Art Carney dies at 84 - My grandmother Nonie and I watched together long ago...


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Art Carney was Ed Norton, and much more
By Robert Bianco, USA TODAY

If Ed Norton were all Art Carney left behind, it would be enough.

Art Carney as Ed Norton from The Honeymooners . Carney, who went on to win the 1974 Oscar for Best Actor died Tuesday at 85.

Luckily for the generations of fans and critics who adored him, Carney, 85, who died Sunday, had far too much talent to be confined to one role. Over his six decades as an actor, he created a range of comic gems, from his Oscar-winning role in 1974's Harry and Tonto to Felix Unger in the original Broadway production of The Odd Couple. (Related item: A look at Art Carney's career )

Even so, he owes his TV immortality to Ed Norton, the foil, friend and conscience of Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden on The Honeymooners . One of the medium's first and foremost blue-collar heroes, Ed was a sewer worker of unlimited heart and limited brain power, a kind man whose enthusiasm and loyalty came through to viewers each time he yelled "Hey, Ralphie-boy!"

Indeed, thanks to constant reruns of the 39 stand-alone Honeymooners episodes and the force of Carney's personality, Ed remains one of TV's most easily recognized comic characters. Close your eyes, and you can probably see and hear him: the much-imitated tremor in Ed's voice; the open vest over a white T-shirt; the hat with the upturned brim — unless, of course, he had on his special hat for a meeting of the International Order of Friendly Raccoons.

Carney got his start as an entertainer in 1937, doing comedy with a dance band. He broke into movies in 1941, but as with most men of his generation, he left his job to fight in World War II and was wounded during the Normandy invasion. The injury was the source of his distinctive limp.

After the war, he worked in radio with Morey Amsterdam, who took Carney with him when he moved to TV in 1948. Gleason hired him for his first variety show, 1951's Cavalcade of Stars , where the Honeymooners were born.

Though he wasn't always a regular on Gleason's shows, the two worked together steadily until the end of The Jackie Gleason Show in 1970. In that time, Carney won six Emmys — six more than Gleason ever won.

Carney had only one other regular series role, in 1977's Lanigan's Rabbi . But he made countless guest appearances and was sought after for TV movie work; he won another Emmy in 1984 for Terrible Joe Moran.

Most of the rest of his career was devoted to film. Having won an Oscar for his first lead role, Carney followed with parts in such films as The Late Show and House Calls .

If you want a refresher course in Carney's genius, pick up The Honeymooners on DVD (Paramount, $50). And TV Land is running all 39 episodes Friday, but there's really no need to cram. Norton will always be with us.

Ralphie-boy would be so proud.


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