The Honeymooners Meet The Boys of Summer
Ralph Kramden / Jackie Gleason Statue
at the Port Authority reminds me...
June 22, 2012: On our recent trip to New York, we several times passed by
the Ralph Kramden statue outside the Port Authority.
I resisted the
urge to lecture the heathens who had no idea what it represented
and often used its base as a park bench.
Yes, I'm a Honeymooners maven, have seen the "Classic 39" many times and
such terms as, "Helloooo ball!", "string of poloponies" and "Can it core
Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph
are among my icons.
And this gives me
an excuse to share here the Honeymooners "script" I wrote
to honor Gleason when he
died in 1987.
It's also included in Playing Piano in a Brothel.
Ralph at the Bat
Fatigued after driving the Madison Avenue bus in Manhattan,
RALPH KRAMDEN enters the
Chauncey Street apartment in
Brooklyn. At the table are neighbor ED NORTON and TOMMY
MANICOTTI, a member
of the Norton-coached stickball team,
plus ALICE KRAMDEN and her mother, MRS. GIBSON. Nobody
Ralph’s entrance. All are listening intently to the radio on
the kitchen table.
RADIO ANNOUNCER: Mantle
hits a bouncer to the mound! Labine
throws to Hodges! The Dodgers have beaten the Yankees 8–5
the 1955 World Series is tied at two games apiece with Game
5 coming up tomorrow at Ebbets Field!
TOMMY: The Dodgers are going to murder ’em, huh, Mr. Norton?
NORTON: Like we say in the sewer, the Yankees are
down the drain. Too bad you won’t be able to see it.
MRS. GIBSON: If my Alice had only married that rich Howard
tickets would be a snap.
ALICE: Now, mother .
RALPH: Leo Durocher was wrong! (He slams his lunch bucket on
the table.) Nice guys don’t finish last,
they get stuck with mothers-
in-law who look like Sal Maglie!
MRS. GIBSON: My son-in-law, the heavy hitter!
The heaviest! If he could hit his weight, he could beat
Campanella behind the plate!
ALICE: What do you mean, Ed? The Dodgers do want him behind
the plate. They need a new
RALPH: Haaaar-dee-har-har-har. (Smiling smugly, he walks slowly
toward the table.) Now, normally,
if you were talking about tickets to
a game like this, you’d say, “Fat chance.”
NORTON: Then if anybody
has a chance, you do!
RALPH: The Yankees’
clubhouse man rides my bus. I’ve told him
about that uranium field I’m going to buy and that the first
going to do after I make my millions is to buy a ballclub. He wants
to get on my good
side. All I gotta do is go down to the gas station
and call him. Two tickets.Like that!
TOMMY: You mean it, Mr. Kramden?
RALPH: You play hooky and I’ll do the rest. (He glares at his
I’ll show you who has pull.
thanks, Mr. Kramden! (An hour later, Alice is alone
with Ralph, who holds his head in his hands.)
RALPH: Alice, I’ve got a biiiiiig mouth. I’ll have to tell Tommy he
has to go to school, after all. Some big shot I am, huh?
ALICE: Why don’t you just wait until the morning?
(It’s now the next morning. After a knock, Tommy rushes in
excitedly. Alice puts her hands on Tommy’s shoulders.)
RALPH: (Looking away.) Tommy, there’s something I have to tell
(Smiling.) Yes, Tommy, Mr. Kramden will let you use the
tickets only if you promise to tell your teacher the truth
you’re missing school.
Are you kiddin’? She’ll be the first one I tell! She loves
DukeSnider. (Alice pulls two tickets out of her apron pocket and
hands them toTommy. He runs out. Ralph is flabbergasted.)
Now, you, Mr. Pull Hitter, don’t you ever promise Tommy
anything like that again.
RALPH: But how?
