A regular riot: Recalling RALPH, from LI to the moon

Video rangers: Ahead of its time and forever beloved by millions, "The Honeymooners" has inspired Racoon-like loyalty around the globe -- including a Long Island-based fan club that once caught the eye of The Great One himself.
By PETER CRESCENTI //

A recent Innovate LI newsletter headline – “Chefs of the future” – caught my attention: It had to be a reference to “The Honeymooners,” the classic episode in which Ralph and Norton do a live TV commercial for a crazy kitchen gadget.

I had to know for sure. So, I emailed Editor Gregory Zeller, and sure enough, I was right. And we bonded like members of the Bensonhurst Chapter of the Racoon Lodge (one “c,” as per the show).

I grew up watching “The Honeymooners.” And watching. And watching.

It was easy, because the show was a staple of broadcaster WPIX here in New York. I even played Ralph Kramden in “Honeymooners” skits in high school – at a recent reunion, a former classmate who played Alice Kramden in our skits walked right up to me and said, “Bang, zoom!”

By 1984, when I worked in public relations at then-C.W. Post College, a co-worker casually asked if I ever watched “The Honeymooners.” It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship – and soon, of RALPH, the Royal Association for the Longevity and Preservation of the Honeymooners.

Our only goal was to get the show back on the air; WPIX had shelved it and we were pissed. We wondered if we could start a campaign to bring it back, and my buddy, Bob Columbe, had a brilliant idea: Let’s call Joe Franklin and see if he’ll put us on his show.

As two crusaders looking to revive Jackie Gleason’s brilliant sitcom, Joe booked us. In the middle of the interview, he asked, “This is no joke, right, boys?” Pure Joe.

RALPH lacks the Internet: Today’s digital advantages could have been huge for circa-1984 Peter Crescenti (right), partner Bob Columbe and “Honeymooners” fans everywhere.

Then we got some play from Marvin Kitman, Newsday’s TV writer at the time, and suddenly we were in a whirlwind: four years of nothing but “The Honeymooners,” with media coverage (The New York Times, the LA Times, “Good Morning America,” “Entertainment Tonight”) that put us on the national map and got C.W. Post more publicity than it had gotten in the previous 50 years.

It’s been 35 years since it all began. I still get to relive it, thanks to Facebook. I belong to two “Honeymooners” clubs, and from time to time a member will post RALPH memorabilia, or photos from the conventions we held at Post, in Chicago, and at the old Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden. Even photos of our book, “The Official Honeymooners Treasury.”

When I look at Facebook, I think “What if…?” As in, what if we had the web back then to promote the club and recruit members?

We had 26,000 at our peak, not only in the United States but around the world. We had celebrity members too, such as Bob Costas, Cyndi Lauper and Matthew Broderick. We had enough doctors to be assured of being cured of any disease, and so many lawyers that we could have fought WPIX all the way to the Supreme Court if we had to.

But 26,000 members is a mere bag of shells, as Ralph would say. We’d probably have been in six figures had there been a RALPHfanclub.com.

Still watching: Well into the future, “The Honeymooners” still draws an audience.

Of course, there are other ways to build a base. At Farmingdale State College, there are more than 40 clubs, honor societies, fraternities and sororities, and membership is booming at many of them, because they recruit with the personal touch.

The college’s Student Activities Office recently sponsored something called the Involvement Fair, an outdoor event at which the various groups recruited members by luring them with food, music, freebies, games and raffles.

If RALPH were to consider a comeback, we could do the same, only with a Bensonhurst twist. Catering from Salvatore’s Pizzeria. Music by Little Jack Little and Basil Fomeen, straight from the Sons of Italy hall. Freebies? Racoon caps, just like they wore at the lodge. Bowling, of course, and raffle prizes – a horse with a clock in its stomach sounds like a winner.

We packed it in when Jackie Gleason died in 1987. He’d been a big booster of the club, and he told us so at a coming-out party at the 21 Club, for what are known as “The Honeymooners Lost Episodes.”

Did I mention that RALPH discovered those “Lost Episodes,” and showed them at our first convention? They are bits that ran on the old “Jackie Gleason Show” from 1952-1955, before giving way to the half-hour shows better known as the “Classic 39.”

A Times reporter who covered that convention likened their discovery to finding a 10th Beethoven symphony. Not bad for a couple of guys who just wanted to watch “The Honeymooners.”

Peter Crescenti is media relations manager at Farmingdale State College, part of the State University of New York system.