On October 1, 1955, The Honeymooners premiered on CBS Television. The classic 39 episodes of that first and only season would achieve cult status and rerun for decades. The legendary sitcom, set in Brooklyn, starred the borough’s favorite son, Jackie Gleason, as bus driver Ralph Kramden and Audrey Meadows as his wife Alice. Neighbors Ed Norton (Art Carney) and Trixie Norton (Joyce Randolph) completed the cast.
Ralph’s get-rich-schemes and expansive waistline provided much of the comedy, but the laughs belied Gleason’s turbulent childhood. Gleason was born on February 26, 1916, to Mae and Herbert Gleason when the family lived at 364 Chauncey Street in Brooklyn. The Gleasons later moved to 358 Chauncey Street, but Gleason most fondly remembered his years spent in apartment 3-A of 328 Chauncey Street. The Gleasons’ dingy flat would serve as the model — and the address — of the Kramdens’ fictional apartment. While 328 Chauncey Street is actually in Stuyvesant Heights, the show took place in Bensonhurst.
Gleason was named “The Great One” by Orson Welles, “although I don’t know if he meant my talent or my drinking capacity,” Gleason said. Gleason, who also starred in the films The Hustler and Smokey and the Bandit, honed his comedic talent as a teenager in Brooklyn’s lodge halls and vaudeville houses. Here, as his birthday approaches, we take a look at 10 of his Brooklyn haunts. And away we go!
1. Gleason’s Childhood Home, 328 Chauncey Street
“Gleason patterned the Kramden apartment after the one he lived in with his mother as a boy,” Dina-Marie Kulzer writes in Classic Hollywood Bios. “The address is even the same, 328 Chauncey Street. ‘The place was dull. The bulbs weren’t very bright. The surroundings were very bare,’ remembered Gleason about his childhood home.”
Jackie’s father, Herbert Gleason, a Death Claims clerk at the Mutual Life Insurance Company, was an alcoholic and gambler. “My pop was a $37-a-week clerk named Herbert Gleason and Mom was Mae Kelly Gleason, an Irish girl,” Gleason recalled in The American Weekly. “I was their second son, born in 1916, and poverty was something everybody in our neighborhood took for granted and didn’t fret about. Pop just walked away from his desk one day when I was nine — and he never came back.”
The Kramdens often battled but always made up in their kitchen. The furnishings never changed: an icebox, stove, sink, dresser, a table in the center, and no curtains on the window. Jackie Gleason: An Intimate Portrait of the Great One explains that Gleason told his set designers, “Get a Brooklyn tenement and make it scruffy.” When a picture was placed on the wall next to the bedroom door, Gleason said, “We didn’t have a picture in the flat. Take it down.”
Frieda Broodno Storm grew up in the tenement and described Gleason’s Chauncey Street flat in The Honeymooners Lost Episodes. “The one big difference between the Kramden apartment and Jackie’s was that in Jackie’s, the bathroom was in the hall, and the tub was in the kitchen adjacent to the sink.”