Goulding, Ray

Goulding, Ray
Mar. 20, 1922-Mar. 24, 1990
comedian

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"Masters of satire and deflaters of pomposity," Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding have been the recipients of Peabody Awards, America's highest honors for achievement in radio and television, in 1952 and 1957. More commonly known as "Bob and Ray," the partners have acquired an enthusiastic following in six years as among radio and TV's wittiest performers. Many of their presentations are unrehearsed and much of the dialogue is ad-libbed.

At a time when the popularity of radio had declined because of competition from the TV industry, Bob and Ray appeared on the scene and made listeners notice once again the "wireless without a screen." After being tried out on nearly every "time slot" on the NBC, ABC, and Mutual Broadcasting System radio and television networks for the past six years, Bob and Ray are now firmly established as spot comedians on NBC's week-end radio program Monitor. They also have their own firm for making commercials for radio and television.

Robert B. Elliott was born in Boston, Massachusetts on March 26, 1923. An only child, he grew up in the nearby suburb of Winchester. At Winchester High School, Bob put on "radio" shows over the school's public-address system. He acted all the parts in his original interpretations of Sherlock Holmes, Samuel Johnson and others.

Following his graduating from high school in 1940, Bob enrolled in the Feagin School of Drama and Radio in New York City. He earned his tuition by working as an usher at Radio City Music Hall and as a page at NBC. His first professional radio assignment came in 1941 when he presented a weekly show billed as "a page boy's impressions of radio" over WINS. This was followed by a job on station WHDH in Boston later that year.

There, he was an announcer for a women's program presided over by Jane Underwood, who later became his wife. In 1943 Bob joined the U.S. Army. He served in Europe with the 26th Infantry Division, participating in the Battle of the Bulge. In 1946 he was discharged from the Army and returned to his job in Boston.

Raymond W. Goulding is the oldest of the Bob and Ray team by almost exactly one year. He was born on March 20, 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts, one of the four children of Mary Ann (Philbin) and Thomas M. Goulding. Graduated from high school in 1939 Ray went to work as a radio announcer in Lowell, at a salary of $15 a week. His older brother, Phil, also a radio announcer, coached Ray on the techniques of the business. After a little more than a year in Lowell, Ray auditioned for two leading stations in Boston. Both offered him a position, and he chose station WEEI.

After the entrance of the United States in World War II, he joined the U.S. Army in November 1942. He was stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he was as an instructor in the officers' candidate school until his discharge with the rank of captain in April 1946. It was at Fort Knox that Ray met Mary Elizabeth Leader, a dietitian for the Army with the rank of lieutenant, who later was to become his wife. Returning to Boston, Ray joined station WHDH. He was assigned to read the newscasts on Bob Elliott's morning disc jockey show.

"The team of Bob and Ray," said Radio-TV Mirror (November 1951), "was formed by accident and the grace of favorable audience reaction." While Bob was putting on his disc jockey show and Ray was delivering the newscasts, Ray began to stay at the station after the news delivery to exchange "on-the-air" pleasantries and gags with Bob between records. They proved to be a natural team.

Boston radio listeners demanded that Bob and Ray be given more time and latitude for their talent. In May 1946 WHDH gave them a daily half-hour show of their own called Matinee with Bob and Ray. This was not enough for the fans, and the team was also given a morning hour, Break Fast with Bob and Ray. It was in Boston that they learned to handle long assignments and perfected their comedy routines.

With five and a half years' experience in Boston, Bob and Ray went to New York in 1951 for an audition. Charles C. Barry, who was vice-president in charge of NBC radio programs, immediately offered them a thirteen-week contract. They resigned their jobs and moved to New York for a one-hour show each Saturday night on NBC's national network, and were soon given three other programs. They also found themselves fitting their comedy routines to television.

From their national radio debut, Bob and Ray were hailed as "the freshest thing in radio." Harriet Van Horne of the New York World-Telegram and Sun (August 1, 1952) called them a "team of wonderfully irreverent observers of this madding crowd." She also wrote: "Their satire is superior because it's disciplined. The joke rarely gets out of hand. When Bob and Ray throw a dart, it's straight and lethal. I'm especially fond of their mock commercials" (October 21, 1951).

Their performances were called "shrewd and accurate satire" by Edmund Leamy (New York World-Telegram and Sun, August 9, 1951) and John Crosby said: "They've a very adult, unusual and Charles Adams-like style about them" (New York Herald Tribune, December 7, 1951). Gordon Allison (New York Herald Tribune, July 6, 1952) wrote of their humor: "It is a mixture of satire, nonsense and whimsey. It sometimes has a waspish sting, raising uncomfortable welts on various cows sacred to the broadcasting and advertising industries."

