I represent the first generation who, when we were born, the television was now a permanent fixture in our homes. When I was born people had breakfast with Barbara Walters, dinner with Walter Cronkite, and slept with Johnny Carson.
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"Bob Elliott reminding you to hang by your thumbs"
Robert Brackett "Bob" ElliottMarch 26, 1923 – February 2, 2016
Bob Elliott died in Cundy's Harbor, Maine on February 2, 2016, from throat cancer at the age of 92. Robert Brackett Elliott was born in Winchester, Massachusetts, the son of Gail Marguarite (née Brackett), a needleworker, and Fred Russell Elliott, who worked in insurance. On radio, he appeared in programs with his long-time partner Ray Goulding. These were in different series and time slots over decades, beginning in the late 1940s at Boston'sWHDH radio when the two were first paired for Matinee with Bob and Ray.
Elliott and Goulding began as radio announcers (Elliott a disc jockey, and Goulding a news reader) in Boston with their own separate programs on stationWHDH-AM, and each would visit with the other while on the air. Their informal banter was so appealing that WHDH would call on them, as a team, to fill in when Red Sox baseball broadcasts were rained out. Elliott and Goulding (not yet known as Bob and Ray) would improvise comedy routines all afternoon, and joke around with studio musicians.
Elliott and Goulding's brand of humor caught on, and WHDH gave them their own weekday show in 1946. Matinee with Bob and Ray was originally a 15-minute show, soon expanding to half an hour. (When explaining why Bob was billed first, Goulding claimed that it was because "Matinee with Bob and Ray" sounded better than "Matinob with Ray and Bob".) Their trademark sign-off was "This is Ray Goulding reminding you to write if you get work"; "Bob Elliott reminding you to hang by your thumbs".
They continued on the air for over four decades on the NBC, CBS, and Mutual networks, and on New York City stations WINS, WOR, and WHN. From 1973 to 1976 they were the afternoon drive hosts on WOR, doing a four-hour show. In their last incarnation, they were heard on National Public Radio, ending in 1987.
They were regulars on NBC's Monitor, often on stand-by to go on the air at short notice if the program's planned segments developed problems, and they were also heard in a surprising variety of formats and timeslots, from a 15-minute series in mid-afternoon to their hour-long show aired weeknights just before midnight in 1954-55. During that same period, they did an audience participation game show, Pick and Play with Bob and Ray, which was short-lived. It came at a time when network pages filled seats for radio-TV shows by giving tickets to anyone in the street, and on Pick and Play the two comics were occasionally booed by audience members unfamiliar with the Bob and Ray comedy style.
Some of their radio episodes were released on recordings, and others were adapted into graphic story form for publication in Mad magazine. Their earlier shows were mostly ad-libbed, but later programs relied more heavily on scripts. While Bob and Ray wrote much of their material, their writers included Tom Koch, who scripted many of their best-known routines, and the pioneering radio humorist Raymond Knight. Bob Elliott later married Knight's widow.
Another writer was Jack Beauvais, who had performed as a singer for WEEI in Boston during the 1930s and also worked for some of the big bands in the 1940s and 1950s.
In the early 1950s, the two had their own 15-minute television series, entitled simply Bob & Ray. It began November 26, 1951 on NBC with Audrey Meadows as a cast regular. During the second season, the title changed to Club Embassy, and Cloris Leachman joined the cast as a regular, replacing Audrey Meadows who left the series to join the cast of The Jackie Gleason Show on CBS. In the soap opera parodies, the actresses took the roles of Mary Backstayge and Linda Lovely. Expanding to a half-hour for the summer of 1952 only, the series continued until September 28, 1953. When The Higgins Boys and Gruber show began on The Comedy Channel in 1989, it occasionally included full episodes of Bob and Ray's 1951-53 shows (along with episodes of Clutch Cargo andSupercar).
The duo did more television in the latter part of their career, beginning with key roles of Bud Williams, Jr. (Elliott) and Walter Gesunheit (Goulding) in Kurt Vonnegut's Hugo-nominated Between Time and Timbuktu: A Space Fantasy(1972), adapted from several Vonnegut novels and stories. (Vonnegut had once submitted comedy material to Bob and Ray.) Fred Barzyk directed this WGBH/PBS production, a science-fiction comedy about an astronaut-poet's journey through the Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulum. This teleplay was first published in an edition that featured numerous screenshots of Bob and Ray and other cast members.
