Hall of Fame: 2007

Bob Elliot

Bob Elliott (supporting his partner Ray Goulding, at left), was half of the most durable broadcast comedy partnership in broadcast history. Bob and Ray got their start as a duo on WHDH and became stars in national media. They were the first humorists to perfect a style that was fully based in broadcasting, rather than drawing on stage, vaudeville or film. In radio, television, and advertising, Bob and Ray established and perfected a distinctive brand of humor – satiric, offbeat, absurdist, fertile, and incredibly creative – that lasted almost fifty years and inspired hundreds of others, from Bob Newhart to The Firesign Theatre to Keith Olbermann.

Bob Elliott was born in Boston in 1923. In the mid-1940s, he began working as a DJ on WHDH, and found a sympathetic partner in another WHDH staffer, newsman Ray Goulding. Their improvised on-air patter and joking became so popular that WHDH gave them their own fifteen-minute comedy program, Matinee with Bob and Ray, in 1946, which was soon expanded to a half-hour. In the framework of this show, which was largely improvised, Elliott and Goulding developed all of the elements that later became hallmarks of their work.

Audio Samples

In 1951, Bob and Ray left Boston for New York City, where they broke into local radio as fill-ins for comedian Morey Amsterdam and then became the morning team on WINS. They were soon tapped by NBC for their own network radio program, and started a local TV show as well. Elliott chose one of his early influences, Salem native and comedy pioneer Raymond Knight, to work with the team as a writer in the 1950s; Knight understood the direction they wanted to take and gave them a wealth of new ideas to improvise on. By the late 1950s, Bob and Ray were NBC radio stars, using written and improvised material for a new brand of comedy that redefined the meaning of the word.

Landmarks of their career include short-lived but memorable television comedy programs where they introduced talented young actresses Audrey Meadows and Cloris Leachman; TV bits for the Today Show beginning in 1952; regular appearances on all the major radio networks, notably including their sketches for NBC’s weekend radio program Monitor, beginning in 1956; their long-running soap opera parody, “Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife”; classic radio and television commercials for Piels Beer; a 1970 Broadway show, “The Two and Only,” for which Bob created two of his most famous characters, Harlow P. Whitcomb, the Slow Talker, and Dr. Darryl Dexter, an expert on the habits of the Komodo Dragon; a triumphant performance (“A Night of Two Stars”) at Carnegie Hall in 1984; and a 1980s public radio series that ran until Goulding’s death in 1990.

In the framework of Bob and Ray performances, Elliott created some of the most unforgettable voices and characters in comedy history – adenoidal reporter Wally Ballou, unflappable sports interviewer Biff Burns, ever-failing Broadway “star” Harry Backstayge, Arthur Sturdley (a dead-on satire of Arthur Godfrey), Howard Pendleton aka Mr. Science (a parody of Don Herbert, TV’s “Mr. Wizard”), and Dr. Fred B. Stole, who took his name from Bob and Ray’s WHDH colleague Fred B. Cole (Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame inductee 2007). He also served as the frequent foil for or interviewer of Goulding’s wide range of eccentric personalities.

After Goulding’s death, Elliott continued as a comic actor, working with his son Chris in film and television, and occasionally recreating his classic characters in interviews and featured appearances. With the breakthrough performances of his granddaughter Abby on Saturday Night Live, he can legitimately claim to be the founder of a comedy dynasty.

Bob Elliott lives in Maine.