Hall of Fame: 2007

Ray Goulding

Ray Goulding (sporting a mustache and leaning on his partner Bob Elliott, 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.


Ray Goulding was born in Lowell in 1922. In the mid-1940s, he began working as a newsman on WHDH, and found a sympathetic partner in another WHDH staffer, DJ Bob Elliott. 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.

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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. Salem native and comedy pioneer Raymond Knight, began working with the team as a writer in the 1950s; he 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; radio shows on New York stations WINS, WHN, and particularly WOR, where they hosted afternoon drive time from 1973 until 1976; 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”; a triumphant performance (“A Night of Two Stars”) at Carnegie Hall in 1984; and a 1980s public radio series.

In the framework of Bob and Ray performances, Goulding was a versatile character actor with a very broad range. He voiced all of the team’s female characters – including the immortal Mary McGoon, who drew her name from Mary Margaret McBride and Somerville’s Magoun Square and managed to blend barbed invective with inspired daffiness; Linda Lovely, Mary Backstayge, and Fanny Butcher, the female leads of Bob and Ray’s soap opera parodies; Natalie Attired, who specialized in speaking the lyrics to college fight songs accompanied only by a drummer; and Miss Edna Bessinger, whose failures to grapple with life’s complexities almost reached the level of Dadaism. Ray also created a note-perfect impression of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the person of Commissioner Carstairs; the attention-deficit-disordered Matt Neffer, Boy Spotwelding King of the World; inept Broadway actor Barry Campbell; dictatorial tycoon Wealthy Jacobus Pike; mushmouthed agricultural commentator Dean Archer Armstead; schizophrenic pirate captain Wolf Larson; and perhaps his most enduring character, Webley Webster, who fumbled and mumbled his way through ordeals as Bob and Ray’s long-suffering gofer, as the host of a dramatized book review segment that almost always devolved into strife aboard a ship on the high seas, as staff organist never permitted to finish his virtuoso interpretation of “Jalousie”; and as an actor within their soap-opera parody “Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife,” where he played exactly the same character with exactly the same voice, under the name Calvin Hoogevin.

Ray Goulding died in 1990.

 

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