The Pop History Dig

“Ralph Kramden Statue”
August 2000

Close-up of Ralph Kramden-Jackie Gleason statue at the August 2000 'TV Land' unveiling in New York city.
Close-up of Ralph Kramden-Jackie Gleason statue at the August 2000 'TV Land' unveiling in New York city.
     Ralph Kramden is the name of a fictional New York City bus driver who starred in the popular 1950s television comedy The Honeymooners.  Actor Jackie Gleason played the role of Ralph, who was a memorable, one-of-a-kind character.  In the show, Gleason’s Ralph Kramden made $62 a week driving his Madison Avenue bus route.  At home, in a small Brooklyn walk-up apartment, where most of the shows were set, Ralph was always coming up with some “get rich” scheme or other venture in which his wife, Alice, and neighbors Ed Norton with wife Trixie, were typically recruited as skeptical and/or uncooperative accomp- lices.  The schemes usually ended badly for Ralph, with wife Alice typically adding a final cut of the “I- told-you-so” variety.  Alice was played to a T by Audrey Meadows, with equally good performances by Art Carney as Norton and Joyce Randolph as Trixie.  Although all of the skits were humorous, and some slapstick, many also had a dramatic component or a pointed lesson that viewers could identify with. The show had a strong “everyman” appeal and following when it first ran in the 1950s, with each of its characters popular among the general public.  TV historians often rate the show as one of the best of the early situation comedies.

Statues & Icons
Series

     This story is one in an occasional series that will explore how America, and other countries, honor their icons — from famous politicians and military leaders, to movie stars, TV celebrities, and sports heros.  Societies have been building statues and monuments to commemorate their famous and beloved figures for thousands of years.  But in modern times, even fictional characters, their ranks swelled by cinema and television, are now joining those up on the pedestal, some for purely commercial reasons.  As statues and busts, the famous personages are typically cast in outsized proportions, some placed in parks or other public spaces.  Still others are found on postage stamps, murals, buildings, near sports arenas, or used in various place names.  Not all of those so honored, however, meet with public approval, though some have broad and continuing support.  The stories offered in this series will include short sketches on some of these figures — past and present — providing a bit of the history and context on each and how the proposed honor came about.

     In recent years the television series came to be owned by the media conglomerate Viacom. Viacom’s cable TV channel, TV Land, began airing The Honeymooners series as part of its classic TV programming.  Sometime in 1999, TV Land came up with the idea of developing and erecting statues of some of its fictional TV characters as a way to publicize the network and its shows.  The statue for Ralph Kramden became the first of these projects, to be located in New York city at the New York-New Jersey Port Authority Bus Terminal building in mid-town Manhattan.  TV Land developed the statue in cooperation with the Jackie Gleason estate and commissioned sculptor Robert DuGrenier to create the likeness.

     The statue, which portrays Kramden in his bus driver’s uniform carrying a lunch pail, was formally dedicated at a brief ceremony in August 2000.  At the time, the Port Authority management regarded the Gleason-Kramden statue as an art project in its public space, providing a service to its patrons.  The statue’s presence at the terminal, said management, would help make commuting more enjoyable for the 185,000 passengers who then came through the depot every day.  Cedrick T. Fulton, general manager of the bus terminal, said he envisioned bus passengers stopping to have their pictures taken with the statue.  TV Land, for its part, said its Kramden statue was “honoring a public icon.”  The cable TV channel paid for the statue, but was not charged a promotional or advertising fee by the Port Authority.  Rob Pellizzi, TV Land’s vice president for marketing, indicated that the statue was then part of a larger publicity campaign to promote the show and the cable channel.

Kramden-the-statue at his post outside the entrance to the Port Authority Bus Station. Photo: Flickr.com, wallyg.
Kramden-the-statue at his post outside the entrance to the Port Authority Bus Station. Photo: Flickr.com, wallyg.

 

TV Land Promo

     In addition to the statue, TV Land was then airing television ads with Art Carney’s character from the show, Ed Norton, dancing to the song “Wild Thing,” a hit from the 1960s by the British group The Troggs.  As part of this TV Land campaign, some city buses were also painted from top to bottom with scenes from the series, some showing bus driver Kramden behind the wheel.  Pellizzi indicated at the time that TV Land was thinking of promoting other shows in “similar partnerships” — with permanent statues placed across the country.  They were calling their program “TV Land Landmarks”

     “Creating TV Land Landmarks helps us recognize those locations throughout the country that are closely identified with TV that people want to visit,” explained Larry W. Jones, Executive Vice President and General Manager of TV Land in a press statement for the Ralph Kramden ceremony. 

...In a different light.
...In a different light.
      “As Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden character evokes New York City,” Jones continued, “TV Land felt strongly that the Port Authority Bus Terminal was the perfect location from which to kick off this initiative.”   Jones added that his company was optimistic about bringing the statues initiative “to other landmarks around the country over the next few years” — projects which TV Land later did pursue.  To date, among the shows and characters that TV Land has included at other “landmark” locations are the following: the Mary Tyler Moore Show (Minneapolis, MN), The Andy Griffith Show (North Carolina), The Bob Newhart Show (Chicago), Bewitched (Salem,MA), Elvis Presley’s Aloha from Hawaii show, and the “Fonzie” character from the Happy Days show (Milwaukee, WI).  These TV Land statues and landmarks will be profiled in future stories at this website.

