Ms. Cotter’s Character

By Brad Dison

A New York television show was due to begin broadcasting in two weeks. In the 1950s, television was broadcast live before a studio audience. There was no editing. The production had one serious problem; they were having trouble casting an actress to play the lead character’s wife. They had considered numerous actresses but could not find one who fit the role. The lead character had the final say in who played his wife. Actresses were either too tall, too short, too big, too small, too loud, or too quiet.

Audrey Cotter was performing in the Broadway production of Top Banana and had appeared on several television shows including The Amazing Mr. Malone (1951), The Bob & Ray Show (1951-1952), and Lux Video Theatre (1952). She agreed to help the production find the right actress. She suggested just about every actress she knew, but the leading man always had a reason why none of them would fit the part. Finally, Ms. Cotter said she knew the perfect actress for the part, herself.

Ms. Cotter, an experienced professional actress was immaculately dressed in the current style, her makeup and hair were flawless, her movements were graceful – the leading man knew she was all wrong for the part. He quickly pointed out that the character was supposed to be a blue-collar housewife who, along with her husband, portrayed their daily struggle for survival in New York City. He explained that she was “all wrong.” She was too young, too pretty, and, above all, too glamours for the part. No one would believe she could be married to him. Ms. Cotter left the meeting feeling rejected, although being rejected for being too young, too pretty, and too glamorous must have softened the blow somewhat.

Ms. Cotter was not too serious about getting the part until she was turned down. She became a determined woman. On the walk back to her apartment, she told her agent to return to her apartment the following morning with a photographer. Ms. Cotter stayed in bed until the agent and photographer rang her bell. She let the men into her apartment. Her hair was mussed up, she wore no makeup, she wore a blouse—she had torn one of the sleeves for the occasion—and donned an apron. She walked into her cluttered kitchen and the photographer took several pictures. They developed the photographs and sent them back to the casting person with no name attached.

The lead man looked at the pictures. Her shoulders were slumped, one hand rested on the countertop as if to keep her from collapsing from utter exhaustion. Rather than a smile, Ms. Cotter’s expression was one of disdain as if she were about to ask, “What can happen next?” The lead man said in rapid succession, “Oh, My God. That’s [her]. Who is she? Where is she? Can we get her?”

Ms. Cotter got the part. The lead man was unaware until sometime later that he had already rejected her for the part. Although the television sitcom lasted just a single year, Ms. Cotter’s character became one of the most beloved in television history, Alice Kramden.

Few people know the actress as Audrey Cotter. The world knows Alice Kramden by her stage name, Audrey Meadows. The man who rejected her for the part played her husband in the show. His name was Jackie Gleason. She, along with her husband, Ralph, and upstairs neighbors Ed and Trixie Norton, were… The Honeymooners.

“Honeymooners Stars Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph on the Joan Rivers Show.” YouTube. Last modified August 4, 2020. Accessed July 17, 2022.

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