Saving `Honeymooners': How sweet it is!

It was a little over a year ago when Peter Crescenti and Bob Columbe, two administrators at the C. W. Post Center of Long Island University, were talking and one asked the other, ``Ever watch `The Honeymooners'?'' Little did they realize it then, but that innocent question would eventually lead to their founding an organization called RALPH -- the Royal Association for the Longevity and Preservation of ``The Honeymooners.'' Today the organization boasts some 3,600 members in 40 states and five foreign countries, with applications coming in at the rate of about 50 a week. Begun as a group to pressure a local New York television station into showing reruns of the TV series, it has already accomplished far more than anyone might have predicted.

The organization has already held two conventions. Future plans include a possible ocean cruise (celebrating the 30th anniversary of the show), and a picnic somewhere in the New York area to emphasize the cross-generational popularity of the show. Entire families turned out for the March convention.

Why all this interest in an old comedy series? After mentioning the marvelous scripts and the fact that Jackie Gleason and Art Carney ``were brilliant together,'' Joyce Randolph (Norton's wife, Trixie) says the fact that there are only 39 episodes ``makes them more precious.'' This limited base of knowledge means that anyone can qualify as an expert on the details that made the lives of the characters seem real. RALPH members can recall Ralph's bus route (Madison Avenue), his salary ($62 a week), his electric bill (39 cents), and even what he wore to his lodge's costume party (a homemade ``man from space'' outfit that got him second prize for his ``impersonation of a pinball machine'').

Dan England, a clergyman from Princeton, N.J., who attended the convention with his wife and 12-week-old daughter, suggested that there is a ``human need for ritual'' that these old shows are fulfilling. Part of the pleasure of seeing the shows is that one already knows all the lines and can enjoy anticipating favorite moments. Mr. England admitted to watching the show ``pretty much every night.''

For fans of the show who thought they were all alone, the success of RALPH can only bring to mind Jackie Gleason's famous sentiment: ``How sweet it is!''

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