|Born:||October 14, 1907|
|Location:||Great Falls, Montana|
|Deathplace:||Westwood, New Jersey|
Pert Kelton (October 14, 1907 - October 30, 1968) was an American vaudeville, movie, radio and television actress who portrayed the original Alice Kramden on The Honeymooners with Jackie Gleason. She performed in a dozen Broadway productions between 1925 and 1968.
Kelton was the original Alice Kramden in The Honeymooners comedy sketches on The Jackie Gleason Show (the basis for the later sitcom The Honeymooners) featuring Jackie Gleason as her husband Ralph Kramden and Art Carney as their upstairs neighbor Ed Norton, Elaine Stritch as the burlesque dancer wife of Norton (replaced after the first sketch by Joyce Randolph).
Kelton appeared in the original sketches, generally running about 15 or 20 minutes, shorter than the later one-season half-hour series and 1960s hour-long musical versions. The early incarnation of The Honeymooners on the DuMont Television Network was much darker and harsher than the softened, toned-down CBS version that appeared after Kelton was blacklisted during the McCarthy era and replaced by Audrey Meadows.
In the early shows, Gleason's character was a hapless young fat man married to a middle-aged battleaxe instead of a vibrant young beauty, and the arguments and comedy were harrowingly realistic, almost like watching your neighbors through a keyhole.
Kelton was a young comedienne in A-list movies during the 1930s, often as the leading lady's wisecracking and equally attractive best friend. She had a memorable turn in 1933 as dance hall singer "Trixie" in Raoul Walsh's The Bowery alongside Wallace Beery, George Raft, Jackie Cooper and Fay Wray. Directed by Raoul Walsh, the film depicted Steve Brodie, the first man to supposedly jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and live to brag about it. Kelton sings to a rowdily appreciative crowd in a bawdy dive, using a curious New York accent to good comedic effect.
As the witty young Minnie in Gregory LaCava's pre-Code comedy Bed of Roses (1933), she played a bawdy prostitute (along with Constance Bennett) fond of getting admiring men helplessly drunk before robbing them, at least until getting caught and tossed back into jail. Kelton has all the best lines, surprisingly wicked and amusing observations that would never be allowed in an American film after the Hollywood Production Code was adopted. The movie remains realistic in terms of the interactions of the characters and features an early turn by Joel McCrea as the lead, a small boat skipper who pulls Minnie from the river after she dives to escape capture.
Ironically, given her later blacklisting, Kelton's last movie for years was called Whispering Enemies (1939). Her next screen appearance was on television in The Honeymooners and other sketches on the Gleason show. Kelton's abrupt departure due to the blacklist was explained away as a result of "heart problems".
During the 1940s, she was a familiar radio voice on such programs as Easy Aces, It's Always Albert, The Magnificent Montague, The Stu Erwin Show and the 1941 soap opera We Are Always Young. In 1949, she did the voices of five different characters on radio's The Milton Berle Show,
On Broadway, she was twice nominated for Tony Awards: in 1960, as Best Supporting or Featured Actress (Musical) for Frank Loesser's Greenwillow and as Best Supporting or Featured Actress (Dramatic) for Spofford (1967-68). However, her memorable Broadway appearance was as the impatient Mrs. Paroo (the mother of Marian Paroo) in the Meredith Willson's The Music Man (1957), a role she repeated in the 1962 film adaptation.
In the 1960s, she was brought back to the The Honeymooners cast to occasionally play Alice's bitter mother in the hour-long musical version of The Honeymooners with Sheila MacRae as a fetching young Alice. By this time, the original age discrepancies were reversed, with Ralph married to a much younger Alice than himself.