ALICE: I used to babysit. You don’t even know this, but one
kids was named Sandy. Well, I went over to Sandy’s mother’s
house last night and
explained the situation and she said I could
have two of their tickets. Besides, Mrs. Koufax said, Sandy’s
nineteen and he almost never pitches and he’ll have other World
Series—if he ever can
learn how to control that fastball of his.
(Hugging Alice.) Baby, you’re the greatest!
Happy 80th birthday to the Orange Crush architect
Friends, family, former players, and
comrades salute Joe Collier
17, 2012: Last night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, former
defensive coordinator Joe Collier -- the muse behind the famed
"Orange Crush" defense -- was feted in
honor of his recent 80th birthday.
It was a private event, organized by his daughters and son
Joel, the assistant
general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs, so I'm not going to go into much
here. But it was fun to touch bases with several members of the
"Orange Crush" and that coaching
staff. I will disclose that among the stories
told were several about how Joel served as a ballboy and
reveille sounder at the Broncos' training camps.
I made it clear in '77 that I consider
Collier -- who served under three head
coaches -- the top defensive coordinator of all time in the NFL, both because
of his cerebral innovation and his savviness in adapting to his personnel.
My amateur cell-phone
picture is of the former Broncos players and coaches
at the gathering, and the coaches are Collier (brown
coat, light shirt, middle
of the back row), plus Paul Roach, Red Miller and Myrel Moore.
On a personal level, Collier and his wife, Shirley, were good friends with my
late parents, and I
know how much they loved Joe as much more than a
Excerpt from '77: Brain Trust: Joe Collier and Company
They say the neon lights are bright
Back from New York: Broadway and Baseball
June 9, 2012: Helen and
I are back from a quick trip to New York. I
touched bases in the book world and we also went to two Broadway
musicals -- Nice Work If You Can Get It, starring Kelli O'Hara and Matthew
Broderick; and Evita,
with Ricky Martin and Elena Roger -- and the
Yankees-Tampa Bay Rays game. And I also visited with my New York
resident brother, David, of Westminster Kennel Club renown.
My interests in theater and music -- mostly
rock 'n roll -- are among the many
I have outside of sports. This previous journal entry about Chess gives
additional background about that. Earlier this year, in fact, I sought to switch
departments at the Denver Post to become
John Moore's successor as
theater critic. He accepted a buyout the Post offered to veteran staffers
last year. I hoped to step over to the features department and take John's
I'm from a family with a mix of sports and music genes -- my father was an
athlete and coach, my mother
was a musician and teacher -- and my interests
reflect that mix. While several of us Frei children were
good athletes in the
conventional sense, the best athlete arguably was the one who didn't go into
-- Susan, the ballet star. In contrast, I can't carry a tune, can't dance a
step, and can't even play "Chopsticks"
on the piano or anything at all on the
Becoming a newspaper theater critic/writer
seemed a natural change-of-pace
switch. It didn't work out. Film critic Lisa Kennedy took on the added
responsibility of covering theater, too. She's doing terrific work.
The positive is that I'm
being allowed to remain a theater fan in my private
life, rather than taking on the responsibility of serving
as a "critic." Frankly,
though, what I was especially looking forward to was writing about the
theater scene and the people in it. I wonder things like: How do understudy
rehearsals work? How did
understudy Cassie Okenka learn the role of Glinda
in "Wicked" after joining the first national
company in Portland, while being
part of the ensemble, and then be able to go on as Glinda for
a few nights
here in Denver? How does a "swing" learn all those roles -- and keep them
When I reviewed the Bill Cain play 9 Circles at the Curious Theatre in
Denver, I realized I much
rather would have caught up with the show's
impressive young lead, recent Southern Mississippi master's
Sean Scrutchins, and told his story. Who was he? How'd he come to play
role for Curious? Where was he hoping to go from there? In my sports
career, that's what I've done best,
whether the pieces were for The Sporting
News or a newspaper about future Hall of Fame players, or
"hard-boot" horse trainers. Exploring, asking, watching, listening.
