Jane Kean, the famous TV wife Trixie in Jackie Gleason’s popular TV revival of The Honeymooners passed away last Tuesday. At age 90, she died at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, after suffering from a fall.
Jane Kean played the suffering wife of Ed Norton on The Honeymooners. The show was significant in that it was the first of its kind to show working married couples in a less-than-ideal light. They were shown to live in a shabby apartment complex in Brooklyn.
“There’s something about the show — people relate to it,” said Kean in a 1991 Los Angeles Times interview. “People believed the show was real, and that we really were the characters we played.”
She was born in Harford, Connecticut, on April 10, 1923. She entered the entertainment industry with her sister, Betty, from an early age and with their mother’s support. Eventually, she and her sister banded together to become an all-female comedic duo which was considered rare for its time. They performed at night clubs and hobnobbed with comedic heavyweights like Miton Berle. The sisters even did a Broadway comedy together called Ankles Aweigh.
Jane Kean and Jackie Gleason started working together for the first time in the 1940s when both worked the vaudeville circuit. Vaudeville refers to variety-entertainment style theatre consisting of unrelated acts – popoular from the early 1880s till the 1930s. The acts varied anywhere from classical musicians, comedians and animal trainers to jugglers, athletes and lecturing celebrities. Vaudeville has been called the “heart of American show business” and was one of the top entertainment shows for decades.
However, Kean’s big break came when Gleason settled in Miami to revive The Honeymooners in 1966. He had plans to extend the program by an hour and add musical routines to it. Kean also happened to be a talented singer with an outstanding voice.
Kean’s niece, Deirdre Wolpert, recalls the actress’ story in landing the Trixie roll. Jackie Gleason called her and just randomly asked, “Are you doing anything right now?” She replied, “No” and so he invited her to play Trixie. She hopped a plane to Florida just two weeks after the call and ended up playing the role for five years.
Wolpert remembers how Kean spoke fondly of her opportunity to work on Gleason’s hit program for so many years. She eventually left The Honeymooners to try other things. She did guest appearances, performed in Las Vegas and did voice-related jobs. She did behind-the-scenes work for the children’s movie Pete’s Dragon. She preferred the subtle role over the glamorous one eliminating the need for her to wear make-up according to Wolpert.
Jane Kean was an energetic woman till the very end of her life. All by herself last year, she delivered a show that looked back at her life’s milestones. She had even planned a trip to London with her niece at the age of 90. And in the days before her passing, she had already begun preparations for her annual Christmas party, her niece conveyed. No doubt, an trailblazer of her time – she will be missed.
By Fatema Biviji