Bob and Ray were a comedic duo best known for their often surreal work on radio. Bob Elliott (1923-2016) and Ray Goulding (1922-1990) first teamed in 1946, and remained on the air (over different networks and slots) more or less continuously through 1960, with the same basic format: the duo doing all voices in spoofs of soap operas, radio dramas, and other "epics" surrounded by inane interviews and dubious "experts.") This was followed by commercials, sporadic radio returns and revival series in the 1980s, a Broadway show, television, and records. The fact that the team really came to national attention in the early 1950s and were still rising, just as puppeteer Jim Henson was barely beginning, and had a shared sense of absurd led to comparisons in the press (especially between their commercial work).
Bob and Ray and Jim
In Goulding's obituary, one journalist even suggested that "I'll bet a young Jim Henson was out there listening, or there would never have been a Kermit the Frog," specifically comparing his news career to that of Bob and Ray's reporter Wally Ballou. There was indeed a certain parallel development, since Bob and Ray entered television in 1951 in a sporadic NBC series (adapting radio material but with Audrey Meadows and later Cloris Leachman as the soap heroines), were heard on NBC's radio series Monitor from 1955 through 1959, and entered advertising in the 1950s (notably giving voice to Bert and Harry Piels in a series of animated beer ads).
Veteran ad copywriter Ed Graham, who formed ad agency Goulding-Elliott-Graham Productions with the team around 1956, recalled an early encounter with Jim Henson when he and Jane Nebel brought their puppets around: "I thought they were good, but I never liked puppets and neither did B&R. Jim found work shortly afterwards."
Henson's work would include coffee commercials and other spots in 1957 which would receive the same welcome critical reception as G-E-G's Piels campaign had. However, from 1955 until 1958, Henson was still busy with his first all-Muppet series, Sam and Friends and various guest appearances, most of which had Muppets lip-synching to popular songs, novelty records, and radio routines... including Bob and Ray, as in "The Westerners." As two typically inept Bob and Ray cowboys, Kermit lip-synchs to Bob and Chicken Liver lip-synchs to Ray.
Henson's unlicensed use of such material occasionally drew attention (such as a cease and desist request from Stan Freberg in 1957). Freberg was won over by the act, as often happened in these situations. In Bob and Ray's case, when they saw it, Bob Elliott recalled that "Stupidly, we got a cease-and-desist order, rather than see it was a wonderful promotion for us." They sent their friend and arroney Stan Schewel, "whose warm, easygoing Virginia overtones existed side by side with an abrupt, lawyer-like command of the language" and "could make a thank you note sound like a threat."
Still, Bob and Ray and Henson's Muppets continued on their respective paths to fame, and by 1985, Bob and Ray were among the many celebrities featured in Night of 100 Stars, a roster which also included Jim Henson and the Muppets.
For their own radio work Bob and Ray's repertoire expanded and refined itself from their local start in 1946 as Matinee with Bob and Ray, but really changed little in tone and format over the decades. The centerpieces were soap operas like The Life and Loves of Linda Lovely, Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife, and One Fella's Family; the adventure serials Matt Neffer, Boy Spotwelder (in which Matt and his friend constantly wandered around the house during conversations) and later Lawrence Fechtenberger, Interstellar Officer Candidate (spoofing Tom Corbett, Space Cadet and the like); and Mr. Treat, Chaser of Lost Persons (later Mr. Trace, Keener Than Most Persons). Surrounding these segments, the pair developed a gallery of offbeat characters, an array of inept newscasters, weird entertainers, and average people who were all equally dull or insane. Bob's repertoire included adenoidal reporter Wally Ballou (who was always cut off at the beginning and end of his reports), Tex Blaisdell (a cowboy who did rope tricks on the radio), and various old men and droning dullards.
Ray (when not specializing in tough guys and loud mouths) played cooking expert Mary McGoon (and all other women), though McGoon was the most popular, offering recipes for ginger ale salad, running for senator, and recording the novelty hit I'd Like to Be a Cow in Switzerland in 1949. Ray's other roles included mushmouthed literary critic Webley Webster (and sound alike Dean Archer Armstead, the farm editor who continually spit tobacco), and drunken reporter Steve Bosco. Then there were silent characters like Smelly Dave, the dead whale who Bob and Ray sent on a multi-week national tour on an open flatcar, with odoriferous results. Some of their best known routines featured Ray as a clueless or flustered interviewer and Bob as a blissfully dull or ignorant guest, such as "The Slow Talkers of America" and the Komodo dragon expert sketch, while the Bob and Ray Overstocked Warehouse commercials offered home burglary kits for fun and profit. In their traditional closing, Ray Goulding exhorted audiences to write if they get work, while Bob Elliot reminded them to "hang by your thumbs."
Following the end of their quarter-hour CBS radio series in 1960, the pair continued to work extensively in commercials, on and off camera, plus guest spots on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show. In 1970, following a summer stint on the nostalgia variety series Happy Days, they repackaged their routines for the Broadway show Bob and Ray: The Two and Only, which ran for six months to great acclaim. More TV and film work followed, from the Kurt Vonnegut teleplay Between Time and Timbuktu to the Norman Lear film Cold Turkey (appearing separately to parody news personalities like Hugh Downs, Chet Huntley, and Walter Cronkite). During this period, they also supplied voices for cartoon inserts on The Electric Company. Their 1979 special Bob and Ray, Jane, Laraine & Gilda spotlighted the usual nonsense, but with Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, and Gilda Radner in the female roles.
In the 1980s, in addition to several NPR slots, the pair had key supporting roles in the movie Author! Author! (as financial backers for Al Pacino's play) and provided voices for the specials B.C: A Special Christmas and The Gnomes' Great Adventure. Ray Goulding's declining health finally put an end to the partnership, but Bob Elliott still worked occasionally, often with son Chris Elliott, on the TV shows Get a Life, Newhart, and Lateline and the films Quick Change and Cabin Boy. In 2008, he appeared on A Prairie Home Companion, referencing many of the classic Bob and Ray routines and characters.
- When introducing Ernie and Bert in The Muppet Show episode 102, Kermit refers to them as "the two and only," the title for Bob and Ray's stage show which later became a popular nickname for the team.
- ↑ Osgood, Charles."Bob and Ray brought magic to radio." Chicago Sun Times. April 2, 1990
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Pollock, David. Bob and Ray: Keener Than Most Persons. 2013. p. 135-236.
- ↑ Jones, Brian Jay. Jim Henson: The Biography. 2013. p. 62-63