Tuesday, October 15, 2013
I Love Alice
Sitcom wives always bowed to their husbands. Even the titles of the shows reflected that. FATHER KNOWS BEST.
And generally the wives were not funny for a second. Jane Wyatt, Harriett Nelson, Barbara Billingsley got maybe three joke lines between them in 500 episodes. (Not that the husbands were much funnier.)
For a TV wife to be funny she had to be zany. Lucy was the best example. Then there was Joan Davis in I MARRIED JOAN, Cara Williams in PETE & GLADYS, and although her character wasn’t married – Gale Storm in MY LITTLE MARGIE. They excelled at getting into “jams,” performing a lot of physical comedy, and only escaping serious repercussions when their stern but benevolent husbands let them off the hook.
In some cases, like with Lucy, the husband would occasionally put his wife over his knee and spank her. Fellas, do not try this today.
But there was one housewife who didn’t take any shit. Alice Kramden from THE HONEYMOONERS. I showed an episode to my students and they seemed to really enjoy it. (“Hey, it’s the FLINTSTONES!”) Jackie Gleason and Art Carney were brilliant as Ralph and Norton, but for my money the one element that made that show so special was Audrey Meadows as Alice.
What a revelation. A dead-pan wife who was clearly smarter than her husband, took no crap from him, and was incredibly funny without having to fall into a tar pit.
Ralph would rail and scream and even threaten to send her “to the moon,” but you knew it was just bluster and he was utterly harmless. He could raise a fist to her and she wouldn’t even blink. And at the end of the day, she ruled the roost.
When people talk about great TV comediennes, Audrey Meadows deserves to be right up there with Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, Jean Stapleton, Roseanne, and Shelley Long. Alice Kramden empowered women and was way ahead of her time. (So was Wilma Flintstone but face it, all men were cavemen back then.)
There have been a million family sitcoms, but for my money there is still no better TV wife than Audrey Meadow’ Alice Kramden. She’s so far above it’s like everyone else is here on the ground and Alice is…well, to the moon.
Here’s just an example.