- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Art Carney, who played Jackie Gleason’s sewer-worker pal Ed Norton in the TV classic “The Honeymooners,” and went on to win the 1974 Oscar for best actor in “Harry and Tonto,” has died at 85.

Mr. Carney died in Chester, Conn., on Sunday and was buried yesterday after a small, private funeral. He had been ill for some time.

The comic actor would be forever identified as Norton, Ralph Kramden’s bowling buddy and not-too-bright upstairs neighbor on “The Honeymooners.” The sitcom appeared in various forms from 1951 to 1956 and was revived briefly in 1971. The shows can still be seen on cable.

With his turned-up porkpie hat and unbuttoned vest over a white T-shirt, Mr. Carney’s Ed Norton with his exuberant “Hey, Ralphie boy!” became an ideal foil for Gleason’s blustery, bullying Kramden. Mr. Carney won three Emmys for his role and his first taste of fame.

“The first time I saw the guy act,” Mr. Gleason once said, “I knew I would have to work twice as hard for my laughs. He was funny as hell.”

In one episode, Norton and Ralph learn to golf from an instruction book. Told to “address the ball,” Norton gives a wave of the hand and says, “Hellooooo, ball!” In another episode, Norton inadvertently wins the award for best costume at a Raccoon Lodge party by showing up in his sewer-worker’s gear. Another time, the loose-limbed Norton teaches Ralph a finger-popping new dance, called “the Hucklebuck.”

Mr. Carney told a Saturday Evening Post interviewer in 1961 that strangers were always asking him how he liked it down in the sewer.

“I have seasonal answers,” he said. “In the summer: ‘I like it down there because it’s cool.’ In the winter: ‘I like it down there because it’s warm.’ Then I’ve got one that isn’t seasonal: ‘Go to hell.’”

After “The Honeymooners,” Mr. Carney battled a drinking problem for several years. His behavior became erratic while co-starring with Walter Matthau in the Broadway run of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” in the 1960s. He dropped out of the show and spent nearly half a year in a sanitarium.

His career resumed, and in 1974, he was cast in Paul Mazurksy’s “Harry and Tonto,” as a 72-year-old widower who travels from New York to Chicago with his pet cat. He stopped drinking during the making of the film.

When it won him his Oscar, Mr. Carney wisecracked, “You’re looking at an actor whose price has just doubled.”

Mr. Carney was born into an Irish-Catholic family in Mount Vernon, N.Y., on Nov. 4, 1918, and baptized Arthur William Matthew Carney. His father was a newspaperman and publicist.

After appearing in amateur theatricals and imitating radio personalities, Mr. Carney won a job in 1937 traveling with Horace Heidt’s dance band, doing his impressions and singing novelty songs.

Later, he won a job at $225 a week imitating Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and other world leaders on the radio show “Report to the Nation.”


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