Audrey Meadows (February 8, 1922 – February 3, 1996)
Audrey Meadows Cotter, better known by her stage name of Audrey Meadows, was the daughter of Chinese Missionaries. Her father was Francis Meadows Cotter, an Episcopal missionary. Her mother’s name was Ida Miller Taylor. She was born on February 8, 1922 in New York City, when her family was on a visit from the mission field. In fact, for the first several years of her life, she spoke Chinese — not English.
My father was an Episcopal minister, and for 14 years my family lived in China, in a city called Wuchang. We four children spoke Chinese before we spoke English. We left when the communists came, in the early 1930s. I was about 5 years old.Audrey Meadows
Her family returned to the United States, and settled in New England when Audrey was age 6. Audrey and sister Jayne Meadows attended an all-girls boarding school. Both Audrey and Jayne Meadows competed against members of the William F. Buckley family in local talent shows. In 1944, three of Buckley’s sisters were accused of vandalizing the church where Audrey and Jayne’s father was rector.
After high school, Jayne went to New York City, with the goal of becoming an actress. She convinced her little sister to join her in show business, as a singer instead of an actress.
Audrey spent months working on the Broadway show “Top Banana” and then got a job on The Bob & Ray Show (1951). She then replaced Pert Kelton as the most famous and best-loved “Alice Kramden” of The Honeymooners (1955). On May 26, 1956, she married Randolph Rouse. However, the marriage ended in divorce in 1958. She remarried on August 24, 1961 to Robert Logan Forman Six, CEO of Continental Airlines. It was a happy marriage that lasted until his death in 1986.
Jackie Gleason and the Honeymooners
There’s a famous story about how little-known Audrey Meadows was hired by Jackie Gleason. When she first auditioned for the part of Alice Kramden, Jackie Gleason turned her down because she was too pretty to be believable as Ralph’s wife. Determined to get the part, she hired a photographer to take pictures of her with frumpy clothes, no makeup and a generally world-weary attitude and sent them to Jackie Gleason. Not recognizing the woman in the photo, told his producers that she was “Alice” and to find her. When he found out it was indeed Audrey, he said that any actress that determined to get the part deserved it, and he hired her.
He [Jackie Gleason] did not like to rehearse. I kept saying to Art ‘When do we do the blocking?’ And he said, ‘You just did it’. I said, ‘Well, are they going to do a camera run?’ He said, ‘You just did it’. I said, ‘Well, what time is dress rehearsal?’ And he said, ‘You just did it’. I was in a state of panic. So I got through that first show and then I got to love the fact of not rehearsing, because it’s much better for comedy when it’s not over-rehearsed.On working with Jackie Gleason and Art Carney on The Honeymooners
Life after The Honeymooners
After The Honeymooners ended, she went on to do films, such as Take Her, She’s Mine (1963) and That Touch of Mink (1962). Despite not being a comedienne, she with many of Hollywood’s top comic royalty during her “Golden Age of TV” years, including Red Skelton, George Gobel, Jack Benny, Sid Caesar, and Carol Burnett..
In 1966, Audrey Meadows returned once to The Honeymooners (1955) for the last black-and-white sketch, entitled “The Adoption”, which was broadcast in Miami. She performed less in later years, but portrayed Ted Knight’s mother-in-law in the 1980s sitcom Too Close for Comfort.
A lifelong chain smoker, Audrey Meadows passed away on February 3, 1996, of lung cancer. She died in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA. She was interred in Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, next to her second husband
Quotes from Audrey Meadows
You as you are better by far than the you that you are trying to be.
I’ve always voted Republican because America is exactly that, a republic. You can’t expect much leadership with a Democrat behind the desk; they’re not even close to dual efficient.
[on Jackie Gleason] He was divine to work with, an absolute genius. I’ve never been in a show that had the chemistry of everybody together like that. We were all very close.