News of actress Jane Kean's death last week comes during the month of December, a time when her familiar voice was heard this season on what was the once so very popular animated Christmas TV special favorite, "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." It first aired Dec. 18, 1962, on NBC, as a musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' famous short story and became a part of television history, since it was the first animated holiday special ever produced specifically for television. (Charles Schulz's "A Charlie Brown Christmas" came along in 1965). Kean provided the voice of the beauty Belle, who is forsaken, because of greed, by grouchy Ebenezer Scrooge, as portrayed by Mr. Magoo as voiced by legendary Jim Backus.
Kean, 90, lived in Toluca Lake, Calif. and died last 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 told the Associated Press for her wire obituary. Wolpert is the daughter of Kean's equally famous sister Betty, who was the other half of their popular comedy and song sister act The Kean Sisters.
In writing my headline for her tribute today, I opted to highlight that she was best known playing next door neighbor wife Trixie alongside, Jackie Gleason when he did his later TV revival of the popular series "The Honeymooners," lasting five years. While Gleason and Art Carney returned for their original roles of Ralph and Norton, Gleason opted to recast their TV wives, with Kean taking over the role created by Joyce Randolph and Hollywood movie star wife Sheila MacRae (real-life wife of the late Gordon MacRae) stepped in as Ralph's wife Alice, played in the original series by wonderful Audrey Meadows. (Both Randolph and MacRae are still alive and well, both age 89!)
But Kean did so much more than just her "Honeymooners" stint she is so often associated with, especially her busy career on stage, starting in 1940s with what was left of the vaudeville circuit, where she first met Gleason.
By the 1950s, at her mother's urging, Jane and sister Betty teamed up and toured nightclubs as a favorite comedy female duo, something very rare at the time, earning the attention of "Mr. Television" Milton Berle, and also as a favorite of Ed Sullivan for his popular Sunday night TV variety show.
In 1977, she was in the Walt Disney movie "Pete's Dragon," which also starred singer Helen Reddy with Mickey Rooney, Jim Dale, Red Buttons and Shelley Winters.
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 her niece told the Associated Press, and was also preparing invitations for her annual Christmas party in the days before her death. Outspoken, she often talked of her long-time affair with powerful gossip columnist Walter Winchell.
In addition to Wolpert, Kean is survived by a stepson from her second marriage to her manager Joe Hecht, who died in 2006. Her sister Betty Kean died in 1986.