Bob and Ray

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Ray Goulding and Bob Elliott
Ray Goulding and Bob Elliott

Bob Elliott (born 1923) and Ray Goulding (19221990) were an American comedy team whose career spanned five decades. Their format was typically to satirize the medium in which they were performing, such as conducting radio or television interviews, with off-the-wall dialogue presented in a generally deadpan style as though it were a serious interview.

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[edit] Radio

Bob and Ray began on Boston radio in 1946 with a daily 15-minute show titled Matinee With Bob and Ray. They continued on the air for over four decades on NBC, CBS, Mutual, New York City local stations (WINS, WOR, WHN) and NPR, ending in 1987. In the 1970s they were the afternoon drive hosts on WOR.

They were regulars on NBC's Monitor, often on stand-by to go on the air at short notice if the program's planned segments developed problems, and they were also heard in a surprising variety of formats and timeslots, from a 15-minute series in mid-afternoon to their hour-long show aired weeknights just before midnight in 1954-55. During that same period, they did an audience participation game show, Pick and Play with Bob and Ray, which was short-lived. It came at a time when network pages filled seats for radio-TV shows by giving tickets to anyone in the street, and on Pick and Play the two comics were occasionally booed by audience members unfamiliar with the Bob and Ray comedy style.

Some of their radio episodes were released on recordings, and others were adapted into graphic story form for publication in Mad magazine. Their earlier shows were mostly ad-libbed, but later programs relied more heavily on scripts. While Bob and Ray wrote much of their material, their writers included Tom Koch, who scripted many of their best-known routines, and Raymond Knight, an early radio pioneer. Bob Elliott later married Knight's widow. Another writer was Jack Beauvais, who had performed as a singer for WEEI in Boston during the 1930s and also worked for some of the big bands in the 1940s and 1950s. [1]

[edit] Characters and spoofs

Elliott and Goulding lent their voices to a variety of recurring characters and countless one-shots. Those played by Elliott included Wally Ballou, an inept news reporter whose opening transmission was invariably cut off ("–lly Ballou here"); obnoxious sportscaster Biff Burns ("This is Biff Burns saying this is Biff Burns saying goodnight"); Tex Blaisdell, a cowboy singer who also did rope tricks on the radio; Arthur Sturdley, an Arthur Godfrey take-off; and many more.

Goulding played mushmouthed book reviewer Webley Webster (who was also an "actor," portraying Calvin Hoogavin on one of Bob and Ray's soap opera parodies); farm editor Dean Archer Armstead (his low, slurring delivery was unintelligible and punctuated by the sound of his spittle hitting a cuspidor); Charles the Poet, who recited soppy verse (parodying the lugubrious late night broadcaster Franklyn MacCormack) but could never get through a whole example of his bathetic work without breaking down in laughter; serial characters such as Matt Neffer, Boy Spot-Welder; and all female roles. While originally employing a falsetto, Goulding generally used the same flat voice for all of his women characters—perhaps the most memorable of these was Mary McGoon, home economics adviser, who offered bizarre recipes for such items as "ginger ale salad" and "mock turkey." In 1949, Goulding, as Mary, recorded "I'd Like To Be a Cow in Switzerland"', which soon became a novelty hit and is still occasionally played by the likes of Dr. Demento. On radio, Goulding also played the females in the various soap opera spoofs, but for the television series, first Audrey Meadows and then Cloris Leachman appeared on camera in these roles (usually either Mary Backstayge or Linda Lovely).

Spoofs of other radio programs were another staple, including the continuing soap operas "Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife" and "One Fella's Family", which spoofed Mary Noble, Backstage Wife and One Man's Family respectively. "Mary Backstayge" was serialized for such a long period of time that it became better known to many listeners than the show it lampooned.

