Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Tracking Bob and Ray

Fans of Bob and Ray in the 1950s must have been a sturdy lot. And part private eye to boot. They’d have to be to keep track of when and where the satirists were on the air. Even radio and TV listings in the New York newspapers conflicted.

Bob Elliott was sturdy, too. He was 92 years of age when he passed away yesterday. He and Ray Goulding will always be known for their radio careers, but let’s sort out their early days in television. (You may want to skip all this and just read the articles below).

On Monday, April 27, 1953, Bob and Ray debuted on NBC-TV in a 15-minute show starting at 7:30 p.m. Meanwhile, over on NBC radio, the pair were moved from a show starting at 6:30 to a 55-minute show starting at midnight the following Monday.

Back on television, on August 24th, columnist Steven Scheuer reported “the best comedy satire team on the air—they’re leaving—and will be missed.” Cancellation seems to have been slow. The book Bob and Ray, Keener Than Most Persons states the TV show left the air on September 28th and then reappeared on WABC-TV for 15 minutes, Monday through Friday, starting October 5th (newspapers in New York conflict on the latter date).

The show on radio ended on September 28th as well, and took a few months before it returned. Variety reported on March 10, 1954:
As the initial step in bringing in new talent and management personalities, [WINS manager Bob] Leder has negotiated a pact with Bob and Ray guaranteeing the team a minimum $75,000 a year (plus a percentage of their billings). They start at the station on March 22, taking over the 6:30 to 10 a.m. segment on a Monday-thru-Saturday basis.
In addition they'll be spotted afternoons cross-the-board as a warmup for the Yankee ball game pickups in a pregame session carrying on where they left off on WHBD, Boston, a few years back. [Actually, it was WHDH]. WINS deal will not interfere with their current ABC-TV show.
That brings us to this story from the July 1954 edition Radio TV Mirror. The photos accompanied the article.
A day in the life of BOB and RAY
Shortly after the morning sun sends its first rays over New York's skyscrapers, two of the sleepiest heads in show business — Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding — can be found wending their way to the studios of Station WINS for their daily 6:30 to 10:00 A.M. bout with the mike. For Bob, it has been a mere thirty-eight footsteps from the hotel where he resides. But, for Ray, the trek has been longer and harder, for he has had to beat his way past his wife Liz and their three offspring — Ray Jr., Tommy and Barbara — and cover the miles between Long Island's North Shore and the city.
The first thing that greets the boys when they arrive — unshaven, in wrinkled suits (cleaning up comes later), and coffee containers in tow — is a long table equipped with a mike and an assortment of music lists, weather reports and commercials. Scripts? Rehearsals? Never! Well . . . they do discuss a rough outline for the daily episode of their latest "daytime drama" — which takes about five minutes. Then follow three and a half hours of preposterous ad-libbing and devil-may-care antics, after which the boys admit they're a bit fatigued. So, if there is no mail to answer, no sponsors to confer with, no TV scripts to be discussed, or any other emergency, they try to get a little shut-eye before reporting at 4:30 P.M. at the WABC-TV studios and preparing for their 6:45 to 7:00 P.M. show. TV, naturally, demands a little more preparation, so Bob and Ray have a writer — Earle Doud — who greets them, script in hand, ready to accept any new or zany ideas.
Once their nightly TV stint is a rollicking quarter-hour of the past, the boys are on their own at last. Bob says his favorite pastime is catching up on the week's sleep. Or he may pursue his hobby as an amateur painter. Ray retires to his family-filled home where, if the kids will leave him alone long enough, he likes to dabble in photography. Both boys enjoy golf and get to see movies and plays "as often as anybody else."
Friday, say the boys, is their "killer day," when their morning marathon precedes two and a half hours of transcribing their Saturday show — which means a stretch of six hours of solid chatter.
One of the most frequent questions Bob and Ray are asked is: "Do people really believe those offers you make?" "The answer, truthfully," says Bob, "is no." So their "overstocked warehouse" remains overstocked — except when they make offers for such items as getaway cars and home-wrecking kits — but then, says Bob, the response is "in the spirit of the thing."
Another popular query is who plays what parts on the radio show. Ray plays Mary McGoon, Webbly Webster and Steve Bosco, and Bob takes the parts of Tex, Wally Ballou and Arthur Sturdley. Whenever an imaginary guest pops up, either one of them steps into the role "as we feel it." Both boys feel that not knowing what the other one is going to come up with adds spontaneity.
No amount of description can really do Bob and Ray justice, and the best way to know them is to hear and see them for yourself. For, behind those "ordinary" names, lies a wealth of extraordinary talent.
Sources conflict again about when the WABC-TV show ended; the New York Times gave a final listing on July 20, 1954. But Bob and Ray carried on on radio. Here’s a column dated August 20, 1954.
Bob Elliot, Ray Goulding Wage Own Campaigns

