Meadows, Audrey (1922–1996)
Meadows, Audrey (1922–1996)
American television actress best remembered for her role in "The Honeymooners." Name variations: Audrey Cotter; Audrey Six. Born on February 8, 1922, in Wuchang, China; died of lung cancer on February 3, 1996, in Los Angeles, California; daughter of Francis James Meadows Cotter (a missionary and minister) and Ida Taylor Cotter; younger sister of Jayne Meadows (b. 1920, an actress); married Randolph T. Rouse (a builder), on May 26, 1956 (divorced 1958); married Robert Six (an airline executive), on August 24, 1961 (died 1986); no children.
Moved to United States (c. 1927); made stage debut at Carnegie Hall (c. 1938); moved to New York City (c. 1940); won Emmy Award (1955); retired (1961); returned to show business (1986); named to Broadcasting Hall of Fame (1990).
Selected television appearances:
"The Bob and Ray Show" (1951–52, 1953); "The Jackie Gleason Show" (1952–55); "The Honeymooners" (1955–57); "I've Got a Secret" (late 1950s); "Too Close for Comfort" (1985–90).
Audrey Meadows had a relatively brief career in television, but her portrayal of the tart-tongued young Alice Kramden in "The Honeymooners" opposite Jackie Gleason made her one of the more memorable characters in the annals of the medium. Meadows was born Audrey Cotter in 1922 in China, where her father served as an Episcopalian missionary. When she was five, the family—which included her older sister Jayne Meadows —returned to the United States to live in Providence, Rhode Island. Meadows fell through a skylight as a child, and her self-consciousness about the resultant scars on one leg made her somewhat shy and reserved. She studied opera at Miss Hill's School in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and made her stage debut at New York's Carnegie Hall when she was just 16. Her sister, also a gifted performer, convinced Meadows to abandon her plans to enter Smith College, and they moved to New York City instead.
Success on Broadway proved elusive, however, and for a time Meadows toured the Midwest as a coloratura soprano with light opera
companies. She also sang in nightclubs and was a USO performer during World War II. In this line of duty, she was involved in three plane crashes, walking away uninjured from all of them, although she did catch malaria. Around this time, both she and her sister changed their stage name to Meadows, and Audrey soon found work in the new medium of television. In 1951, she began appearing as a comedy-sketch player on the "The Bob and Ray Show," alternating this with work on Broadway. The following year, Jackie Gleason hired her to play his on-screen wife in "The Honeymooners" sketches that were part of his hour-long show on the DuMont network. Gleason had rejected Meadows at her first audition, deeming her too glamorous to play the role of a working-class Brooklyn housewife, but changed his mind and hired her after Meadows sent him some test photos taken when she had just gotten out of bed one morning. She was cast as Alice Kramden, the strong-willed wife of Gleason's blustery, loudmouthed bus driver Ralph Kramden. Their on-screen quarrels hit a nerve with postwar audiences—Meadows was adept at scoring verbal victories that quickly deflated Ralph's rage—but it was the obvious affection in the marriage that made the couple so endearing. Meadows was lauded for her comic timing and ability to ad lib (especially important in light of the fact that Gleason preferred not to rehearse, even during the initial shows that were taped before a live audience), and won an Emmy in 1954 for her performances on "The Jackie Gleason Show." For many of the show's viewers, she came to represent the spirited American everywoman of her era.
"The Honeymooners" sketches were such a hit that they became an official half-hour show in 1955. Although the show as such lasted only one season, switching formats in 1956 and ending in 1957, it has since gone on to gain a hallowed place in American pop culture. Considered "landmarks of small-screen entertainment," the 39 episodes that were taped in the 1955–56 season have been rebroadcast almost continuously ever since, and remain a staple of late-night television. (Meadows was the only member of the cast, which included Gleason, Joyce Randolph as Trixie Norton, and Art Carney as Ed Norton, to insist on rights to residuals.) A fan club for the show, the Royal Association for the Longevity and Preservation of "The Honeymooners" (RALPH), was founded in 1982.
Audrey Meadows was married in 1956 to a Washington, D.C., builder, then divorced; she married Robert Six in 1961, and enjoyed 25 years of a decidedly un-Kramden-like life as wife of the chair of Continental Airlines. She retired from television and film almost completely after her second marriage, and divided her time between a Southern California home and international travel. Widowed in 1986, Meadows returned to television on the ABC sitcom "Too Close for Comfort" and also appeared on "Uncle Buck." She was inducted into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1990, and wrote a memoir, Love, Alice: My Life as a Honeymooner, in 1994. She died of lung cancer in 1996.
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Carol Brennan , Grosse Pointe, Michigan