|Robert Brackett "Bob" ElliottMarch 26, 1923 – February 2, 2016|
Thursday, February 04, 2016
"Bob Elliott reminding you to hang by your thumbs"
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."
Bob and Ray also appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show several times in the late 1950s and early '60s; guested on the Johnny Carson and David Lettermanshows throughout the 1970s and '80s; provided voices for the animated 1981 special B.C.: A Special Christmas, and made guest appearances on episodes of The David Steinberg Show, Happy Days, and Trapper John, M.D..
In 1990, Elliott portrayed "Fred Peterson" in the television series Get a Life, which starred Chris as his son.
Good Night Mr. Elliott