Of course, in my sportswriting career, I've often been an acerbic critic, but I
know I would have found
it hard to reconcile saying exactly what I thought
of especially smaller local productions, if I found them to
be flawed. These
would be people doing what they loved, certainly without financial reward in
The answer, of course, is that expectations, resources and even
audiences have to be taken into consideraton
during the evaluations.
While I was pondering the switch, I did a lot of reading. I went through Frank
Rich's collection of his New York Times reviews during his 1980-93 tenure as
theater critic. Mostly, I flipped through the book until I came to a
show I had seen -- in New York or elsewhere.
Often, we had seen the same
New York production, and I paid especially close attention to those reviews.
were longer and more detailed than than most you'll see in a paper,
even the Times,
nowadays, so that was the first asterisk.
I often agreed with most of what he said
about those shows, but disagreed
with his conclusions. Case in point: I knew that Chess had
all those problems,
I nodded when he pointed them out, but I shook my head when he said they
ruined the show. One example of an underappreciated, smart
show we both liked was the wickedly funny Larry
musical, City of Angels.
Near the end of the book, he mused that
he wondered if he should lower his
standards, pander to the "tourist" mentality, and approach reviewing
different mindset. I understood what he was getting at. Yet I believe there's
for applying high standards while at least loosening the tie, maybe even
having a beer before the
show, and conceding that theater doesn't have to be
a work of art to be successful.
championed Sunday in the Park with George and even conceded he
took grief for doing so. We saw it, too, and
while I'm a huge fan of both
stars, Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin, I am not at all embarrassed to
I found it sleep-inducing.
When I saw the acclaimed drama Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad
Robin Williams, last year in New York, I left the theater thinking it was
of show many critics raved about because smart and influential
critics are supposed to like this kind
of play. I thought of that later when I
reviewed 9 Circles last year; I asked myself if
I was following that lead in
proclaiming it a strong play and production. I convinced myself my
and praise were earned and genuine.
Yes, I've been accused of arrogance and elitism when discussing my own
writing and offering my views on
sports. Here, I'm admitting as a theater
"critic," I would have been what some in that world might have
It's a matter of expectations, resources and standards. In the 2012
of $145 (give or take) ticket prices, you have every right to high
expectations, but what makes
me laugh about that is that a lower bowl ticket
at the Pepsi Center for the Colorado Avalanche-Columbus Blue Jackets
hockey game (in November) is about the same price. But there's nothing
wrong with conceding that theater
is both entertainment and art, and if a
show works as the former, while falling short of deserving to be considered
the latter, who the hell are we to say it's a failure? I've seen many, many
shows I neither "liked"
nor admired, but couldn't resist enjoying. (Rock of
Ages is one of the many examples.)
On to the two shows we saw on this trip.
Nice Work if You Can Get It, with Joe
DiPietro's book built around Gershwin
songs, received 10 Tony nominations, but has gotten so-so mainstream
We had seen Kelli O'Hara four times previously -- in Denver in Jekyll
Hyde, and in New York in Sweet Smell of Success, Pajama Game, and
South Pacific. And
we'd caught Matthew Broderick in Brighton Beach
Memoirs, The Producers and The Odd Couple.
O'Hara again was great, and we were more than willing to overlook the
of her character and the story. Broderick was fine,
even holding his own in an extended ballroom-type
dance sequence across
furniture with O'Hara, and I respect his continuing loyalty to the theater,
despite his family background and deep roots in the craft, he really
no longer "needs."
Veterans Michael McGrath and
Judy Kaye were hilarious, and
they're both up for Tonys this
as featured performers
in musicals. (Update: They both
won. That's Kaye
at the right in
the picture of me with the
Original Broadway Production
leads of Mamma
between Karen Mason and
Louise Pitre.) If McGrath and
steal the show, they
at least kidnapped it for significant
stretches. Estelle Parsons
doesn't make an appearance until late in the
show -- so late, she probably could be having dinner at Bricco at
curtain and still comfortably make her entrance as scheduled to serve to tie
up the loose
ends in the formulaic, by-the-numbers but fun, plot.
