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Home > Popped Clogs

Popped Clog: Art Carney

Carney was to Gleason what June is to Terry, or a warm glass of Tizer is to a Bernard Matthews turkey steak: the perfect accompaniment.

14 November 2003

For years, Art Carney appeared as cheery New York sewer worker Ed Norton opposite Jackie Gleason’s Ralph in The Honeymooners - one of the all time great sitcoms, but one which is horribly neglected by British broadcasters.

We get bucketfuls of Bilko (for which we should be truly thankful) but next to nothing of the great Gleason / Carney double-act. Perhaps, now that Carney has finally clogged it, we might get a mini-season as a tribute. Or is that too much to ask? (For Christ’s sake - put it on at 3am! We can set our videos!! - surely we don't need any more Transworld snowboarding reports or Argentinean football highlights or repeats of What The Victorians Did For Us - and sure, everyone loves a bit of baseball from time to time, but come on! - the Honeymooners is a PROPER PROGRAMME! Show the damned thing!).

Carney won Emmy after Emmy after Emmy for The Honeymooners, and in 1974 he won an Oscar for his performance in ‘Harry and Tonto’ - (and it wasn't exactly an easy year: he was up against Nicholson, Hoffman. Finney and Pacino). He also starred in the TV version of Steinbeck's classic novella ‘Of Mice and Men’. Interestingly, while we’re on the subject of death and Steinbeck, John Steinbeck had one of the most charming deaths of all time. Charming in exactly the way that Oscar Wilde’s wasn't (at the moment of his death from syphilis, or an ear infection, or whatever it was that killed him, Oscar Wilde’s every facial orifice exploded with pus). So yes - when Steinbeck was on his deathbed, he asked his wife Elaine what in her opinion was the happiest time of their marriage, and she asked him to say first - but he didn't want to influence her choice so they both decided to write down their answers. Elaine fetched some pencils and they wrote down their words, and when they turned over their slips of paper both had written the word 'Somerset' - referring to a holiday they once spent there. And they reminisced fondly about the holiday, and shortly afterwards, Steinbeck passed away.

But back to another dead American...

Jackie Gleason said of Carney that he had 'exquisite timing and the best body language in the world.' And he needed it. The Honeymooners (like the occasional Bill episode) was recorded live, and on a famous occasion Gleason missed a cue leaving Carney alone in front of the cameras - with nothing to say or do - he simply had to fill time. He went to the refrigerator, took out an orange, and peeled it for two whole minutes - and managed to get laughs just from doing that.

Art Carney was an alcoholic, a depressive, was hooked on amphetamines and barbiturates and had a mental breakdown in 1965, at which point his marriage to his childhood sweetheart fell apart and he married a production assistant 10 years his junior (managing somehow to fit every possible midlife crisis into a 12
month period). But the story has a happy ending: he and his childhood sweetheart remarried in 1977.

Well - the ending is *that* happy. He’s just died and left her alone to fend for herself in a cold and unloving world. isn't it always the way?

...

For more on Carney, go to:

http://www.bayarea.com/mld/mercurynews/news/7237155.htm

For more Steinbeck go here:

http://journal.lnreview.co.uk/culture/10112003143807.php

(and note the follow-up:

http://journal.lnreview.co.uk/etc/11112003151539.php)



Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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