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Elliott and Goulding first teamed up just after World War II at WHDH radio in Boston, where Ray was a newscaster and Bob was a disc jockey. Whenever Red Sox baseball was delayed by rain, the two had to fill time. They began parodying popular radio personalities on other stations — Arthur Godfrey became pompous, self-centered “Arthur Sturdley” (Bob) while homemaker host Mary Margaret McBride became “Mary McGoon” (Ray).
Station management liked the results so much they gave them their own daily half-hour, “Matinee With Bob and Ray.” (Elliott jokes that if the word had been “Matinob” they would have been billed as “Ray and Bob” for the rest of their career.)
Spoofs of soap operas, westerns and crime dramas proliferated. Soon they had created an entire cast of supporting characters — drawling cowboy singer Tex Blaisdell, organist and book reviewer Webley Webster, incompetent reporter Wally Ballou — which went with them in 1951 to network radio, first at NBC, then at Mutual and CBS.
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With the demise of most non-news network radio programs in 1960, Elliott and Goulding entered the advertising business, creating memorable campaigns for General Electric, Underwood deviled ham, Piels Beer and others. They performed periodically on “The Tonight Show” and on stage before returning to radio over New York’s WOR (710).
In the 1980s, they returned to a network with a weekly program over National Public Radio, which continued almost until Goulding’s untimely death 18 years ago this month.
Many of their recordings survive; the best of the network and WOR performances can be purchased through the non-profit Radio Foundation in New York, which is also making them available through iTunes.
Transcriptions of the early “Matinee With Bob and Ray” shows were rediscovered at the WHDH transmitter site a few years ago. Digitally remastered, those can be purchased through First Generation Radio Archives.
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In 1979, Elliott and Goulding teamed up with the producers of “Saturday Night Live” for an NBC special called “Bob and Ray, Jane, Laraine & Gilda,” where they reprised many of their most famous radio sketches and debuted a few new routines, like this one:
This brief clip is from the secret archives of Mr. Monday Morning Nostalgia Fix. Although the special was released on VHS in the 1990s, the tape is now out of print.
Since the early seasons of “SNL” are being released on DVD, there’s a good chance this special will be available again, soon.
Until then, write if you get work, and hang by your thumbs!
Wednesday marked the 85th birthday of one of the most influential comedians of the 20th century.
With his longtime writing and performing partner Ray Goulding, Bob Elliott influenced generations of broadcasters, including the original cast of “Saturday Night Live,” Jay Leno, David Letterman and Keith Olbermann.
To a younger generation, Elliott might be best known as the father of comedian Chris Elliott. The younger Elliott’s stage persona of an overconfident goof trying to be debonair builds on his father’s 50 years of playing pompous dimwits with delusions of adequacy.