Bob and Ray also hosted a Mark Goodson-Bill Todman game show, The Name's the Same, which was emceed originally by Robert Q. Lewis. Bob and Ray would do their typical routines, and then play the normal game of having a celebrity panel try to guess the contestants' famous names. They would always end the show with their traditional closing: Ray saying, "Write if you get work..." and Bob finishing with "And hang by your thumbs."
During the late 1950s, Bob and Ray were also on radio and television as the voices of Bert and Harry Piel, two animated characters from a very successful ad campaign for Piels Beer. Since this was a regional beer, the commercials were not seen nationally, but the popularity of the ad campaign resulted in national press coverage. Based on the success of those commercials, they launched a successful advertising voice-over company, Goulding Elliott Graybar (so called because the offices were located in the Graybar Building).
In 1971, Bob and Ray lent their voices to the children's television program The Electric Company in a pair of short animated films; in one, explaining opposites, Ray was the "writer of words", first for elevators, then doors, finally faucets. The other, illustrating words ending in -at, had Ray as "Lorenzo the Magnificent" who can read minds and who tries to read a word in Bob's mind, that he thinks is an -at word such as "hat", "bat", "rat", "cat", "mat", etc. (Turns out, it wasn't; Bob's word was actually "Columbus".)
In 1973, Bob and Ray created an historic television program that was broadcast on two channels: one half of the studio was broadcast on the New York PBS affiliate WNET, and the other half of the studio was broadcast on independent station WNEW. Four sketches were performed, including a tug of war that served as an allegory about nuclear war. The two parts of the program are available for viewing at the Museum of Television and Radio.
In 1979 they returned to national TV for a one-shot NBC special with members of the original Saturday Night Live cast, Bob and Ray, Jane and Laraine and Gilda. It included a skit that successfully captured their unique approach to humor: They sat in chairs, in business suits, facing the audience, nearly motionless, and sang a duet of Rod Stewart's major hit "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?"
In 1980 they taped a one-hour pilot for CBS late night with the cast of SCTV titled From Cleveland, a sketch show staged on location in Cleveland. The show became a cult favorite with numerous showings at the Museum of Television & Radio.
This was followed by a series of specials for PBS in the early 1980s. In 1982, Ray Goulding told the New York Times, "It just keeps happening to us. I suppose each new generation notices that we are there."
The first hour of this week’s show will include an encore presentation of our November 2014 conversation with Margaret O’Brien, the great child star from the Golden Age of Hollywood who went on to become one of the most popular, versatile and endearing actresses over the past seven decades, largely because of her work on stage and television. Margaret will share a few memories of her long career, including her work with such stars as Robert Young and Mickey Rooney.
The second hour will include a replay of our February 2014 conversation with Mary Ann Anderson about the life and career of Ida Lupino. Mary was the conservator for Ida’s estate during the last eleven years of the actress’ life, and became a close friend as a result. Mary’s books include Ida Lupino: Beyond the Camera, the story of Ida’s life and career (told almost entirely in Ida’s own words) and The Making of The Hitch-Hiker Illustrated, a behind-the-scenes look at the classic 1953 thriller directed by Ida Lupino that was the first American example of film noir that was directed by a woman. The hour will also include excerpts from one of the last recorded interviews given by Lupino in which she discusses her work in film and television.
Keeping with the theme of old Hollywood, this week’s show will also include an encore of our conversation with author and longtime entertainment journalist Sylvia Resnick. Sylvia began her career writing for such publications as Photoplay, Modern Screen and TV Radio Mirror before becoming a staff editor for Rona Barrett’s Hollywood.
As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history, the more that fact and legend become intertwined. It's hard to say where the truth really lies.
February 1, 1951
TV Shows Atomic Blast, Live.
For the first time,
television viewers witness the live detonation of an atomic bomb blast, as KTLA
in Los Angeles broadcasts the blinding light produced by a nuclear device
dropped on Frenchman Flats, Nevada. One of a hundred above-ground nuclear tests conducted between 1951 and 1962 in
the Nevada desert, the A-bomb telecast found its way into the history books
(and blogs) when cameramen secretly positioned on top of a Las Vegas hotel
focused on the blast. The images were relayed to the station’s transmitter on
Mount Wilson Observatory about 200 miles away, and early-bird viewers saw their
television screens fill with white light at 5:30 in the morning.
