Friday, February 14, 2014

Great Moments in Live Television

In May 1955, "The Jackie Gleason Show" featured a Honyemooners sketch "Letter to the Boss," in which Ralph believes he has been fired, then writes an angry letter ripping his boss. He gives it to Ed to drop in the mailbox, and then of course realizes he was told to turn in his uniform not because he is fired, but because he is getting promoted. THAT's why he won't be driving a bus anymore! So he has to try to prevent his boss from reading the letter.

The show had done this same story about a year and a half earlier, but what distinguishes THIS version is that Ralph Kramden almost singlehandedly takes down an entire city block in less time than it would take Godzilla. Folks, I'm not making a fat joke here.

Here's the setting:

As Ralph is getting ready to stick his hand in a mailbox and try to snatch the letter, Norton stands guard.

When Ed suddenly yells, Jackie Gleason's take is so  intense, he not only gets a laugh with his initial reaction, but he loses his hat, then staggers backwards, nearly trips, and bumps up against the shoddy backdrop, darned near destroying the "buildings" behind them.


The immediate aftermath is great. Not surprisingly, the live studio audience howls as the scenery shakes, and even the unflappable Art Carney almost betrays a small smile.

Carney waits for Gleason, though, and lets him address the situation how he sees fit.

For his part, Gleason regains his composure, lets the crowd laughter subside, then, still in character, exclaims:

"What are you trying to do, give me a heart attack or something? For a minute there, everything started to swim!"

And that brings another good laugh and an appreciative burst of applause from the audience.

You just can't beat live television!

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