“The Honeymooners” hubby, Ralph Kramden, was a funny, hot-tempered bus driver, portrayed by comic great Jackie Gleason on the classic ‘50s sitcom. But Kramden wasn’t exactly a financial genius. Despite having a union job, limited expenses, and an exceptionally tolerant wife, Ralphie could never quite upgrade his two-room Bensonhurst walk-up to live in the lap of luxury. Here, we present Ralph Kramden’s most cringe-worthy penny-pinching moments:
1. Millionaire for a day
Ralph brought home a beat-up old suitcase that was left behind on one of his bus routes after it went unclaimed for 30 days. When he discovers that the suitcase is stuffed with what looks to be “a million dollars,” Ralph goes on a spending spree worthy of Rick Ross. Ralph is living large and throwing $100 bills around until one of his neighbors is arrested for passing counterfeit loot–Ralph’s counterfeit loot. Actually, the mob’s counterfeit loop. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.
2. Liberace is worth it
In 1955, a new TV cost about $150--- almost $1,300 in today’s dollars. That was a lot of cabbage for Ralph Kramden. Always on the lookout for ways to stretch a buck, Kramden proposes that he and neighbor Ed Norton split the cost of new set. Great idea, until they fight over which shows to watch. Ed prefers the adventures of “Captain Video,” while Ralph wants to watch the late, late movie. Meanwhile, Ralph’s wife Alice declares, "I don't wanna look at that icebox, that stove, that sink, and these four walls. I wanna look at Liberace!"
3. A happier life through television
Long before Ron Popeil, Billy Mays or any of those other home-shopping hucksters, Ralph Kramden attempted to sell a contraption called the Handy Housewife Helper on TV. Ralph bought 2,000 of the gadgets from a guy who had “a warehouse in the Bronx” for 10 cents apiece and planned on reselling them on what may have been the world’s first infomercial for a buck each. Ralph, naturally, wanted to rope Norton into his latest money-making scheme. “I can’t stand to make a fortune again,” pleaded Norton. “I’m going broke!” Of course, Ralph’s nerves got the best of him during the taping of the live segment and the glorified can opener commercial was a colossal–and hilarious–bust.
4. Christmas is in the bag
Ralph found himself in a fix after he realized that the Christmas present he bought for Alice was not an object d’art that once sat “in the house of the Emperor of Japan.” Instead, it was a junky hairpin box made from glued-together matches. Desperate to please Alice, Ralph decides to hock his beloved $22 bowling ball on Christmas Eve to buy her a “beautiful” present. On Christmas morning, Ralph opens his present from Alice with a mixture of shame and embarrassment. She had bought him a brand-new bowling ball bag.
5. If the costume fits...
Ralph has a money-making scheme that he thinks can’t possibly fail–he plans on winning $50 for first prize at the Raccoon Lodge’s annual costume contest. With his generous proportions, Ralph figures he’s a cinch to win with a “professional” rented $10 Henry VIII costume. Unfortunately, Ralph can’t raise the scratch to rent the costume, so he improvises with a homemade “man from space” costume. Ralph made it to the finals, despite the judges thinking he was supposed to be a pinball machine. Norton, who had an emergency at the sewer, showed up late wearing a gas mask and his rubber boots. The judges interpreted Norton’s outfit be a “man from space” costume and he won the $50.
6. Sorry, wrong number
After 15 years of Ralph forbidding Alice from having the “luxury” of a telephone, she decides to take matters into her own hands and have one installed without his knowledge. After a huge blow-up, Ralph feels bad and decides that Alice can keep the phone. He gets flowers and a shave to apologize, but he flips out when he hears two men discussing Alice’s “availability” and phone number. Ralph eventually learns that Alice was baby-sitting to pay for the phone.
7. What was the question?
Ralph finally has a chance to solve all of his financial problems forever–if he manages to win on a big-money quiz show, “The $99,000 Answer.” All he has to do is memorize everything about every musical composition ever written. With Norton relentlessly coaching him on the piano, Ralph feels confident of his popular music prowess. Once on the quiz show, Ralph gets stuck on the one song Norton played over and over again to “warm up” during their marathon practice sessions: Swanee River. His scheme ends on a sour note.
8. Fowl inheritance
Ralph, having accidentally given one of his customers $20 instead of a buck in change on the bus, asks Norton to lend him the money to cover his mistake. Norton, naturally, isn’t interested in fronting Ralph the cash. Thinking quickly, Ralph convinces Norton that he’s not just loaning money, he’s investing in “Ralph Kramden, Inc.” Terms include Norton earning 35 percent of all the money Ralph makes, “over and above his salary.” Things get dicey between the friends when Ralph learns he is set to inherit part of an estate worth $40 million–and Norton wants his cut. No one wins when the “fortune” left Ralph in the will is revealed to be a pet parrot.
9. A meal fit for a... puppy?
Alice goes to the pound and adopts a cute pup. As Alice prepares the dog’s dinner, she notes that the food is made from “choice horse meat.” Not knowing about the newest member of the family, Norton spreads the dog food on some crackers and tells Ralph, “Alice really outdid herself with this stuff. It’s just delicious!” Ralph samples the spread and decides that they have a “million-dollar idea” on their hands. When they turn to Ralph’s boss, Mr. Marshall, for capital to fund production of “Krammar's Delicious Mystery Appetizer,” Mr. Marshall and his colleagues quickly figure out that the slop is not fit for human consumption, and Ralph’s “million-dollar idea” is dead.
10. It’s the principal of the thing
The landlord is raising the Kramdens’ and the Nortons’ rent by $5. Alice, Norton and Trixie all grudgingly accept the rent increase, but Ralph wants to fight. “It’s war,” declares Ralph. “And I’m the general!” Ralph barricades himself–along with Alice–in his apartment to teach the landlord “a lesson” with a rent strike. Of course, the landlord wins when he turns off the heat, water and electricity and the Kramdens are reduced to shivering and eating celery.
11. Don’t fear the tax man
Ralph receives a letter from an institute that strikes fear into the hearts of most Americans: the IRS. Instead a refund of $42, Ralph is ordered by Uncle Sam to report to the local IRS office at 10 a.m. sharp the next morning. Ralph suffers through a night of panic, combing over his return again and again, looking for any source of unreported income (the best he can come up with is a ceramic horse “with a clock in its stomach” worth $15 that he won in a pinball contest at the local pizzeria). It turns out Ralph had nothing to worry about. He simply forgot to sign his return.
12. Pool shark
Ralph Never can catch a break. When Mr. Marshall, Ralph's boss, received a pool table from his wife for an anniversary present, he asks Ralph–“the best pool player at the bus company”–for help in learning the game. Norton, who happened to be in the right place at the right time, is also invited to Mr. Marshall’s swank Park Avenue apartment to shoot a couple of games of pool. Norton manages to impress Mr. Marshall with his ability to “think on his feet” and is offered a job as supervisor at the Gotham Bus Company, a job that Ralph has long coveted.
13. Mind your own business
Despite his own lack of business acumen, Ralph tells Norton that he should demand a promotion at the city’s sewer works. Not only that, Ralph suggests that Norton should quit if his boss doesn’t immediately offer a promotion. Of course, Norton ends up getting fired, and Ralph is paranoid that their wives will find out that he was responsible for Norton’s unemployment. Desperate, Norton starts selling “Spiffy” irons door-to-door and exaggerates his earnings to Ralph so he doesn’t feel as bad about the predicament. Ralph, always open to opportunities to make more money, quits his job to sell irons door-to-door, which wasn’t nearly as easy–or lucrative–as he was led to believe.