'The Honeymooners' actor Joyce Randolph dies at 99
NEW YORK — Joyce Randolph, a veteran stage and television actress whose role as the savvy Trixie Norton on The Honeymooners provided the perfect foil to her dimwitted TV husband, has died. She was 99.
Randolph died of natural causes Saturday night at her home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, her son Randolph Charles told The Associated Press Sunday.
She was the last surviving main character of the beloved comedy from television's golden age of the 1950s.
The Honeymooners was an affectionate look at Brooklyn tenement life, based in part on star Jackie Gleason's childhood. Gleason played the blustering bus driver Ralph Kramden. Audrey Meadows was his wisecracking, strong-willed wife Alice, and Art Carney the cheerful sewer worker Ed Norton. Alice and Trixie often found themselves commiserating over their husbands' various follies and mishaps, whether unknowingly marketing dogfood as a popular snack or trying in vain to resist a rent hike, or freezing in the winter as their heat is shut off.
Randolph would later cite a handful of favorite episodes, including one in which Ed is sleepwalking.
"And Carney calls out, 'Thelma?!' He never knew his wife's real name," she later told the Television Academy Foundation.
Originating in 1950 as a recurring skit on Gleason's variety show, Cavalcade of Stars, The Honeymooners still ranks among the all-time favorites of television comedy. The show grew in popularity after Gleason switched networks with The Jackie Gleason Show. Later, for one season in 1955-56, it became a full-fledged series.
Those 39 episodes became a staple of syndicated programming aired all over the country and beyond.
In an interview with The New York Times in January 2007, Randolph said she received no compensation in residuals for those 39 episodes. She said she finally began getting royalties with the discovery of "lost" episodes from the variety hours.
After five years as a member of Gleason's on-the-air repertory company, Randolph virtually retired, opting to focus full-time on marriage and motherhood.
"I didn't miss a thing by not working all the time," she said. "I didn't want a nanny raising (my) wonderful son."
But decades after leaving the show, Randolph still had many admirers and received dozens of letters a week. She was a regular into her 80s at the downstairs bar at Sardi's, where she liked to sip her favorite White Cadillac concoction — Dewar's and milk — and chat with patrons who recognized her from a portrait of the sitcom's four characters over the bar.
Randolph said the show's impact on television viewers didn't dawn on her until the early 1980s.
"One year while (my son) was in college at Yale, he came home and said, 'Did you know that guys and girls come up to me and ask, 'Is your mom really Trixie?' " she told The San Antonio Express in 2000. "I guess he hadn't paid much attention before then."
Earlier, she had lamented that playing Trixie limited her career.
"For years after that role, directors would say: 'No, we can't use her. She's too well-known as Trixie,'" Randolph told the Orlando Sentinel in 1993.
Gleason died in 1987 at age 71, followed by Meadows in 1996 and Carney in 2003. Gleason had revived The Honeymooners in the 1960s, with Jane Kean as Trixie.
Randolph was born Joyce Sirola in Detroit in 1924, and was around 19 when she joined a road company of Stage Door. From there she went to New York and performed in a number of Broadway shows.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, she was seen often on TV, appearing with such stars as Eddie Cantor, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Danny Thomas and Fred Allen.
Randolph met Gleason for the first time when she did a Clorets commercial on Cavalcade of Stars, and The Great One took a liking to her; she didn't even have an agent at the time.
Randolph spent her retirement going to Broadway openings and fundraisers, being active with the U.S.O. and visiting other favorite Manhattan haunts, among them Angus, Chez Josephine and the Lambs Club.
Her husband, Richard Lincoln, a wealthy marketing executive who died in 1997, served as president at the Lambs, a theatrical club, and she reigned as "first lady." They had one son, Charles.
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