Bob and Ray

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Bob and Ray

Bob Elliott (1923—) and Ray Goulding (1922-1990) brought a new kind of low-key satire to radio in the late 1940s. They developed such memorable characters as the drawling cowboy Tex and Wally Ballou, "radio's highly regarded and totally inept" remote broadcast reporter who invariably began his reports in mid-sentence, having forgotten to turn on his microphone. Wally often spoke of his wife "Hulla Ballou" and son "Little Boy Ballou." Another popular creation was Mary McGoon, a quirky talk show hostess who was a combination of Mary Margaret McBride (the First Lady of radio talk shows from 1934 to 1954) and Julia Childs, the radio and television chef.

The creative pair also set their satiric stun guns on popular long-running radio shows of their day, running their version, One Feller's Family, as a parody of the popular program One Man's Family. Also popular was their Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife, a soap opera sketch that spoofed the daytime radio series Mary Noble, Backstage Wife. Other vehicles for their offbeat wit included such pseudo programs as The Transatlantic Bridge, Robin Hood of Sherman Forest, Mr. District Defender, and Tales Well Calculated to Keep You in Anxiety. Widen Your Horizons was a "self-help" program on which experts would explain how to look up names in a telephone directory or how to put salt in salt shakers.

Bob and Ray began their professional career at Boston radio station WHDH on an early morning talk and music program. Bob was the show's host and Ray the announcer, with each playing a variety of characters in different voices. All of the shows ended with their trademark salutations, "Write if you get work" and "Hang by your thumbs." They added more fans with the show Matinee with Bob and Ray, which preceded the Red Sox baseball games and filled the afternoon with their improvised comedy on rain-out days.

After their on-air shenanigans became the talk of Boston, NBC executives offered them a network radio show of their own in 1953. After two years in the Saturday at 8:00 p.m. time slot, during the 1955-1956 season they moved to the Mutual network for a Monday to Friday program at 5:00 p.m. When television took its toll on network radio, Bob and Ray appeared frequently on local stations in Boston and New York as well as on National Public Radio.

They were also guest stars on a number of television variety shows, including The Colgate Comedy Hour (1952) and The Ed Sullivan Show (1955). In the fall of 1951, the pair began performing on their own NBC television show in a 15 minute format, Monday through Friday at 7:15 p.m. The show also featured comic actress Audrey Meadows, who played the part of Linda Lovely in their ongoing spoof of soap operas. They hosted a half-hour NBC show featuring Cloris Leachman, playing the part of Mary Backstayge, during the summer of 1952 and returned to the quarter-hour format in the fall in a show known as Club Embassy or Club Time, again featuring Audrey Meadows. Critics were almost unanimous in the opinion that the satirists' unique brand of wit played better on radio than television.

In 1970 Bob and Ray wrote and performed a two-man stage production, The Two of Us, which had a long run on Broadway as well as at various regional theaters and colleges throughout the United States. In the 1970s the pair worked at radio station WOR, along with their television guest and stage appearances. Their voices became known to millions as Burt and Ernie Piel on Piel's beer commercials.

Bob and Ray were forced to retire in the late 1980s due to the illness of Ray, who died of a heart attack in 1990. Bob continues to make television talk show appearances and is a frequent guest speaker at college seminars and at conferences about the "Golden Age of Radio."

—Benjamin Griffith

Further Reading:

Brooks, Tim, and Earl Marsh. The Complete Directory to Prime Time TV Shows, 1946 to Present. New York, Ballantine, 1981.

Buxton, Frank, and Bill Owen. The Big Broadcast: 1920-1950. New York, Viking, 1972.

Lackmann, Ron. Same Time … Same Station: An A-Z Guide to Radio from Jack Benny to Howard Stern. New York, Facts on File, 1996.