.
The Donna Reed Show was an American TV show that aired from 1958-1966.
The Brady Bunch was an American TV show that aired from 1969-1974.
All TV series dates are from the IMDB website, Internet Movie DataBase.
An earlier version of this story was published in The Anderson Valley Advertiser in Boonville, CA.
Picture Credits: “The Honeymooners” title screen. Wikipedia.
“City, Moon, Buildings, Cityscape,” Pixabay Copyright Free Images.