ARTICLE AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRANK MASTROPOLO
Though it ran for only one season, 1955-56, The Honeymooners remains one of the pivotal sitcoms in television history.
Jackie Gleason played his most famous character — bus driver Ralph Kramden — who torments his long-suffering wife Alice (Audrey Meadows) with get-rich-quick schemes that never succeed. The Kramdens live in a dingy apartment in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn; upstairs reside their best friends, wacky sewer worker Ed Norton (Art Carney) and his wife Trixie (Joyce Randolph).
Gleason and the show’s writers liberally salted the scripts with both fictional and real-life spots in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Many real addresses are mentioned; their names give viewers a flavor of life in 1950s New York City. But the show was entirely filmed before an audience at a theater in midtown Manhattan; all the exteriors were stage sets. Which made us wonder… what did those spots really look like? So here are our Top 10 Locations from The Honeymooners.
1. Where It All Began: 328 Chauncey Street, Brooklyn
When he conceived The Honeymooners, Jackie Gleason insisted that the Kramden apartment be modeled after one of his boyhood homes in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn: 328 Chauncey Street, apartment 3-A. “The place was dull. The bulbs weren’t very bright. The surroundings were very bare,” Gleason said of the tenement apartment. Ralph Kramden’s address is also 328 Chauncey St., though he lives in the more Brooklyn-sounding Bensonhurst.
2. Alice Gets a Babysitting Job at 383 Himrod Street in Brooklyn
When Ralph objects to the cost of the telephone she’s had installed, Alice decides that she’ll pay for it herself. Her idea: babysitting behind Ralph’s back. A neighbor suggests a babysitting job “only three blocks” from Chauncey St.; the Bartfelds’ home at 383 Himrod Street. The address is actually two miles away from the Kramdens.
3. That Leads to a Second Job at 465 Van Buren Street
Alice does so well that Mr. Bartfeld recommends her to his pal Harvey Wohlstetter, who lives at 465 Van Buren Street. Ralph inadvertently overhears part of the men’s conversation and believes Alice is cheating on him. That evening, the Wohlstetters leave Alice with Harvey Jr. asleep in the bedroom. Soon jealous Ralph, in full Raccoon regalia, storms in and demands that Harvey come out of the bedroom. Ralph is shocked when it’s Harvey, Jr. who emerges. The kid is equally surprised; spying Ralph’s fur hat, he says, “Gee, I never knew Davy Crockett was so fat!”
4. Manhattan’s Gotham Bus Company, 48th Street and 9th Avenue
One night Ralph runs into big mouth Bill Davis, an old boyfriend of Alice’s, who brags about how well he’s doing. Ralph counters by claiming he “runs” the fictional Gotham Bus Company (Norton helpfully adds, “He’s in the driver’s seat!”). When Bill pressures Ralph for a tour of the depot the next day, Ralph accedes and provides its address, 48th Street and Ninth Avenue. Today there’s no sign there was ever a bus depot on the block, though there is a restaurant on the corner named Traffic.
5. Shooting Pool on Park Avenue
When his wife gives him a pool table as a present, Gotham Bus boss Mr. Marshall asks Ralph and Norton to come to his home at 1149 Park Avenue and teach him the game. Ralph believes it’s an opportunity to win that elusive promotion but it’s Norton who impresses Mr. Marshall with his ideas – and is offered a job as Ralph’s supervisor. The tony Park Avenue town house, at 91st Street, is certainly worthy of a big shot like Marshall: it’s currently valued at more than $6 million.
6. The Sewer With the Wall Street Address
Norton one day amazes Ralph with his knowledge of high finance. When Ralph asks how he knows so much, Norton’s reply gives us a clue to his workplace: “Did you ever hear of Merrill Lynch, Fierce, Pierce & Beane? They got an office outside a downtown sewer I work in.” In the 1950s, the headquarters of investment firm Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Beane was 7 Wall Street. Could the manhole out front be where “subterranean sanitation engineer” Norton worked alongside the other “denizens of the deep”?
7. Emergency at Bushwick Hospital
When Norton is injured in a sewer explosion on Himrod Street, he’s taken to Bushwick Hospital, a real infirmary in 1955 located at Howard and Putnam Avenues. Ralph rushes to Bushwick to give Norton a blood transfusion, only to find out his pal has already been released (Art Carney ad-libbed Norton’s famous goodbye to the doctor: “Rx!”). No longer a hospital, the building today is a juvenile detention center.
8. Gleason’s HQ: The Park Sheraton Hotel, 870 Seventh Avenue
When Gleason signed with CBS to star in and produce The Honeymooners, he established Jackie Gleason Enterprises and moved into the 7-room 23rd floor penthouse suite of the Park Sheraton Hotel in Manhattan. The suite served as both Gleason’s apartment and offices for his writers. Gleason left the posh digs in 1957 but the hotel lives on as the Park Central.
9. On Stage at the Adelphi Theatre
All 39 episodes of The Honeymooners were filmed at the Adelphi Theatre, 152 West 54th Street. The Adelphi was owned by the Dumont Television Network, which used its Electronicam cameras to film the show. The Electronicam cameras shot film and television through a single lens; the show owes its high quality images to the innovative system. Soon after The Honeymooners wrapped, the playhouse was renamed the 54th Street Theater. Razed in 1970, the building is now an office tower that uses the more impressive 1325 Avenue of the Americas as its address. Look up and you’ll recognize the façade; it was used in Seinfeld as the exterior of the J. Peterman Company.
10. Ralph Kramden Immortalized: The Port Authority Bus Terminal
As a tribute to The Great One, an eight-foot-tall bronze statue of Ralph Kramden in his bus driver’s uniform stands in front of the Port Authority Bus Terminal on Eighth Avenue. Gleason, who died in 1987, never got to see this likeness, which was dedicated in 2000. Carrying his lunch pail, Kramden silently (for a change) smiles and watches as thousands of commuters stream by each day; hopefully the bus drivers earn more than Ralph’s $62-a-week. A plaque at the base reads:
Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden
Bus Driver — Raccoon Lodge Treasurer — Dreamer
Bonus! The Original Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas
In an effort to recapture their youth, Ralph invites Alice for a night of dancing and roller skating. To dress the part, Ralph sports a striped jacket, varsity sweater, saddle shoes and skimmer hat. Norton’s reaction? “You ain’t exactly no Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas.” The reference is to the hit song recorded by Phil Harris in the 1940s about a hep cat from the little town of Dumas, Texas. This version by Larry Hooper on The Lawrence Welk Show will haunt your dreams.
The Best of the Honeymooners DVD is available in our Rock Cellar Magazine store HERE.