Jackie Gleason, Audrey Meadows, Art Carney and Joyce Randolph in the 1950s sitcom, "The Honeymooners."
Originally a recurring sketch on Gleason's live variety TV show, "The Honeymooners" aired as filmed productions beginning in 1955. While only 39 episodes were shot (the "classic 39," according to aficionados), the characters were brought back for Gleason's '60s variety show, making a run on American television screens up until 1970 -- and, to this day, continuing in syndication.
The opening titles of "The Honeymooners."
Jackie Gleason first played bus driver Ralph Kramden in 1951 on "Cavalcade of Stars," on the Dumont Network. When "The Jackie Gleason Show" debuted on CBS the following year, Ralph tagged along.
The Brooklyn-born Jackie Gleason was a nightclub comedian who appeared in several B-movies in the 1940s and in an early TV version of the popular radio comedy, "The Life of Riley." His nightclub gigs landed him the role of host of the variety show, "Cavalcade of Stars."
Art Carney was an actor, singer and radio comedian who teamed up with Gleason for sketches on "Cavalcade of Stars." In "The Honeymooners," Carney played sewer worker Ed Norton.
Actress Audrey Meadows, who appeared in the Broadway show "Top Banana," replaced the original Alice Kramden, Pert Kelton, when Gleason debuted his CBS variety show.
Broadway and TV actress Joyce Randolph took over the role of Ed's wife, Trixie Norton, from Elaine Stritch on "Cavalcade of Stars," and continued with the role throughout the 1950s.
The situation behind the situation comedy was simple -- a loutish working class husband who only has his sensible wife between him and disaster. It's a formula, told with humor and affection, that could not help being replicated elsewhere (see "The Flintstones").
Ralph Kramden's temper was likely to explode at the drop of a hat.
Though Ralph Kramden constantly threatened physical violence ("Bang! Zoom!"), Alice -- and the audience -- knew her husband never had the guts to harm the one he loved most.
One of many money-making schemes by Ralph and Norton: Selling the Handy Housewife Helper kitchen gadget on late-night TV. The "Chef of the Future" could barely contain his stage fright.
Ralph and Norton try to learn golf from a textbook and are stumped by the phrase "Address the ball."
Norton's take: "Hel-looo, ball!"
A promotional photo for "The Honeymooners."
Audrey Meadows and Jackie Gleason as Alice and Ralph Kramden, from the TV series "The Honeymooners" (1955).
After the original 39 episodes, the characters returned in recurring sketches on "The Jackie Gleason Show" (which ran on CBS though 1957), and then in two 1960s variety series that were on the air until 1970.
On Jackie Gleason's variety shows during the '60s, Carney continued as Ed Norton. Alice was played by Meadows, Sue Ane Langdon and Sheila MacRae.
The role of Trixie was taken over by Patricia Wilson and then Jane Kean (left, with Meadows).
Gleason, Meadows, Carney and Kean later reprised the characters in a 1976 TV movie for ABC.
In the 1970s and '80s, Jackie Gleasons starred in the films "Smokey and the Bandit" and its sequels; "The Toy" with Richard Pryor; and "Nothing in Common" with Tom Hanks. He died in 1987.
Art Carney won a Best Actor Oscar for his role in "Harry and Tonto" (1974). His other credits include "The Late Show," "Movie Movie," "Going in Style," "Firestarter" and "The Last Action Hero." Carney died in 2003.
Audrey Meadows later made appearances in such TV series as "The Love Boat," "Murder, She Wrote," "Diff'rent Strokes," "Hotel," "Starsky & Hutch," "Uncle Buck," and "Dave's World." Meadows died in 1996.
Actress Jane Kean (left) poses with Marilyn Gleason, widow of actor Jackie Gleason, at an announcement for the television debut of the "Color Honeymooners," along the Hollywood Walk of Fame on June 17, 2003 in Hollywood, California.
Kean appeared on numerous shows including "General Hospital," "Dallas," "Scarecrow and Mrs. King," "Growing Pains" and "Dream On." Kean died in November 2013.
Actress Sheila MacRae (seen at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame's Induction Ceremony on June 26, 2004 in North Hollywood) died on Thursday, March 6, 2014.
Actress Joyce Randolph speaks onstage at the 50th Annual New York Emmy Awards Gala on April 1, 2007 in New York City.
Among the many pop culture references to "The Honeymooners" was this recreation for the cartoon series, "Family Guy."
The "original 39" "Honeymooners" episodes, meanwhile, continue to play endlessly in syndication.
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan