Bob and Ray

Bob and Ray

Bob Elliott (born 1923) and Ray Goulding (1922–1990) 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.

Radio

Elliott and Goulding began on Boston radio. Each was a disc jockey with his own program on radio station WHDH-AM, and each would visit with the other while on the air. Their informal banter was so appealing that WHDH would call on them, as a team, to fill in when Red Sox baseball broadcasts were rained out. Elliott and Goulding (not yet known as Bob and Ray) would improvise comedy routines all afternoon, and joke around with studio musicians.

Elliott and Goulding's brand of humor caught on, and WHDH gave them their own weekday show in 1946. "Matinee with Bob and Ray" was originally a 15-minute show, soon expanding to half an hour. This is why Elliott and Goulding became known as Bob and Ray: it rhymed with "Matinee." Goulding later quipped, "If the word had been Matinob, we would have been Ray and Bob."

They continued on the air for over four decades on NBC, CBS, Mutual, on New York City local stations (WINS, WOR, WHN) and NPR, ending in 1987. From 1973 to 1976 they were the afternoon drive hosts on WOR.
[
right|300px|thumb|Monitor" publicity shot of Bob and Ray with Miss Monitor (Tedi Thurman). All three made extended stays at the NBC studios in order to do hourly live appearances throughout the weekend on "Monitor", which could explain why they were grouped for this promotional photo.] 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 the pioneering radio humorist Raymond Knight. 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. [http://www.wuml.org/history3.php]

Characters and spoofs

Elliott and Goulding lent their voices to a variety of recurring characters and countless one-shots. Almost all of these characters had picturesque names, as in one sketch where Bob introduced Ray as one Maitland Q. Mottmorency, who then replied, "My name is John W. Norvis. I have "terrible" handwriting."

Recurring characters played by Bob Elliott included: Wally Ballou, an inept news reporter, man-on-the-street interviewer, "and winner of 16 diction awards." whose opening transmission almost invariably started late ("–lly Ballou here"); snappy sportscaster Biff Burns ("This is Biff Burns saying this is Biff Burns saying goodnight"); Tex Blaisdell, a drawling cowboy singer who also did rope tricks on the radio; Arthur Sturdley, an Arthur Godfrey take-off; Johnny Braddock, another sportscaster, with an obnoxious streak; Kent Lisle Birdley, a wheezing, stammering "old-time radio announcer"; and a host of others. In addition, any script calling for a child's voice would usually go to Elliott.

Ray Goulding's roster of characters included: Webley Webster, mumble-mouthed book reviewer, whose opinions of historical novels and cookbooks were usually dramatized as seafaring melodramas; Calvin Hoogevin (same voice as Webley), actor in one of Bob and Ray's soap opera parodies; Steve Bosco, sportscaster (who signed off with "This is Steve Bosco rounding third, and being thrown out at home"); 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; crack-voiced cub reporter Arthur Schrank, 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 Margaret McGoon (satirizing home-economics expert Mary Margaret McBride), who offered bizarre recipes for such entrees 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. Later, the character was known simply as Mary McGoon. On radio, Goulding also played the females in the various soap opera spoofs.

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. They also satirized "Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons" with the continuing parody, "Mr. Trace, Keener than Most Persons," which began with a simple plot that soon degenerated into total gibberish ("Mister Treat, Chaser of Lost Persons," "Thanks for the vote of treedle, Pete") and gunplay ("You... You've shot me!... I'm... dead.").

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"), self-help seminars ("Dr. Joyce Dunstable"), and foreign intrigue ("Elmer W. Litzinger, Spy"). "Garish Summit" recounts the petty squabbles for power among the family members who own a lead mine. The science-fiction adventures of "Lawrence Fechtenberger, Interstellar Officer Candidate" were "brought to you by chocolate cookies with white stuff in-between." "Squad Car 119" (played on with the theme from Dragnet) plugged Gerstmeyer's Puppy Kibbles, "the dog food guaranteed to turn any household pet into a man-killer".

In 1959 Bob and Ray launched a successful network radio series for CBS, broadcast from New York. CBS's programming department frequently supplied scripts promoting CBS's dramatic and sports shows, but Bob and Ray never read these scripts entirely straight, and would often imitate the character voices heard on these shows. "Gunsmoke" and "Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar" were frequent targets, and "Johnny Dollar" inspired a full-fledged parody, "Ace Willoughby, International Detective." In each installment, Willoughby (Ray, doing a letter-perfect impersonation of "Johnny Dollar" star Bob Bailey) traveled around the globe in pursuit of crooks, but gave up when the crooks found him and kept beating him up.

The comedians were also fond of lampooning commercials. There were 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"); The Croftweiler Industrial Cartel ("Makers of all sorts of stuff, made out of everything"); Cool Canadian Air ("Packed fresh every day in the Hudson Bay and shipped to your door"); and Grime ("The magic shortening that spreads like lard").