Witnessing the blast telecast first-hand was KTLA reporter Stan Chambers.
In a YouTube interview, Chambers described how station manager Klaus
Landsberg pulled off the unauthorized broadcast. “We couldn’t get near the
field, because it was all top secret. Klaus sent a crew to Las Vegas and put
them on top of one of the hotels…. They kept the camera open for the flash of
light that would come on when the blast went off.”
Los Angeles viewers tuned in for the one-off event. “We had a rating that
was very large for 5:30 in the morning,” Chambers recalled. In the
pre-videotape era, there were of course no replays as newsmen Gil Martin,
anchoring from Las Vegas, and station staffer Robin Lane at Mount Wilson
reported the incident. Chambers continued:
We stayed on the air, they waited for the right time, and all of a sudden
there was the flash. The people watched it, Gil described it, Lane talked about
it, and that was our telecast. That one flash. You just see this blinding white
light. It didn’t seem real. We didn’t have videotape. You couldn’t say, “Let’s
look at it again.”
1951’s Ranger Easy bomb was designed to test compression against critical
mass in the Demon core,
so-called because the plutonium mass became unstable and caused the
radiation-poisoning death of a Los Alamos scientist. A B-50 bomber plane
dropped the test weapon above the Nevada Test Site about 65 miles northwest of
Las Vegas. Part of the Department of Energy’s Operation Ranger
program, “Easy” delivered a 1-kiloton payload.
In the decade that followed Operation Ranger, A-bomb tests from
Buster-Jangle, Tumbler-Snapper, Upshot-Knothole, Plumbbob, Nougat, Sunbeam and
other programs became so commonplace that watching mushroom clouds turned into
a Las Vegas tourist attraction.
In 1952, KTLA set up the first live, national feed for a Nevada atomic bomb
explosion. That one was carried by the major networks.
February 1, 1976
"The Secret of Bigfoot" is one of the best-known storylines in the history of The Six Million Dollar Man airs. It is in this two-part episode that Steve Austin first encounters the legendary Bigfoot and the alien visitors he protects.
Steve Austin and Oscar Goldman are in a remote region of the California mountains as part of a team working with high tech earthquake sensors. When two geologists - Ivan and Marlene Bekey - disappear in mysterious circumstances tracks of the legendary wild beast called Sasquatch or Bigfoot are found nearby. Ivan is soon found safe but in a state of shock. However, there is no sign of Marlene. When Bigfoot later attacks the team's base camp Steve pursues and fights with the beast unaware that he is being monitored by aliens who are living in a nearby mountain. During the fight one of Bigfoot's arms becomes detached revealing that it is not an animal but some form of robot. Bigfoot flees (complete with the removed arm!) and Steve follows it into a cave. This turns out to be inside the mountain occupied by the aliens and Steve is soon rendered unconscious, captured and analysed by them.
When he awakes, Steve learns from Shalon - a female alien - that Bigfoot was built and controlled by the aliens to protect them. The earthquake sensor team had been attacked as they had identified a volcanic vent that powered the alien colony. Meanwhile Oscar learns that a major earthquake is predicted along the main San Medrian fault line within the next few hours which jeopardises all the Californian west coast cities. Only a controlled underground nuclear explosion to trigger a smaller man made earthquake along a smaller tributary fault line will prevent the main earthquake from happening. Oscar authorises this knowing that Steve and Marlene are still missing in the area concerned and will be at serious risk from the explosion and subsequent earthquake.
February 1, 1976
Sonny and Cher resumed on TV despite a real life
In February 1976, the
bitterness of their divorce behind them, the couple reunited for one last try
Sonny and Cher Show. This incarnation of the series was produced by
veteran musical variety-show writers, Frank
Peppiatt and John
Aylesworth. It was basically the same as their first variety series but
with different writers to create new sketches and songs. The duo's opening
conversations were markedly more subdued and made humbled references to the
couple's divorce and Cher's subsequent marriage to Gregg
Allman (during production Cher was pregnant with and eventually bore
Allman's son, Elijah). (Some jokes would get awkward. In one
opening segment Cher gave Sonny a compliment and Sonny jokingly replied
"That's not what you said in the courtroom.") Despite these
complications, the revived series garnered enough ratings to be renewed for a
second season, finally ending its run in 1977. (By this time, the variety
show genre was already in steep decline, and Sonny and Cher was one of
the few successful programs of the genre remaining on the air at the time.)