Other continuing parodies (both generic and specific) included game shows ("The 64-Cent Question"), children's shows ("Mr. Science", "Tippy the Wonder Dog", "Matt Neffer, Boy Spot-Welding King of the World") and foreign intrigue ("Elmer W. Litzinger, Spy"). The science fiction adventures of "Lawrence Fechtenberger, Interstellar Officer Candidate" were "brought to you by chocolate cookies with white stuff in-between." There were commercials for such fictitious sponsors as the Monongahela Metal Foundry ("Casting steel ingots with the housewife in mind"), Einbinder Flypaper ("The brand you've gradually grown to trust over the course of three generations") and The Croftweiler Industrial Cartel ("Makers of all sorts of stuff, made out of everything"); and such enduring routines as the Komodo dragon expert and the spokesman for the Slow Talkers of America.

Their character known as "The Worst Person In The World" (a reference to New York magazine theatre critic John Simon, who gave their stage show a negative review) inspired the segment (and subsequent book) of the same name on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Olbermann is a committed fan of Bob and Ray, acknowledging them in his aforementioned book as a crucial influence, in addition to commending their spoofing of Joe McCarthy and Joseph Welch in the 1950s. [2]

[edit] Television

The pair had a 15-minute television show that ran from November 26, 1951 through September 28, 1953 on NBC. That series was a full half-hour for the summer of 1952 only. The duo did more television in the latter part of their career, beginning with key roles of Bud Williams, Jr. (Elliott) and Walter Gesunheit (Goulding) in Kurt Vonnegut's Hugo-nominated Between Time and Timbuktu: A Space Fantasy (1972), adapted from several Vonnegut novels and stories. Fred Barzyk directed this WGBH/PBS production, a science fiction comedy about an astronaut-poet's journey through the Chrono-Synclasic Infundibulum.

Bob and Ray did the voices for the animated characters Bert and Harry Piel.
Bob and Ray did the voices for the animated characters Bert and Harry Piel.

During the late 1950s, Bob and Ray were also on television as the voices of Bert and Harry Piel, two animated characters from a very successful ad campaign for Piels Beer. Since this was a regional beer, the commercials were not seen nationally, but even so, the popularity of the ad campaign resulted in national press coverage. Based on the success of those commercials, they launched a successful advertising voice-over company, Greybar Enterprises (so called because the offices were located in the Greybar Building).

In 1973, Bob and Ray created a historic television program that was broadcast on two channels: one half of the studio was broadcast on the New York PBS affiliate WNET, and the other half of the studio was broadcast on independent station WNEW. Four sketches were performed, including a tug of war that served as an allegory about nuclear war. The two parts of the program are available for viewing at the Museum of Television & Radio.

In 1979 they returned to national TV for a one-shot NBC special with members of the original Saturday Night Live cast, Bob & Ray & Jane & Laraine & Gilda. It included a skit that successfully captured their unique approach to humor: They sat in chairs, in business suits, facing the audience, pretty much motionless, and sang a duet of Rod Stewart's major hit "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?"

In 1980 they filmed a one hour pilot for CBS late night with the cast of SCTV titled From Cleveland, a sketch show filmed on location in Cleveland. The show became a cult favorite with numerous showings at the Museum of Television & Radio.

This was followed by a series of specials for PBS in the early 1980s. Bob and Ray starred in a two-man Broadway show The Two and Only in 1970, appeared at Carnegie Hall in A Night of Two Stars in 1984, made numerous appearances on the Johnny Carson and David Letterman television shows, did extensive work in radio and television commercials, and enjoyed supporting roles in the feature films Cold Turkey (1971) and Author! Author! (1982).

The duo also collaborated on three books collecting routines featuring some of their signature characters, Write If You Get Work: The Best of Bob & Ray (1976; the title referenced Goulding's usual sign-off line), From Approximately Coast to Coast: It's The Bob & Ray Show (1983), and The New! Improved! Bob & Ray Book (1985).

Goulding died on March 24, 1990. Elliott continued to perform, most notably with his son (actor/comedian Chris Elliott) on the TV sitcom Get a Life, and on radio for the first season of Garrison Keillor's American Radio Company of the Air.

Bob and Ray were inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995. Many of their shows are available for listening at the Museum of Television & Radio in New York and Los Angeles. The MT&R has such a large collection of Bob and Ray tapes that many of these remained uncatalogued for years.

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[edit] Sources

Dunning, John. On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-19-507678-8

[edit] External links