Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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Why is it called the Audrey Meadows house?

For years, my Arlington pals conjectured about the handsome colonial revival manse that bestrides a huge tract of land at Wilson Blvd. and McKinley Rd. Hearing no satisfying answer, I finally went to the horse’s mouth.

I contacted the expert horseman, king homebuilder and onetime husband of the late actress Audrey Meadows, she who wowed 1950s America with her portrayal of wife “Alice” opposite Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden in the early-TV classic “The Honeymooners.”

Randy Rouse, now in his nineties and famous in Middleburg fox-hunting circles, was happy to explain the Arlington connection to the “dear person” to whom he was married from 1956-59.

In 1950, Rouse was building houses in the Falls Church-Tysons area. A real estate agent told him of Arlington’s hilltop Febrey-Lothrop house on 26 acres, which a divorcing couple was willing to unload for $125,000.  Not yet in that league, Rouse came up with $10,000 and the owners assumed a first trust. For several years, the home stayed empty while he built 40-50 houses off McKinley.

It was on a water-skiing trip to Annapolis that Rouse took up with a New York-based actress.  Meadows then was a player on the “Bob and Ray” radio comedy show. But soon she auditioned for the “to the moon” role of a Brooklyn bus driver’s ever-tolerant wife, a yuks-making gig she won only after reacting to an initial rejection from Gleason by dressing more frumpily.

Rouse and Meadows were married by her father, a Connecticut clergyman, with Gleason not in attendance, Rouse explains cheerfully, because the “roughneck” was a bit “crude, outspoken and overbearing.”

Meadows’ 1994 memoir “Love, Alice” (a signed copy of which I scored on amazon.com) mentions Rouse only in one passage, about a time funnyman Gleason “corked” her off:  “I had been married in May of 1956 and was living in Virginia,” she wrote. “I commuted to New York on Fridays. Saturday nights I hired an ambulance to get me to the airport so that I could jump in my car and be back in my house by 10:30. A call came from the office to say that Jackie was calling a rehearsal for Thursday afternoon. At that time, my husband had the mumps, which can be serious in an adult male. Not wanting to leave him, I asked to beg off, saying I could learn whatever it was on Friday, but Jackie as adamant. So I flew to New York Thursday. I reached my apartment to find a message saying rehearsal had been canceled……I called the office and laid a few thousand on them. Unconscionably selfish, no compassion, et cetera, were the mildest.”

To Rouse, those were “fun years” that his famous wife spent decorating the spacious 19th-century home and driving to the Seven Corners Safeway in a red convertible given her by TV sponsor Buick. “She was smart and sensitive, but insecure and needed adulation,” he says. Eventually, she “got bigger than I was and I resented being Mr. Audrey Meadows.” She also suspected him of consorting with old girlfriends during her absences, which wasn’t true, he says.

Rouse gave his blessing to her second marriage, to Continental Airlines president Bob Six. He wrote to her once before her death in 1996 (Meadows never replied), content in his own remarriage, which endures.

 


Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at cclarkjedd@aol.com

 

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