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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 broadcast.
Elliott and Goulding began as radio announcers (Elliott a disc jockey, and Goulding a news reader) in Boston with their own separate programs on 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. (When explaining why Bob was billed first, Goulding claimed that it was because "Matinee with Bob and Ray" sounded better than "Matinob with Ray and Bob".) Their trademark sign-off was "This is Ray Goulding reminding you to write if you get work"; "Bob Elliott reminding you to hang by your thumbs".
They continued on the air for over four decades on the NBC, CBS, and Mutual networks, and on New York City stations WINS, WOR, and WHN. From 1973 to 1976 they were the afternoon drive hosts on WOR, doing a four-hour show. In their last incarnation, they were heard on National Public Radio, ending in 1987.
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.
Elliott and Goulding lent their voices to a variety of recurring characters and countless one-shots, creating a multi-layered world that parodied the real-life world of radio broadcasting. Elliott and Goulding played "Bob" and "Ray", the hosts of an ostensibly serious radio program. Their "staff" (all voiced by Elliott and Goulding) was a comic menagerie of reporters, book reviewers, actors and all other manner of radio personalities, all of whom interacted with "Bob" and "Ray" as well as with each other. Almost all of these characters had picturesque names, as in one sketch where Bob introduced Ray as one Maitland W. Mottmorency, who then replied, "My name is John W. Norvis. I have terrible handwriting."
Recurring characters played by Bob Elliott included:
Any script calling for a child's voice would usually go to Elliott.
Ray Goulding's roster of characters included:
While originally employing a falsetto, Goulding generally used the same flat voice for all of his women characters, of which perhaps the best-known 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. Another female character was Natalie Attired, a radio "chanteuse" who, instead of singing songs, recited their lyrics to a drumbeat accompaniment.
Spoofs of other radio programs were another staple, including the continuing soap operas "Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife", "One Fella's Family", and "Aunt Penny's Sunlit Kitchen" (which spoofed Backstage Wife, One Man's Family, and Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories, 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. Another soap opera spoof, "Garish Summit" (which Bob and Ray performed during their stint on National Public Radio in the 1980s), recounts the petty squabbles for power among the family members who own a lead mine. 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 where the dialogue was concerned ("Mister Treat, Chaser of Lost Persons," "Thanks for the vote of treedle, Pete") and gunplay ("You... You've shot me!... I'm... dead."). The quiz show "Dr. I.Q., the Mental Banker" was parodied as "Dr. O.K., the Sentimental Banker". Whereas Dr. I.Q. had several assistants with remote microphones scattered through the audience to select contestants, Dr. O.K. (Bob) had to make do with a single assistant (Ed Sturdley, played by Ray), who eventually became exhausted from running around the theater.
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").
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' 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.
In addition to parodies of specific programs and genres, many of Elliott and Goulding's sketches turned on the inherent absurdities of reportage and interviewing. 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. 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) was, many years later, appropriated by MSNBC host Keith Olbermann.
Commercial parody was a popular forte with Bob and Ray. A typical show would have such "sponsors" as:
The rather generic-sounding "chocolate cookies with white stuff in between" "sponsored" the science-fiction spoof Lawrence Fechtenberger, Interstellar Officer Candidate (a direct parody of "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet"), and "Gerstmeyer's Puppy Kibbles, the dog food guaranteed to turn any pet into a vicious man-killer" "sponsored" the police-drama spoof Squad Car 119. The "Tippy the Wonder Dog" episodes were sponsored by "Mushies," the cereal that gets soggy even without adding milk or cream.
In the early 1950s, the two had their own 15-minute television series, entitled simply 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 who left the series to join the cast of The Jackie Gleason Show on CBS. 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 1951-53 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-Synclastic 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 radio and 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 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, then doors, finally faucets. The other, illustrating words ending in -at, had Ray as "Lorenzo 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 an 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, nearly 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. In 1982, Ray Goulding told the New York Times, "It just keeps happening to us. I suppose each new generation notices that we are there."
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..
Elliott and Goulding starred in a pair of two-man stage shows: The Two and Only on Broadway in 1970, and A Night of Two Stars at Carnegie Hall in 1984. They also 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, LateLine 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. His granddaughter Abby Elliott joined the cast of Saturday Night Live for the 2009-2010 season, the third generation to appear on the show.
Bob and Ray were inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1995. Many of their shows are available for listening at The Paley Center for Media in New York and Los Angeles. The Paley Center has such a large collection of Bob and Ray tapes that many of these remained uncatalogued for years.
Write If You Get Work: The Best of Bob & Ray Copyright 1975 by Robert B. Elliott and Raymond W. Goulding Foreword Copyright 1975 by Random House, Inc. Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Elliott, Bob - Write if you get work. 1. American wit and humor. I. Goulding, Ray, Joint author. II. Title. PN6162.E45 818'.5'407 75-10297 ISBN 0-394-49668-x Manufactured in the United States of America 468975
Dunning, John. On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-19-507678-8
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