Last night Elly and I went to Shepherdstown Film Society where we have spent many enjoyable Friday nights. The film was George Clooney‘s Good Night and Good Luck which was about Edward R. Murrow‘s exposure of Senator Joseph McCarthy on CBS television news. Filmed in black and white and very cleverly using visual and sound clips of the actual Army McCarthy hearings and other 1954 or so contemporary television videos, Clooney, who plays news director Fred Friendly, and Richard Straithern, who plays Murrow, bring off performances that arfe damned close to reality.
Todd Cotgreave, the CEO of WSHC, did the film introduction last night and ran the discussion afterward and those of us who stayed around for it had an enlightening conversation on McCarthyism and that period in American history when so many people were accused of being Communists.
As a follow-up to last night’s conversations, I’m going to play some of Bob and Ray’s 1954 radio sketches from their Mary Backstayge Noble Wife soap opera where Ray Goulding did an amazing parody of Joe McCarthy. It will start with Bob Elliott discussing what they were doing in the Backstayge series and he will also play some original McCarthy material. Then I’ll play one of the episodes which deal with the real-estate hearings in Skunk Haven, NY, protesting Harry Backstayge’s building of a 14 story home. Commissioner Carstairs (the McCarthy character) is the lead prosecutor of the case and it is quite funny.
So many people who wanted to attack McCarthy in the 50s avoided doing it out of fear that they would be falsely labeled as Commies. The fact that Bob and Ray could do their imitation and not suffer from it is because, as usual, they were remarkably non-poltical. I’ll be playimng these clips sometime during the first hour of my show (from 11-Noon).
Tune in if you can.
- History since then vindicates Joe McCarthy: Read Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s Reply to Edward R. Murrow (trutherator.wordpress.com)
- This Day In History: Edward R. Murrow’s See It Now Airs McCarthyism Episode (1954) (euzicasa.wordpress.com)
Bob and Ray were to radio what Ernie Kovacs was to television (although the famous radio team, who met as announcers at Boston’s WHDH in 1946, also did television, film and live performances on Broadway in their 43-year career), and were as influential on generations of comedians as Kovacs was, if not more so.
Performing right up to the late 80s when Ray was too ill to work (he died in 1990), Bob Elliot & Ray Goulding developed many characters who became treasured and respected names among listeners: Wally Ballou, Mary McGoon, Webley Webster, the McBeebe brothers, Biff Burns and so many others.
I often think that the reason their characters seemed so real over time was that Bob & Ray believed they WERE real… that there really was a radio soap opera producer named O. Leo Leahy (who they often put in their credit list after a show) or that Wally Ballou really was out on the street interviewing ordinary people and always being upcut by the broadcast engineer. I suppose when you perform the same characters for decades in so many different situations they DO become real.
Their comedy was performed without a single bad word or objectionable situation. They were rarely political (although the one exception may be the poke they gave to Senator Joe McCarthy on their soap opera parody “Mary Backstayge Noble Wife” in the late 50s) and never offensive, but remained much funnier than most of their competition.
Here’s a Wally Ballou interview sample (this is from “Bob and Ray, The Two and Only”, their Carnegie Hall performance in the 1980s):
I played that last piece because it is one of my favorites and so typical of their work… which they talked about in this interview with a very young David Letterman, who was very much influenced by them:
Letterman, of course, gave a major career start to Bob’s son Chris Elliot… and Chris’ daughter, Abby Elliot is now on Saturday Night Live, making Bob Elliot, 88 years old this year, the head of three generations of funny people.
Fortunately there is a large quantity of recordings of Bob & Ray’s work going back to the late 40s available on CDs, cassette tapes and DVDs. YouTube has a nice collection as well. These are certainly worth your time whenever you are feeling down… they never cease to provide a laugh.
- From Susan Schecter (hopeworkscommunity.wordpress.com)
- More from Sydney! – Sydney, Australia (travelpod.com)