David Pollock, author, Bob And Ray: Keener Than Most Persons
Related Story: Bob And Ray: All-American Americans
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Still ahead, a new book celebrates the careers of two of radio's funniest men, Bob and Ray. That has KPBS Midday Edition continues. It sounded as if they were just having a conversation by radio legends Bobby and Ray transform the plane radio interview the ordinary broadcast conversation into moments of hilarity. Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding: from ad-libbing on meaty bits on a Boston radio station to their own show, then television and even starred on Broadway and the characters they created such as broadcaster Wally Balou, winner of 16 diction awards became household names. I'd like to welcome the author, David Pollock. His book is called Bob and Ray keener than most persons and David welcome to the show.
DAVID POLLOCK: Thanks Maureen, a real pleasure.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now first of all remind us what Bob and Ray were all about? What is their style like?
DAVID POLLOCK: As they always described it as simply two guys entertaining each other. As teenagers growing up in the 30s, completely independent of each other, each became a talk radio. It was the new entertainment, then. All they ever wanted to do was be announcers. In those days announcers were perceived as these sort of tuxedo wearing silky voiced glamorous figures. And neither of them ever wanted to go into comedy, and then after the war when they were thrown together as a team, they just began mocking the nuances of broadcasting. It was really the only thing they know. It was radio about radio. And later it included television, but broadcasting was always there controlling principle.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you about the title line, keener than most persons where does that come from?
DAVID POLLOCK: Well as I said they mocked popular radio shows and one that had been on forever was this terrible, by today's standards, detective series called Mr. keen tracer of lost persons. And they did one called Mr. trace, keener than most persons. A different forever and the title became sort of associated with them.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's listen to a clip that I think it highlights the whole notion of their absurdity and their total deadpan humor. This is Bob and Ray.
NEW SPEAKER: Here today our scouts have been searching the railroads and the stations for victims of hard luck and helping out through our generous Bob and Ray organization, I assume that specimen there beside you is the first guest today.
NEW SPEAKER: As you heard, this is Mr. (inaudible) from Kerfuffle Park Illinois lovely town and I understand you're hoping to make a day trip to Switzerland Mr. Flanders?
NEW SPEAKER: I am interested to open a Swiss bank account and make a deposit
NEW SPEAKER: I understood that interactions through Swiss banks could be done by mail. I don't think you have to go in person
NEW SPEAKER: I think you're right if only one could deposit money but I've got into a little trouble with the mob back in Illinois I thought I'd retreat to a nice roomy vault in the Swiss bank and deposit myself into it until things blow over.
NEW SPEAKER: I think you are as urgent as I to get out of circulation. Do you think you can be comfortable in a Swiss vault?
NEW SPEAKER: I think I'll do that easily. I can't breathe easily the bottom of the Chicago River and that seems to be my only other option
NEW SPEAKER: Our organization is standing by as you (inaudible) before you like to have this fine waffle iron from field comfort appliance company that can also be used for making grilled cheese sandwiches.
NEW SPEAKER: I'm glad to hear that because I'm sure it wouldn't solve my problem if it only made waffles.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's Bob and Ray. I'm speaking with David Pollock. His book is called Bob and Ray, Keener than most persons is that routine pretty typical of the bits that they did?
DAVID POLLOCK: It's typical because it was durable based on two pop shows that were popular through the 50s called welcome travelers and another called strike it rich where these people would come on with these terrible problems and they would present them with some innocuous gift.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Like a waffle maker.
DAVID POLLOCK: Yeah, it's typical, too, in that it was premise and character driven as opposed to going from joke to joke.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What kind of characters did they develop for the show?
DAVID POLLOCK: The characters they developed were all takes on popular shows of the era that they were mimicking. So Wally Balou as you mentioned before was sort of a fumbling reporter. You know, they exaggerated them all and they had a facility for doing voices and dialogs dialects in multiple voices within a sequence of they would be talking all over each other.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's hear another clip because that's another way to understand Bob and Ray is through their performance they became frequent guests on the Johnny Carson show here they perform one of their acts, the most beautiful face contest.
NEW SPEAKER: (Inaudible) of Maureen Illinois.
NEW SPEAKER: Well congratulations., Say you must have been the first man to win the most beautiful face contest aren't you?
NEW SPEAKER: Yes I believe I am the and relaxing requirements this year.
NEW SPEAKER: Say, the committee wanted me to remind you now of the obligations that you will assume tomorrow when you crowd, you know of course that you'll be traveling all next year, all over the country showing your beautiful face in supermarkets and in fish stores and shopping malls and so forth.
NEW SPEAKER: Now will I be chaperoned on the tour?
NEW SPEAKER: I'm sure you will. Should you do anything incidentally to bring disgrace or cause public scorn to fall on the committee the contest and or its sponsors, then your title will pass to the first runner up.
NEW SPEAKER: I don't plan to do anything wrong.
NEW SPEAKER: I know that but they couldn't take that chance. You know, looking at you, you do have a nicely constructed face.
NEW SPEAKER: Yes my neatly chiseled features do stand out.
NEW SPEAKER: Classic Grecian I would say
NEW SPEAKER: I'm told they are Roman
NEW SPEAKER: Really I know that your eyes are well separate company judge this contest, just the whole body or the head or what
NEW SPEAKER: Just the face right here where the hair starts down to the point of the chin. Right here.
NEW SPEAKER: The face
NEW SPEAKER: They don't care about the head. They are thinking of letting baldheaded guys in next year.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And of course Bob, being bald.
