Simanaitis Says

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BOB & RAY—LAUGH TRACKS ARE REDUNDANT

BOB ELLIOT, the smaller soft-spoken one of the Bob and Ray comedy pair, died recently, age 92. His partner, Ray Goulding, had died in 1990 at age 68. Together, they defined a new genre of comedy, understated, satirical but not caustic. From the 1940s through the 1980s, the pair delighted listeners sans any need of laugh tracks. Elliot’s death and their careers were noted by National Public Radio and The New York Times, yesterday, February 4, 2016.

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At left, Robert Brackett Elliot, 1923 – 2016; at right, Raymond Walter Goulding, 1922 – 1990. Image from Vintage Bob & Ray Volume 1 The CBS Years: Part One, four CDs, bobandray.com, 1994.

Both Bob and Ray were Massachusetts-born. They teamed up in the late 1940’s at Boston’s WHDH radio. Though the pair had a TV career as well, radio was their principal medium. Over the years, Bob & Ray were heard on NBC, CBS, Mutual and National Public Radio.

Here are several of my Bob & Ray favorites included in Vintage Bob & Ray The CBS Years.

Bob’s Wally Ballou, “winner of over seven international diction awards,” was the mild-mannered radio reporter who invariably missed his opening cue: “…ly Ballou here.” One of my favorite Ballou bits involves his interview with a member of the Bob & Ray audience.

As Wally approaches with his hand-held microphone, the fellow says, “Meredith Ackroyd, Altoona, Pennsylvania.”

Indefatigable, Wally asks, “What’s your name, sir, and where are you from.”

In other hard-hitting reportage, Ballou encounters a four-leaf clover farmer plagued by bad luck as well as a manager of a jute box factory (being interviewed on a jukebox assignment).

Ace Willoughby, International Detective is another recurring character, a sendup of 1950’s radio adventure yarns. In “The Marrakech Affair,” Ace is told to “walk to the end of the Street of Broken Noses to Marrakech House…” There he encounters Max, a growling beast who, Willoughby is told, “cannot express himself too well since the accident…. Would you believe he was once Minister of Finance in the old country?”

The wonderful illogic of it all reminds me of just about every adventure I enjoy today on SiriusXM’s “Radio Classics” channel.

Another Bob and Ray character recalls Los Angeles KFAC-FM’s poetry segment. “Charles the Poet,” complete with sound effects of birds chirping amidst sentimental music, strives for similar atmosphere. But Charles the Poet cannot get past his second line of verse without, at first, a giggle and then uproarious laughter. I never knew how his KFAC counterpart did it straight.

Barry Campbell, “star of stage, screen, television, radio and the dance band world,” is another Bob & Ray regular. In “New ‘Live’ Record, Movie Role,” Barry’s orchestra has just a bit more supper club interference than the occasional cutlery clatter of KFAC’s “Luncheon at the Music Center.”

The two-part “Ward Carr with Barry Campbell ‘If Pain Persists’ ” has interviewer Carr (Bob) on a Hollywood film set as actor Barry (Ray) continues to screw up repeated takes of a crucial scene.

It’s a cavalry charge with a bugle sounding and 1100 extras galloping by. Colonel Frisbee (Bob) says, with crisp perfection each time, “I knew your father, Ferguson. You’re the first Ferguson in the Fifth Field Flank to fail to fulfill the fundamental functions of a Field Flank front runner.”

Barry (Ray) is to respond angrily, “Colonel Frisbee, that’s a filthy flagrant falsehood.”

But, of course, he doesn’t.

Bob & Ray differed from most comedy teams in readily exchanging roles of comedian/straight man. And, to my knowledge, and delight, they worked without a laughter soundtrack, canned or, as is the case in some of today’s sitcoms, produced by a studio audience.

I suspect Bob and Ray gave their listeners credit for being intelligent enough to know what deserved a smile, a chuckle or a loud guffaw. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016

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