Having recently concluded a lengthy engagement on ABC-TV, Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding, as zany a pair of comics as you'll find, are busily brewing up new plots, schemes and concoctions to spring on their next TV audience.
"We'll be back," says Ray ominously when one asks him to confirm the rumor that they'll have a new show in the Fall. "I don't know when, but we'll be back." I visited the pair at their combination lounge, office and studio at Radio Station WINS, where they've been conducting a daily three-hour disc jockey show for the past several months. At least it's a disc jockey show nominally. During their morning sessions you're likely to find them doing commercials for slightly imperfect chinaware ("The dishes don't match and some of the cups don't have handles, but they're a steal for $2"), introducing obscure singer (Helene Jackson Snyder) or, perhaps, bringing you the latest episode of a soap opera.
Soap Operas Rampant
Soap operas seem to be their forte. Behind them are such topics as "Helen Harkness, Sob Sister," "The Life And "Loves of Linda Lovely" and "Hospital, U. S. A." Currently they're embroiled with the problems of "Mary Backstage, Noble Wife." The soaps started out as take-offs, but, at least in the case of "Mary Backstage," have run so long (two years for "Mary") on radio and TV, that by now thousands of listeners tune in every day to find out what's happening to their favorite characters. It's all ad-lib. So when I asked if I might tell readers what they might anticipate, Bob could only say: "We haven't the faintest idea."
To keep life interesting, they get involved with little crusades. "Here's one you'll like," Ray volunteered. "We're campaigning for an eight-day week so people ran have three-day weekends."
Just the other day they did their show from The Old Homestead Restaurant in New York as the opening gun in a "Steak for Breakfast" campaign and promptly at 6:30 a.m., they were enjoying sliced steak along with everyone else. A young lady present for the occasion looked at her watch, then at the steak, and remarked: "I'm glad it's sliced. It looks almost like bacon this way."
Despite their eccentricities, Bob and Ray never seem to have any trouble getting sponsors. "I hate to brag," said Bob, swelling up with pride, "but since we've been doing this show, the morning ratings have gone up 150 percent."
Seeing me en route to the door, Ray called: "Don't forget to mention our studio. We have two phones."
The WINS gig wasn’t enough for them, but their next simultaneous effort wasn’t on television. Bob and Ray were “critics at large” when the much-cherished Monitor debuted on NBC radio on June 12, 1955, then landed a gig on the Mutual Broadcasting System the following September, airing from 5:05 to 6 p.m. on weeknights (eventually on 477 stations). They did a little bit more television—Variety panned their parodies on the debut of the NBC Comedy Hour in 1956, as well as an appearance on a 1960 bomb on CBS called Night Clubs, New York—and more radio followed, too. How they kept up the pace is a question only they could answer. A list of any more dates, times and places would get rather boring, an accusation never hurled at Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding.

1 comment:

  1. Rick Sklar, in his book "Rocking America," recalled that when (or before) he became program director of WINS, its new owner, Elroy McCaw, went on an extreme cost-cutting binge, which included firing Bob & Ray. (McCaw also changed the light bulbs to lower wattages, and locked out the station's orchestra.)