One particularly enduring routine cast Elliott as an expert on the Komodo dragon, and Goulding as the dense reporter whose questions trailed behind the information given. [http://www.mindspring.com/~biohaz/komodo.txt] Another featured Elliott as the spokesman for the Slow Talkers of America ("headquarters" in Glens Falls, New York), whose lengthy pauses between words increasingly frustrate Goulding. The pair performed both of these sketches many times.

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. [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14840571/]

Television

In the early 1950s, the two had their own 15-minute television series, "Bob & Ray". It began November 26, 1951 on NBC with Audrey Meadows as a cast regular. During the second season, the title changed to "Club Embassy", and Cloris Leachman joined the cast as a regular, replacing Audrey Meadows. In the soap opera parodies, the actresses took the roles of Mary Backstayge and Linda Lovely. Expanding to a half-hour for the summer of 1952 only, the series continued until September 28, 1953. When "The Higgins Boys and Gruber" show began on The Comedy Channel in 1989, it occasionally included full episodes of Bob and Ray's 1950-53 shows (along with episodes of "Clutch Cargo" and "Supercar").

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. (Vonnegut had once submitted comedy material to Bob and Ray.) Fred Barzyk directed this WGBH/PBS production, a science-fiction comedy about an astronaut-poet's journey through the Chrono-Synclasic Infundibulum. This teleplay was first published in an edition that featured numerous screenshots of Bob and Ray and other cast members.

Bob and Ray also hosted a Mark Goodson-Bill Todman game show, "The Name's the Same", which was emceed originally by Robert Q. Lewis. Bob and Ray would do their typical routines, and then play the normal game of having a celebrity panel try to guess the contestants' famous names. They would always end the show with their traditional closing: Ray saying, "Write if you get work..." and Bob finishing with "And hang by your thumbs."

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, Goulding Elliott Greybar (so called because the offices were located in the Greybar Building).

In 1971, Bob and Ray lent their voices to the children's television program "The Electric Company" in a pair of short animated films; in one, explaining opposites, Ray was the "writer of words", first for elevators, than doors, finally faucets. The other, illustrating words ending in -at, had Ray as "Lorezo the Magnificent" who can read minds and who tries to read a word in Bob's mind, that he thinks is an -at word such as "hat", "bat", "rat", "cat", "mat", etc. (Turns out, it wasn't; Bob's word was actually "Columbus".)

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 taped a one-hour pilot for CBS late night with the cast of SCTV titled "From Cleveland", a sketch show staged 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 also appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" several times in the late 1950s and early '60s; guested on the Johnny Carson and David Letterman shows throughout the 1970s and '80s; provided voices for the animated 1981 special "B.C.: A Special Christmas", and made guest appearances on episodes of "The David Steinberg Show", "Happy Days", and "Trapper John, M.D.".

Other media

Bob and Ray also starred in the two-man Broadway show "The Two and Only" in 1970, appeared at Carnegie Hall in "A Night of Two Stars" in 1984, did extensive work in radio and television commercials, and enjoyed supporting roles in the feature films "Cold Turkey" (1971) and "Author! Author!" (1982).

In 1960, Bob and Ray published a children's book based on some of their characters and routines, "Linda Lovely and the Fleebus."

The duo also collaborated on three books collecting routines featuring some of their signature characters and routines: "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). The team also recorded audiobook versions.

Along with the audio books and numerous collections of radio broadcasts, Bob and Ray have recorded several albums, including recordings of their stage performances "The Two and Only" and "A Night of Two Stars", "Bob and Ray on a Platter", and "Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular".

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", on episodes of "Newhart" and "Late Night with David Letterman", in the films "Cabin Boy" (also with son Chris) and "Quick Change", 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.

Honors

Bob and Ray were inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in the radio division. [cite news | first= | last= | coauthors= | title=NAB Hall of Fame | date= | publisher= | url =http://www.nab.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Awards7&CONTENTID=11047&TEMPLATE=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm | work =National Association of Broadcasters | pages = | accessdate = 2008-05-03 | language = ]

Media

Video

* [http://www.archive.org/details/Bob_Ray_Beer Piels commercial]

Audio

* [http://www.freeotrshows.com/otr/b/Bob_and_Ray.html Free OTR: "Bob and Ray" show (200 1948-1960 episodes)]
* [http://www.otr.net/?p=bray Bob and Ray (seven 1959-60 episodes)]
* [http://www.archive.org/details/otr_bobandray Internet Archive (over 200 segments)]
* [http://monitorbeacon.net/sounddownloads.html NBC Monitor Tribute Pages (features several Bob and Ray routines and reminiscences)]

Sources

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

References

Further reading

*Gillespie, Dan " Bob and Ray and Tom". Albany: BearManor Media ISBN 1-59393-008-9

External links

* [http://www.bobandray.com Larry Josephson's official "Bob and Ray" site]
*rhof|id=272|name=Bob and Ray


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