Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Were Bob and Ray a Success?

If you think about it, no one had a more odd career than Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding after they left local radio for the Big Time in 1951. Critics loved them and they had a loyal fan base. But management never seemed to know what to do with them. NBC shoved them around all over the place on radio and TV. They seemed to work incredibly long hours. But they never really stayed in one slot long enough to develop a large audience.

They also rose to fame at a time when just about everybody who was anybody was transported from dying network radio into TV. Bob and Ray’s humour wasn’t of the baggy-pants variety show, or of the honey-the-boss-is-coming-over sitcom, which was about all you saw on the tube then. They may have been a little bit early for television.

Here’s a piece from the Philadelphia Inquirer of June 30, 1952 about one of their TV efforts. Audrey Meadows had been in the supporting cast but left and had been replaced by Cloris Leachman at this point.

Screening TV
Bob and Ray Succeeding In Difficult Task of Satire


Of all the various kinds of comedy, satire is the least likely to succeed with a mass audience. Henry Morgan proved that a number of times by failing to click with a whole succession of radio and television shows.
Morgan's sometimes harsh burlesquing of the current scene won him a large group of fans—large, but not large enough to satisfy sponsors who think in terms of millions of viewers.
The cause of satire on TV now is in the capable hands of Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding, a couple of uninhibited lads who have long since inherited the Morgan radio audience. They've tried TV before without too much success but are back in a Saturday night half hour on NBC stations—including Channel 3 here.
It may be that Bob and Ray will have better luck than Henry Morgan. Their satire is broader and often funnier than the Morgan brand. They also have a knack of kidding without seeming bitter.
Last Saturday night, as an example, they did a takeoff on Dragnet, which is easily the best TV crime program. Their version was called Fishnet, and was a very funny hunk of business.
Aping the rapid-fire, monotone delivery of the Dragnet cast, Bob and Ray—assisted by Cloris Leachman—dramatized "a true story from the files of the Gloucester, Mass., police department." The names of all characters were revealed, by the bye, "so that their relatives might suffer."
This was the case of a fish killer, a man who had fired a sawed-off shotgun 20 times at close range and murdered a fish. It was the fifth such killing in a week.
Needless to say, the killer—Bob—finally gave up, but not until every pat phrase from Dragnet had been used, including, "Blood all over the place," "What do you think," and "I'm innocent." He confessed after the smelliest third degree in history, during which a waitress reeled off the names of scores of fish dishes on her menu and finally thrust a live lobster into Bob's face to prove he hated fish.
Another high point in last Saturday's show was a miniature program produced to increase the sale of stamps in post offices. It opened with Ray, dressed in a page-boy's box cap, intoning, "Call for Philatelics, call for Philatelics!”
After Stamalong Cassidy had told kids to be sure to try a roll of three-cent stamps for dessert, Bob and Ray introduced a new series of stamp creations to the tune of "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody." A scantily dressed girl would parade out with her face framed in a stamp outline. As she paraded, one of the two comics would intone:
"Miss three cent stamp.
"Petite and sweet — designed for the working man.
"And the elite.
"She's beautiful, demands inspection.
"Wouldn't you like her in your collection?"
There were other sequences—some funny, some not too funny. The one during which Ben Grauer sang a song in Spanish while typing, answering phones, and being a busy convention reporter, was one of the funny ones.
TV's got to have some good satire to balance all the slapstick comedy of the regular season. Bob and Ray seem to have the formula. Let's hope they make the grade with a sponsor and a regular once-a-week program during the cool weather.


  1. I first discovered Bob & Ray on an obscure 1970 summer replacement TV comedy/variety show called Happy Days. Not the Ron Howard sitcom, but a variety show paying homage to the 1930s with old radio skits and big band music. Years later, a friend introduced me to two of their classic routines: The Komodo Dragon and The Slow Talkers of America. These guys were hilarious!

  2. In their early radio days in Boston, one of their sidekicks was Norm Prescott, who later co-founded Filmation.

  3. I wouldn't say he was a sidekick any more than Al Burns, Bob Clayton or the other WHDH announcers were. But he did wander into their booth and appear on the show on rare occasion.

  4. As a Bob and Ray fan I was lucky enough to get tickets to the dress rehearsal of the Saturday Night Live show they did called "Bob & Ray Meet Jane, Laraine & Gilda" in which they sang "Do You Think I'm Sexy" in their monotone manner. Also fondly remember their last NY afternoon radio shows on WOR(?), in particular a sketch of a reunion of Little Rascals type kids renamed The Little Vandals, which I would LOVE to hear again!