Bob and Ray, Keener Than Most Persons
He reached over to the shelf in his cramped dressing room and, with a little tap, launched the handcrafted wooden Italian clown into another round of perpetual somersaults. The mesmerizing, brightly colored figure, a gift from his wife, Lee, had done all that Bob Elliott could ask of it to keep him nicely distracted from the anxiety-filled realities of that sweltering, September 24, 1970, opening night of Bob and Ray—The Two and Only.
The large, brightly lit make-up mirror he seated himself in front of symbolized the alien world in which he now found himself. Elliott had been informed by the conventions and rhythms of broadcasting—radio guys did not slap on make-up and become Broadway actors; they performed comedy bits mocking Broadway actors, a responsibility he never shirked. Could tonight, he wondered, be some kind of cruel payback?
In AM radio’s twilight decades, Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding were snapped up by every major network still standing, some stretches on the air seven days a week. Their comedy, said Groucho Marx, reminded him of Robert Benchley: “They have that same Alice in Wonderland philosophy. . . . I’m just crazy about them.” Johnny Carson called them “two of the funniest—and most influential—humorists of their time.” But that was history now, as was their original nightly fifteen-minute NBC television series. Only some of the Broadway first-nighters in the John Golden Theatre would remember that Elliott and Goulding had been TV pioneers, on NBC five nights a week.
Next door, in equally Spartan quarters, separated only by a common bathroom, sat Ray Goulding, mindful of his voice—all of his voices, in fact. As there were no understudies, if he had a cold, all of his characters had a cold. “It becomes an epidemic,” he liked to say. And he was in a constant state of worry that he might catch one. According to his widow, Liz, “He lived on Vitamin C.” For Goulding, it would take more than a somersaulting toy clown to allay anxiety.
Like every New Yorker that night, he and his partner were victims of the fiendish Indian summer heat wave. Johnna Levine, co-producer of the show, had advised the two that if it got impossible to keep the theater comfortable, “Take off your goddamn jackets and tell everybody in the audience to do the same.”
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Bob and Ray, Keener Than Most Persons traces the origins and development of the pair’s unique sensibility that defined their dozens of local and network radio and TV series, later motion picture roles, Carnegie Hall performances, and hit Broadway show Bob and Ray – The Two and Only.
Together for 43 years (longer than Laurel and Hardy, Burns and Allen, Abbott and Costello, and Martin and Lewis), the twosome deflected all intrusions into the personalities behind their many masks and the dynamics of their relationship, and rarely elaborated on their career trajectory or methodology. Now, with the full cooperation of Bob Elliott and of Ray Goulding’s widow, Liz, together with insights from numerous colleagues, their craft and the culture that made them so relevant is explored in depth.
Posted on June 12, 2013, in Comedy, Film & TV and tagged Applause Books, Bob and Ray Keener Than Most Persons, Bob and Ray-The Two and Only, comedy, david pollock, excerpt, HumorOutcasts. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.