“One of these days — POW, right in the kisser,” Jackie Gleason, as Ralph Kramden (the blustery Brooklyn bus driver), would say to Audrey Meadows as Alice Kramden in so many TV episodes of the sitcom “The Honeymooners.” Or he’d shake his fist in her face and threaten “To the moon, Alice!” It never seemed to faze Alice Kramden, but it was so nice when he’d say to her, “Baby, you’re the greatest.” The Kramdens lived in a Bensonhurst flat with an ice box and no telephone.
Audrey Meadows was born on Feb. 8, 1924, in Wu Chang, China, to Episcopal missionaries. Her family moved to the U.S. when she was 5 so that she, her sister Jayne and two younger brothers could be educated here. At 16, Meadows performed as a coloratura soprano at Carnegie Hall. During World War II she entertained the troops in USO show companies, including a part in Mike Todd’s Mexican Hayride. In the late ’40s Meadows played an assortment of characters on the “Bob and Ray” comedy TV show. She was in a roadshow company of Broadway’s High Button Shoes, then came a role in the 1951 Broadway show Top Banana. She was on TV in commercials, comedy sketches and as a singer, and took over the role of Alice in “Honeymooners” sketches on “The Jackie Gleason Show” in 1952.
The skits became a full-fledged hit series on TV in 1955. That year Meadows won an Emmy for her role as the wisecracking Brooklyn housewife. She once said, “‘The Honeymooners’ was the best time I ever had, the best job I ever had, working with Jackie Gleason.” (“Honeymooners” skits can be viewed at Manhattan’s Museum of Television and Radio.)
In 1962 Meadows made her movie debut in That Touch of Mink. She appeared as Ted Knight’s mother-in-law on the TV sitcom “Too Close for Comfort” (1982-’83) and in TV’s “Uncle Buck” (1990-’91).
Her memoir, Love, Alice, was published in 1994.
Audrey Meadows died of lung cancer Feb. 3, 1996. She had been a heavy cigarette smoker. Her sister, actress Jayne Meadows, was grief stricken and was at her bedside. Her one-year bout with cancer had been hidden from Jayne as well as virtually everyone else.