September 23, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

You expect the voice you hear in the reruns: nasal, piercing, like a young Ethel Merman, the perfect counterbalance to Jackie Gleason’s guttural roar. But time and cigarettes have mellowed the voice of Audrey Meadows-a.k.a. the long-suffering housewife Alice Kramden of TV’s The Honeymooners.

Voice notwithstanding, the sixtysomething star has remained much the same since The Honeymooners had its heyday in the ’50s. Out promoting her new memoirs, Love, Alice: My Life as a Honeymooner, Meadows seems like a one-woman time capsule from the Eisenhower era, in a pink A-line dress. And she has only ladylike things to say about her infamously impossible costar in her book, which she has dubbed ”a love letter to Jackie Gleason.” So, what was The Great One really like? ”Generous…. He didn’t care if he got the laugh or Art (Carney) did, as long as someone got it.”

Find this revisionist Gleason hard to swallow? Meadows even says nice things about a Notorious director: ”I worked with Alfred Hitchcock on his TV show. He was very kind…. He called me ‘old bean’ and didn’t mind that I ate french fries around him even though he was always on a diet.”

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