 

The Honeymooners

Classic kitchen scene from the ‘Honeymooners’ TV show of the 1950s. From left, Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows, and Joyce Randolph.
Classic kitchen scene from the ‘Honeymooners’ TV show of the 1950s. From left, Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows, and Joyce Randolph.
     Although The Honeymooners ran on CBS for only one season in 1955-1956, the show left a very influential mark on early television and had an extremely loyal following.  Some early baby boomer kids also watched the show with their parents.  The Honeymooners ranked as the No. 2 TV show during its run, and garnered Emmy Awards for the acting of Audrey Meadows and Art Carney in their supporting roles.  In syndication, The Honeymooners series has had a long life, not only in the U.S., but also in many countries around the world.  In some markets, the syndicated shows have been aired for decades, almost from the time when the show ended in its original broadcast.  Viacom aired the original series, and also some later discovered “lost” episodes, at least from the mid-1980s.  Honeymooners episodes also appeared on Showtime, and in more recent years, on the TV Land channel.  The episodes in syndication have also been released in VHS and DVD formats.

Double photo from ‘TV Land’ – top showing Ralph driving his bus with cast along for the ride; and at bottom, Alice bringing Ralph his lunch pail.
Double photo from ‘TV Land’ – top showing Ralph driving his bus with cast along for the ride; and at bottom, Alice bringing Ralph his lunch pail.
     In August 2000, an unveiling ceremony was held in New York City.  Joyce Randolph, who played Ralph Kramden’s neighbor “Trixie” on the show, was one of the special guests.  “He loved hoopla,” said Ms. Randolph of Gleason, “and the statue is gorgeous.”  Also attending the ceremony were New York transit authority officials.  “Who better than Ralph Kramden to greet commuters and bus drivers in front of the place where more than 200,000 commuters and 7,000 buses pass through every day?” said Ken Philmus, director of tunnels, bridges, and terminals.  “We think this is a wonderful gift to all the people of New York city.” 

     Some passers-by that day also watched the dedication.  “I like that guy Kramden,” said one construction worker, Tino Riveria, looking on at the dedication.  “He was a big mouth, but there are millions of big mouths in New York.  So naturally, people here are going to identify with him.” Another observer was Ruthie Escalante, a record store clerk.  She told a reporter that Kramden’s nonstop battles with his wife — and reconciliation at the end of each show  — came about as close to defining married life as anything she had seen on television.  “Gleason really told it like it is,”she said.  “And I watch the reruns all the time with my husband. It is a ritual.”

Ralph Kramden with lunch pail, surveys Manhattan’s busy streets and the comings and goings of thousands of daily commuters. Photo: pbase.com, Hubert J. Steed.
Ralph Kramden with lunch pail, surveys Manhattan’s busy streets and the comings and goings of thousands of daily commuters. Photo: pbase.com, Hubert J. Steed.

     TV Land, however, was not the first to honor Jackie Gleason and Ralph Kramden in a public venue.  In 1988, one of the New York city bus service depots in Brooklyn was renamed the “Jackie Gleason Bus Depot.”  All buses that originate from that depot bear a sticker on the front that has a logo derived from the “face on the moon” opening logo that ran on The Honeymooners opening credits.  The MTA also renumbered one of its busses to 2969 and made it the “official Jackie Gleason bus.”  There is also a statue of Jackie Gleason in his Ralph Kramden bus driver’s attire at the Academy of Television Arts & Science’s Hall of Fame in North Hollywood, California.  That statue, however, is posed in Gleason’s famous “and away we go” stance, which he often did at the opening of his TV variety show.  The North Hollywood statue also pre-dates TV Land replica.

     The eight-foot, 1,000-pound likeness of Ralph Kramden/Jackie Gleason is found today at the 40th Street and 8th Avenue terminal entrance.  The plaque on the base of the statue reads:

“Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden: Bus Driver – Raccoon Lodge Treasurer – Dreamer.  Present- ed by the People of TV Land.”  

Close-up detail, other view, Kramden statue.
Close-up detail, other view, Kramden statue.
     As of 2008, the Port Authority Bus Station served some 7,200 buses and about 200,000 people on an average weekday. Over 3 billion passengers have used the building since it began operation in 1950.

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     Stay tuned to this site for other stories in the “statues & icons” series.
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Date Posted:  7 March 2009
Last Update:  16 March 2013
Comments to:
jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Scene from 'Honeymooners' TV show.
Scene from 'Honeymooners' TV show.
Dean E. Murphy, “Hey, Norton, Get a Load of Ralphie Boy,” New York Times, August 26, 2000.

“Ralph Kramden Statue,”TV Acres.com.

Stephen M. Silverman, “Ralph Kramden Home to Roost,” People.com, August 26, 2000.

PR Newswire, New York, “TV Land Honors Ralph Kramden — America’s Most Famous Bus Driver — With Statue at Port Authority Bus Terminal,” August 28, 2000.

“Gotham Honors A Heavyweight,” CBS, New York, August 28, 2000.

Another scene from the 'Honeymooners' set.
Another scene from the 'Honeymooners' set.
“Gleason Gets Statue In New York,” TV Land, studio briefing, August 29, 2000.

Josh Getlin, “Ralph Kramden Statue By Windsor Sculptor Is Unveiled in New York,” Los Angeles Times, August 29, 2000.

See also Honeymooners.net, described as “a site with everything you could possibly want to know about the classic sitcom.” Registration required.

TV Land’s website had previously offered a 360-degree virtual tour of the Ralph Kramden statue in its setting, and also included a brief promotional film clip on the statue. However, much of that has since been taken down, now replaced by a brief narrative description.

Honeymooners’ stars Jackie Gleason and Audrey Meadows on ‘TV Guide’ cover, week of May 21-27, 1955.
Honeymooners’ stars Jackie Gleason and Audrey Meadows on ‘TV Guide’ cover, week of May 21-27, 1955.

An extensive fan website on all things Honeymooners if found at HamniaHamina.com.

See YouTube.com for a selection of posted Honeymooners episodes.

“TV Land”, Wikipedia.org.

“The Honeymooners”, Wikipedia.org.
















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