Throughout the history of American entertainment, there have been many great comedy teams, among them Martin and Lewis, Abbott and Costello, the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and Stiller and Meara. One of the wackiest, if not one of the greatest, was Bob and Ray (Bob Elliott, born 1923, in Boston, and Ray Goulding, born 1922, in Lowell, Massachusetts).
The Bob and Ray team began at Boston’s WHDH in 1946, where Bob was an on-air personality and Ray was a staff newscaster. They created a program, Matinee with Bob and Ray, which preceded each Boston Red Sox game. If the game happened to be rained out, they stayed on the air all afternoon. Bob and Ray quickly recognized how well each man’s comedic talents complimented the other, as did their audiences.
A few years later, in 1951, they moved to WINS, New York, as the morning team. The boys gained widespread attention and were offered a network program, appearing Saturday nights on NBC. This program, Bob and Ray, was a huge success and solidified what would be a partnership lasting over forty years. Eventually, they would appear on all the major radio networks of the time (CBS, NBC-blue, NBC-red, ABC, and Mutual).
Bob and Ray’s brand of humor was quite dry, befitting their New England origins. They played all the parts of their regular cast of characters (Ray usually played the female characters), as well as the characters in their “dramas”. Among some of their regular features were:
Lawrence Fechtenberger, Interstellar Officer Candidate. A takeoff on science fiction adventure shows, Lawrence was as inept as it was possible to be. He and his sidekick, Mugg Mellish, frequently got into the most inane situations, mostly as a result of their supreme incompetence.
The Gathering Dusk, a hilarious spoof of soap operas. The action took place in the small town of Red Boiling Springs. Dr. Harper, the village physician, spent most of his time trying to straighten out the local loony, Edna, who lived in a state of permanent confusion.
Wally Ballou, the resident on-location interviewer. Wally never turned his microphone on in time, so the first syllable of his name was never heard: “---ly Ballou on the scene in downtown New York”. He was frequently referred to as “radio’s highly regarded Wally Ballou”.
The Pittmans, a thinly veiled takeoff of The Waltons, complete with an extended sequence by all the characters saying “goodnight” to anyone and everything. Its sponsor was the Kretchford Braid and Tassel Company, who reminded listeners, “Next time you think of braid or tassel, rush into your neighborhood store and shout Kretchford!”
Hard Luck Stories, in which the “generous Bob and Ray organization” promised to help a variety of miserable unfortunates. Particularly hilarious was their presentation of a pair of bone-handled carving knives to a woman who had traveled to New York seeking a lock of Walter Cronkite’s mustache.
Garish Summit, a spoof of nighttime serials Dallas and Dynasty. Garish Summit was a place where the socially prominent “ . . . in stately splendor, far removed from the squalid village below, fight their petty battles over power and money.” It featured a mansion so large that visitors had to be talked in to find their way to the drawing room.
Not only did Bob and Ray spoof popular television and radio programs, they also had a permanent stable of ‘sponsors’. These sponsors were almost as humorous as the sketches themselves. Some of the more well known ones were Einbinder Flypaper, “the name you’ve gradually come to trust over the course of three generations,” and the Monongahela Metal Foundry, reminding listeners to never allow dull, corroded steel ingots on the dinner table when bright, shiny new ones were available at their local Monongahela Metal showroom! Another was the United States Mint, “world’s leading producer of new money”.
Though their comedy was spoken, Bob and Ray’s routines transfer well to the printed page. It’s rarely possible to read their routines without laughing out loud. In every sketch or routine, their characters are serious – the humor is never self-conscious – and this makes their comedy that much more hilarious. Like much of old time radio, Bob and Ray’s work has held up nicely over the years.
In later years, Bob and Ray, realizing that radio formats were changing, turned to writing screenplays and doing voiceovers. They created and starred in a successful Broadway show, Bob and Ray: The Two And Only, in 1971. A search for new hosts at WOR, New York, led to a new show and the pair bringing their humor to a new generation of listeners. Their last production was the Bob and Ray Public Radio Show for National Public Radio. This show ran from 1982 to 1987, and featured many of their familiar routines and characters.
Ray Goulding died, of kidney failure, in 1990. Bob Elliott is still active, most recently as part of the cast of Garrison Keillor’s radio shows. Elliott is also the father of comedian Chris Elliott, who is deftly following in his father’s footsteps.
Buxton, Frank and Owen, Bill. The Big Broadcast 1920-1950. New York: The Viking Press, 1972
Elliott, Bob and Goulding, Ray. Write If You Get Work: The Best of Bob and Ray. New York: Random House, 1975
Elliott, Bob and Goulding, Ray. From Approximately Coast To Coast, It’s The Bob and Ray Show. New York: Atheneum Books, 1983
Elliott, Bob and Goulding, Ray. The New! Improved! Bob and Ray Book. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1985