DAVID POLLOCK: There really played great on television because all the while you are looking at Bob's plain unassuming ordinary face and as you mentioned, his bald head.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: David, how did you get interested in writing a book about Bob and Ray?
DAVID POLLOCK: I just stumbled into them in the eighth grade, so I listened to them from the 50s clear through you know, they were together 43 years, clear into the late 80s, so I sort of lived pretty much in real time.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You had a career, you have a career you've written first eval, Doug Rickles, Carol Burnett, all in the family. So you are a comedy writer. What you hear in the broadband race gets that you admire?
DAVID POLLOCK: Well, what I hear and I guess what sort of got me hooked early on was the fact that it was just, it was different. Up until they came along network radio was sort of the big comedians of the era, Bob Hope and Jack Benny is all the stars had a big studio audiences and orchestras and those studio audiences sort of signal to the audience at home what was funny. Bob and Ray were just two guys in a studio. He was more intimate style and each listener sort of had to decide on his own what was funny. You sort of had to pay attention.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: you also have to wonder how these two guys did crack each other up all the time.
DAVID POLLOCK: Yes that was the first comment I made about entertaining each other. There was something very seductive about the relationship, the way they played off each other. There was a very sort of intense kind of camaraderie.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I trust I would imagine you know because you have to feel that someone you are dealing with so closely and making things up on the spot will be to work with you
DAVID POLLOCK: It was all spontaneous at the beginning. Ultimately they had writers and the first day we played was written by the safety deposit box sequence, very talented writer, Tom Cook wrote a lot of funny material for them.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And here another clip, this is again from an appearance on the Tonight Show. Bob interviews Ray. Ray plays a farmer who is growing a crop of the good luck charm four leaf clovers.
NEW SPEAKER: My partner and me, he was on his way over to Bellows Falls with a truckload of four leaf clovers.
NEW SPEAKER: (Inaudible) Bellows Falls
NEW SPEAKER: Put them on a truck and sold them in New York that is where the fellow, Neil had some trouble with the brakes, they grabbed he went off the cliff with a truck and we lost the whole first crop.
NEW SPEAKER: (Inaudible)
NEW SPEAKER: Bill got out all right, thank goodness.
NEW SPEAKER: He was lucky anyway so he went back and started a second crop. The second crop I didn't supervise as actively as I'd like to. I hit my head on a horseshoe that I had hanging just inside the door of my greenhouse.
NEW SPEAKER: I can still see the bump there.
NEW SPEAKER: I was born with that one
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: A little clip from Bob and Ray. You know David you open up the book with the scene as Bob and Ray they are even terrified about the Broadway premiere of Bob and Ray the two and only, their big premiere on Broadway. Why were these veterans are terrified about that? What was the problem as they saw it?
DAVID POLLOCK: A lot of trepidation. Well they instinctively avoided putting themselves in harm's way. They were aware that the critics could be brutal and the radio guys, radio guys made fun of Broadway actors. They didn't go on the stage. So, there was the critics, plus Bob and Ray knew that the very insular theater community in New York couldn't be expected to embrace a couple of ex-radio announcers turned Broadway party crashers. Removed from the radio studio comfort zones, insecurities thrived.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What was the reaction of Broadway?
DAVID POLLOCK: Over-the-top. The critics loved it. It ran for I think just under six months and then they took it on the road for another year. And it sort of dying down on it from then on taking little bits of it they sort of cannibalized it for little sequences as guest stars on various Friday shows. And the Tonight Show. They were on with Johnny Carson about 34 times that year.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It's interesting that their persona when you see them visually kind of coincides with the sound of their voice. They kind of look the way they sound.
DAVID POLLOCK: Yeah, I guess that's true. They, much of the time in their bits they are doing characters. And because, they have no real show biz slickness, either about their voices, or their appearance, so it makes the characters more realistic, too. They can more easily disappear into them.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ray Goulding died over 20 years ago but Bob Elliott is still with us, is that right? You know how he's doing?
DAVID POLLOCK: He's doing fine. He was at a book signing at a little bookstore near where he lives in Maine, and he sort of did a presidential style, with each autograph he gave out a pen. That said write if you get work.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of their taglines.
DAVID POLLOCK: One of the sign-offs for basically the whole career.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: He's 90 now, right?
DAVID POLLOCK: He's 90, yeah.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If you think about writing the book, who might be today's descendents of Bob and Ray? Anybody doing anything like they used to? I was thinking in terms of making fun of newscasts and stuff, maybe a little bit of the Daily Show or the Colbert Report, any similarities?
DAVID POLLOCK: As you described, that's a very valid similarity. It is similar in that it is spoofing, it is tongue-in-cheek. And that is what Bob and Ray was it was all, they lasted so long because as the decades went by, they kept doing variations of these same periods. You didn't have to know what the original was you know, the show you mentioned for example Mr. King, that had been off since the early 50s.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you didn't have to know because the bit was so solid.
DAVID POLLOCK: It was self-contained. It was funny in and of itself.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to let everybody know again I've been speaking with Dave Pollock and his book is called Bob in. Keener than most persons think so much David for, and speaking with us.
DAVID POLLOCK: Thanks much, Maureen, nice to be with you.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Be sure to watch KPBS Evening Edition at 5 PM and again at 6:30 tonight on KPBS television and join us again tomorrow for discussions on Midday Edition on KPBS FM. I am Maureen Cavanaugh and thank you for listening.