Jackie Gleason recruited singer to play Trixie in hourlong musical episodes
Kean died Tuesday at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank where she was taken after a fall that led to a hemorrhagic stroke, her niece, Deirdre Wolpert, said Thursday.
Kean first started working with Gleason in the 1940s, when they were both on the vaudeville circuit.
Her big break, however, came in 1966 when Gleason moved to Miami and resurrected “Honeymooners,” expanding it to an hour and adding musical numbers.
Kean, a talented singer with a belting voice, starred on the show for five years as Ed Norton’s beleaguered wife Trixie. Joyce Randolph played the role in the classic 1955-56 “Honeymooners” segs opposite Art Carney, Audrey Meadows and Gleason.
Kean often spoke about her “Honeymooners” stint and her chance to appear on such a well-known program with Gleason, Wolpert said.
“One day she picked up the phone and he said, ‘Are you doing anything right now?’ and she said ‘No’ and he said come on down and be Trixie,'” Wolpert said of Gleason. “Two weeks later she was on the plane to Florida.”
Born in Hartford, Connecticut, on April 10, 1923, Kean got into show business at an early age along with her sister, Betty, with the encouragement of her mother.
She appeared in a Broadway production of “Early to Bed” at age 16 and was eventually moved to Los Angeles and appeared in some films for MGM before forming a comedy act with her sister, who is Wolpert’s mother. The all-female comedy team, a rarity at the time, played night clubs and rubbed shoulders with comedians like Milton Berle.
After jumping to TV, Kean stayed on “Honeymooners” for five years before leaving to pursue other avenues, including guest appearances, performing in Las Vegas and doing voice work on pics including 1977’s “Pete’s Dragon.”
Last year, Kean put on a one-woman show that was a retrospective of her life’s work and had plans to travel to London after Christmas with her niece. She was also preparing invitations for her annual Christmas party in the days before her death, Wolpert said.
“This was a really kicking 90-year-old. The number of friends that she had, the people who loved her … she had a wonderful life and a wonderful career,” she said.
“She was a glamour girl, but she also had a lot of substance.”
In addition to Wolpert, Kean is survived by a stepson from her second marriage,Joseph Hecht Jr., and his family and Wolpert’s husband and two children.
Her sister Betty Kean died in 1986. Her second husband, her manager Joe Hecht, died in 2006.