Wednesday, 26 March 2014

From the People Who Brought You Woodlo

Bob and Ray were perfect for radio but it was mandatory for anyone who was a radio success story in the early ‘50s to move into television. They did. And then they moved back into radio and pretty much stayed there.

Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding were a unique hybrid. They were, basically, a disc jockey duo that didn’t play discs. They played spoofs of radio instead. They took the ridiculous parts of the medium—banal-dialogued soap operas, slogan-dripping commercials making outrageous claims, recipe-laden housewife programmes, man-on-the-street interviews with redundant answers—and expanded them to their even more ridiculous conclusions. Unlike the satirically-minded Fred Allen, Henry Morgan or even Stan Freberg, they didn’t rely on stooges—except on TV—or have their cadence dictated by laughs of a studio audience. They did it all themselves, and extemporaneously for much of their early career. Listening them play off each other and dropping non sequiturs along the way is astounding and confounding. How they did it, I don’t know. Perhaps they didn’t either.

I didn’t realise the blog had been absent of Bob and Ray clippings. This being Bob Elliott’s 91st birthday, it’s a good time to post a couple. They’re from the period the two were put on television by NBC while still performing completely different shows on radio. It must have been a grind.

They were originally assisted on TV by a young actress named Audrey Meadows who later got hired to work for Jackie Gleason and, well, you know the rest. There’s something about television that doesn’t quite work for them as well as radio. It could be the primitiveness of the medium at the time. It could have been a format where they didn’t really host their own show; Bob Denton introduced their sketches. Or it could have been they’re funnier when the audience can use its imagination to picture what’s going on. Regardless, here’s an Associated Press story from January 13, 1952.

Foolish Fun Brings TV Fame For Zany Pair, Bob and Ray

Associated Press Staff Writer
New York — The Smithsonian Institution of Washington, D. C. recently was deluged with postcards and letters each requesting "Bob and Ray's Home Dismantling Kit and Manual."
It reached such a point that the management was forced to send out quantities of form letters stating in part that "the announcement . . . was in error."
This team of uninhibited satirists now is visible and audible on four separate radio and television shows. They bark joyfully at almost any phase of life which seems unwarrantedly serious, but their specialty is nipping gently at the pomposities of radio and television. The boys cover considerable territory in their antics and remind many old-timers of the fresh, breezy and genuinely funny hi-jinks of the late Colonel Stoopnagle and Budd.
Bob and Ray make a point of interviewing persons with unusual occupations (Ray usually plays the guy with the unusual job). Just the other day, he did a moving bit demonstrating on television the technique of inserting tissue paper in wedding announcements.
• • •
ELLIOTT and Goulding are a pair of native New Englanders, who occupationally suffered through long hours of radio's journeyman fare, particularly the daytime menu. Radio announcers by trade, they met for the first time in 1946 when they were discharged from their GI war chores and picked up jobs at the same Boston station.
Bob, now 28 and handsome in a pixie way, was doing a morning disc jockey show, long on recorded music and mimeographed commercials. Ray, 29, mustached and a frustrated heavy, came into the show every hour on the hour to read news bulletins.
Ray took to hanging around the studio and engaging in extemporaneous and—it turned out—funny dialogue, imitations and kidding with Bob. Boston and environs took the boys to its stern New England heart, and next thing they were a team with their own half-hour show every afternoon. Then came New York and an NBC contract.
They developed their repertoire during the next few years. Now each has about seven different voices, including shrill, feminine falsettos, which permit them to play multi-character dramas.
• • •
ELLIOTT and Goulding also delight in commercials, ringing in all the familiar voice switches and appeals to the pocketbook. For some months they've been plugging a product called "Woodlo." This, they assert, is the "new miracle wonder product all America is talking about," which saves half the usual cost and, finally, "is immunized."
What it is and what it does they never have divulged.
Merrily they take apart the popular women's programs with a Ray-played character named Mary McGoon. On television, she is a headless character in front of a work table who nightly demonstrates new and horrible recipes, easily prepared.
Occasionally Mary will undertake a gruesome demonstration of flower arranging or show how to whip up a little house dress.
Away from microphones and television cameras, Bob and Ray are a couple of unassuming, serious young men working earnestly to keep up with the demands of a frightening schedule of broadcasting, a total of 15 1/2 hours a week.
Like so many other comedians, they are almost inarticulate about themselves, their aims and methods. Both have a shy, elusive way of speaking, rarely ending sentences they start.

This National Enterprise Association story is from November 21, 1952.

NBCs Bob and Ray Are Gentle Spoofers

NEW York (NEA)— Trying to interview Bob and Ray during rehearsal is something like trying to interview two cows at milking time. They have too much else to do.
It's understandable. At one and the same time, Bob and Ray practice their lines, discuss camera angles, plan film backgrounds cut the script, make alleged jokes and otherwise keep busy. Through it all, they manage to maintain their usual air of well-regulated boredom. Bob Elliot, the short, wavy-haired one, and Ray Goulding, the tall, non-wavy-haired one, are the NBC comedians who have built the gentle spoof into a way of life. Their style is such that they might be called Henry Morgan with two pair of pants.
Rehearsing, they relax in folding chairs. The directors, script girl's, technical people and assorted hangers on march back and forth excitedly, but not Bob and Ray. They read their lines with all the spirit of an elderly snail. They debate about the script with all the fervor of a retired turtle.
"Well," Ray will say in a burst of emotion, "I'm not red-hot about the line. You can kill it if you want to."
• • •
ABOUT the only time they show any real enthusiasm is when they kid Audrey Meadows.
She's a tall redhead who appears on the program for the sole purpose, apparently, of wearing funny hats. She shows up for rehearsal in a dazzling leopard skin coat.
"Somebody give you seat covers?" Bob and Ray gently spoof.
"No I have a half interest in a zoo," she gently spoofs back.
At intervals, the interview proceeds. The following definite facts are learned; (a) Bob and Ray like what they're doing; (b) Bob and Ray prefer radio to television but "we have to face facts"; and (c) Audrey Meadows has a leopard skin coat.
More in store: Good things on the way to TV screens include a video version of CBS' famous radio series, You Were There. It's due in February . . . . Also coming is Life With Father and Mother, based on the Clarence Day stories that made wonderful books and plays. Dennis King and Martha Scott will be starred.

Bob and Ray appeared in a variety of formats for years on the radio. The 15-minute shows out of New York had a different feel than the “Matinee with Bob and Ray” half-hours they did for local radio in Boston in the mid to late ‘40s. It’s hard to say if one was better than the other. The half-hour shows drag at times, but Elliott got a chance to toss in his funny Arthur Godfrey impression and other staff members would drop in to kind of fill time until the next sketch. One of them was announcer Norm Prescott, who later achieved fame as one of the wheels behind the Filmation cartoon studio. The quarter-hour shows are slicker and go by almost too quickly. They feature perfected versions of the characters and situations developed on their original show in Boston. One broadcast has Elliott doing a Fred Allen voice for no particular reason for a few lines which must have delighted Allen fans.

After their TV shows went off the air—they were replaced on “Club Matinee” by Mindy Carson—they moved back into radio, with occasional forays onto the screen. They were regulars on NBC’s “Monitor” in the ‘50s. They appeared on WOR, of Mutual fame, in the ‘70s. And their humour found a welcome place for a number of years on National Public Radio. The old shows they spoofed, like “One Man’s Family” and “Ladies Be Seated,” are long gone. But so long as there are things in the world which don’t quite make sense that words can make even more nonsensical, people should enjoy the old work of Bob and Ray.

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