Audrey Meadows, 1922-1996, American actress most famous for her role as Alice Kramden opposite Jackie Gleason on The Honeymooners, and while not the most prolific, certainly one of the most talented and versatile actresses of her generation.
Audrey Meadows was born Audrey Cotter on the 8th of February in 1922 in WuChang, China, the youngest of four children born to an episcopal minister and his missionary wife. Their family spoke almost exclusively Chinese, Meadows' second child-hood language, until they immigrated to New England in 1927. Audrey and her sister Jayne were sent to boarding school, and both began lessons in drama and music; Audrey already made her debut at the age of 16 at Carnegie Hall, singing as a mezzo soprano.
Her older sister Jayne left for New York immediately after graduation, and Audrey soon followed with dreams of becoming a broadway actress. She had been working on a Broadway production for two months when she accepted a role on the Bob and Ray Show, a television variety show. This lead to bit parts on the Jackie Gleason Show, and, when Alice Pert abandoned the part of Alice Kramden in the quick sketches which ended the show, to her most famous role. It's worth noting that Gleason first rejected her, claiming she was too attractive to play the beaten and run-down wife of a New York bus driver.
After 2 years and 1 Emmy, the show was cancelled, and Audrey Meadows returned to Broadway for a while, with a much-reduced schedule after marrying Randolph Rouse in 1956. Her return to television coincided with her divorce from him in 1958, but she soon began making her way in the movies. That Touch of Minnk, with Cary Grant and Doris Day, appeared in 1962, followed the next year by Take Her, She's Mine, with Jimmy Stewart, and Rosie! in 1964.
By this time she had married again, to Robert F. Six, the president of Continental Airlines, and despite occasional guest-appearances on shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, she devoted most of her attention to the business world; for 11 years, spurred by her husband, she worked as director fo the First National Bank of Denver, and acted as advisory director of continental airlines for a while.
Audrey Meadows never made another movie, but worked on two more television series, as Iris Martin on Too Close for Comfort from 1982-1983, and Uncle Buck, as Maggi Hogoboom, in 1990.
In 1994, she finally published her memoirs under the title Love, Alice. A short two years later, after years of chain-smoking, on February 3rd, 1996, Audrey Meadows finally lost a long fight with lung cancer, which she had kept secret from her family until a week before her death. Her last word was her sister's name, "Jayne!", as she called to her from her bed, and shortly before she slipped into a coma from which she never woke up.
Audrey Meadows was certainly not the most prolific actress in Hollywood, but none could match her versatility. She began her career as a singer, and continued performing on almost every variety show, in harmony with Doris Day and solo. As a comedienne, she was more than a match for Red Skelton and Jackie Gleason, and dominated the stage when she appeared on Dean Martin's Comedy Roasts. With her deep voice, beautiful red hair, flare for dramatic timing, she became one of the greatest actresses of the 20th century.
A partial movie and television filmography:
- 1952-53 The Bob and Ray Show
- 1952 The Jackie Gleason Show
- 1955 The Honeymooners, as Alice Kramden
- 1958 Keep Talking
- 1962 That Touch of Mink, as Connie
- 1963 Take Her, She's Mine, as Anne Michaelson
- 1964 That Was the Week that Was, television series, as herself
- 1968 Rosie!, as Mildred
- 1981 Lily: Sold Out, tv movie, as Polly Jo
- 1982-1983 Too Close for Comfort, as Iris Martin
- 1990 Uncle Buck, as Maggi Hoboboom
In addition, she starred in several broadway plays and had numerous guest appearances, playing dramatic characters on Wagon Train, Play of the Week, and the famous Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and even voicing the character of Beatrice Simmons for The Simpsons in 1989.