I'm convinced 99 percent of those at the Imperial had a blast; I'm guessing
the other 1 percent were
miserable because they'd had tainted oysters at
dinner...or maybe they were mad that Chess didn't
even rate a mention in the
"At This Theatre" page in the Playbill. (I've told you, that show's devotees
can be a little wacky.)
With Nice Work, I again was reminded that reviews can
be helpful in making
choices and provocative afterwards in framing your own
reaction, but shouldn't
be swallowed whole. Again, my experience has been
that I agree with quibbles or even outright criticisms from
reviewers, but than
catch myself adding, "Yeah ... so?" In this instance, quoth the Times:
froth." To which I'm convinced most at the Imperial would have
responded: "Yeah ... so?" Or, "And
Anything Goes isn't?" You don't need to
check your intellect at the door to react that way.
That's where today's abundance of alternative evaluations -- in blogs and
elsewhere -- can be
significant voices, and the dilution of major critics'
make-or-break influence has been a positive. I'd say that
even if I made the
move to the critic's role. Nobody should have that much power.
was a slightly different story, primarily because of the casting of Elena
Roger as the lead in the first
New York revival since the original production
ran from 1979-83. I'd seen the show before, but not in
New York and not in
many years, and I had forgotten what a strong double-threat ensemble cast it
to support the handful of major characters.
Ricky Martin more than held his own as Che. (Update: Here, he's featured
in "And the Money Kept Rolling In" on the Tony Awards telecast.)
Roger is a tiny Argentinian who drew raves playing the role in London in
recent years, and casting a
woman from Eva and Juan Peron's homeland for
the role is a brave novelty. Her accent is an intriguing
touch, but not
indispensable, especially in a work in which we know the English dialogue is,
essence, a translation. She's an excellent dancer, too.
The problem here was that, at least on the night
we attended the show, her
voice wasn't strong enough for the part and became almost raspy at times as
snapped off final notes. I can't help but think that most in the audience
were wondering the same thing: Is
she sick? Is her voice worn out?
In a production that has an "alternate" Eva, Christina
DeCicco, who plays the
role on Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons, and two ensemble
also listed as understudies, there doesn't seem to be much excuse
for a lead going on with a significant voice
Admire her for going on and note that baseball players go on the DL with
but she either needed to step aside -- or, if that's just the
way she is much of the time, the role in New York
Martin and Michael Cerveris (as Peron) and a stunning ensemble -- including
veterans as Timothy Shew, one of Les Miserables' Jean Valjeans; and
Brad Little, who played the Phantom
of the Opera in one of the
touring productions that passed through Denver -- can't carry this without
electric Evita in all eight performances each week.
With that huge stipulation, we enjoyed it,
though, and would recommend it.
And, yes, we went to the new Yankee Stadium. It was my first visit
and what I heard was exactly right -- at times, you still think you're in the old
and that can be both good and bad. It's obvious this was built for the
private boxes and luxury levels. Why
not just build a new stadium -- a real
new stadium? (Sacrilege, I know.) We were there on the 67th anniversary
D-Day and the Yankees indeed honored veterans of the landing. The
problem was, it was about
15 minutes before the first pitch, there couldn't
have been more than 5,000 people in their seats, and it seemed
insulting and reduced to the trivial. The Yankees won 4-1, behind pitcher
Ivan Nova, in
front of a crowd announced as over 38,000. I have no doubt
that many tickets were sold, but in-house attendance
was about 25,000 -- no
I also was reminded that for all the Yankees' nods to tradition
having Bob Sheppard's tape-recorded voice still introduce Derek Jeter, not
"walk-up" music for each hitter, and having the monuments
behind the centerfield wall -- even
the game's showcase franchise has caved
in and added much of the usual silly marketing gimmicks so pervasive
MLB now. Screeching announcers give trivia quizzes to fans between
half-innings, for example.
Yes, even the Yankees ...
And the beers are $9.