The pair's jibes at giveaway shows were endless. They offered "at laughably low prices…sweaters in two styles: turtle or V-neck. State what kind of neck you have." Another offer was a ten-day course on "how to become a ninety-seven-pound weakling." Not all of their jokes were taken lightly. When they announced that anybody could get a "home-dismantling kit" by writing to the Smithsonian Institution, or a copy of their script by writing to the Library of Congress, the Government agencies received hundreds of letters and network officials had to implore the pair to be more careful.

In their skits, Bob and Ray supply the voices for a motley cast of characters; Ray portrays the women. Among them are Mary McGoon; Arthur Sturdley and his no-talent scouts; Steve Bosco, sports reporter; Hartford Harry, "a private eye"; Helen Harkness, sob sister; and Mr. Trace, keener than most persons. Once, in a parody of soap opera, "The Life and Loves of Linda Lovely," they killed off all the characters in one episode and replaced it with "Mary Backstayge; Noble Wife."

While most comedians are given a weekly half-hour or hour show on the air, Bob and Ray were given a Herculean schedule of programs. The New York Times (August 12, 1951) commented on their long working hours by saying: "No comedian was ever born who could be funny that much of the time." Between 1952 and 1956 Bob and Ray switched from program to program, from network to network. While their type of humor worked well on radio, it was more difficult to adapt it to television. Their radio impersonations had to give way to new and more elaborate camera routines, often not as successful. For TV Audrey Meadows took the role of the program's women.

"The spoofers have about the same general appeal that might be accorded a Bach fugue or a T. S. Eliot couplet," TV Guide (September 25, 1953) reported in lamenting the team's modest TV rating. The pair also encountered their share of trouble from sponsors who disliked jokes about their products. They were forced to change advertisers almost as frequently as they changed time schedules.

Finally, Bob and Ray settled on a radio program wih a schedule and format that seemed to best fit their type of humor. On June 12, 1956 they started their routines as "critics-at-large" when NBC inaugurated Monitor. As spot comedians on the show, they now make about fifteen appearances at various times on Saturdays and Sundays. "For many listeners," Melvin Maddocks wrote, "Monitor's most valuable feature is Bob and Ray. Radio had no funnier, and no more effective lampooners of serial dramas, inept or pretentious announcers and audience participation programs" (Christian Science Monitor, July 30, 1957).

Bob and Pay were given a George Foster Peabody Award in 1952 as the "foremost satirists in radio" for 1951. In April 1957 they were honored with their second Peabody Award, receiving the "radio entertainment" citation for their work in 1956. However, some stations have dropped Bob and Ray's program in favor of those with greater general appeal and higher listener ratings. When a San Francisco station, KFRC, announced that Bob and Ray were no longer to be broadcast, a group of Stanford University students picketed the station. In 1956 Bob and Ray organized their own company to produce commercials for radio and TV advertisers. They began as the voices of Harry and Bert Piel in a series of spoofing film commercials for Piel Brothers' beer, with animations by U P A Pictures, Inc. The commercials met with acclaim from the sponsor, audience and the critics. "They have awakened sponsors to the value of the satirical approach in television advertising," remarked Cue (July 21, 1956). The comedians contributed with other artists in 1956 to make two albums for Coral Records, Fun Time and Laugh of the Party.

In private life, Bob and Ray pursue their own interests. Bob's hobby is painting in water colors and oils, with seascapes as a specialty. Ray is a Boston Red Sox fan and enjoys photography, hunting and reading. With his brother Phil, he owns a one-kilowatt radio station in Lowell, Massachusetts. Bob and Ray both do a lot of traveling with their families, now that they have a more flexible schedule. Both like to ski and ice skate, and both enjoy golf.

Bob Elliott married the former Jane Underwood, of Boston, in September 1943. They have four children: three girls, Colony, Shannon and Amy, and one boy, Robert Jr. The Elliott family lives in Greenwich Village in New York City. Ray Goulding is married to the former Mary Elizabeth Leader, of Springfield, Ohio. They have three children: Raymond Jr., Thomas, and Barbara, and they make their home near Port Washington, Long Island.

Bob and Ray are not only good comedy team opposites; they are also physical opposites. George Gent once described them (New York Times, November 11, 1951): "Bob is a boyish-looking, thoughtful young man with light brown hair and a slight figure. He is deliberate in his speech, and appears to weigh every word. Ray is heavy-set, with dark hair and a brushy moustache that adds years to his countenance. He has a jovial appearance and speaks in a booming baritone and has a hearty chuckle."

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