March 26, 1923
Boston, Massachusetts, United States
February 2, 2016
Cundy's Harbor, Maine, United States
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As one-half of the legendary comedy team Bob and Ray, Bob Elliott influenced several generations of comic talent with four decades of gently offbeat and satiric routines for radio and television, all delivered in deadpan style with his partner, Ray Goulding. Born Robert Brackett Elliott on March 26, 1923 in Boston, Massachusetts, Bob Elliott began his radio career as a disc jockey for the local station WHDH-AM. There, he met and frequently engaged in humorous on-air banter with Goulding, who worked for the station as a news reader. Their improvised conversations soon won them a following and their own program, a weekday show called "Matinee with Bob and Ray," in 1946. The afternoon broadcast established Bob and Ray's unique brand of humor, which skewered the conventions of radio drama and news with dry, intelligent humor. Soap operas, mysteries, quiz shows, man-on-the-street interviews and homemaker segments were all spun into quiet exercises in verbal surrealism by Bob and Ray's routines, as were self-professed experts of all stripes, who invariably revealed their own ineptitude while attempting to convince listeners of their superior talents. Both performers also essayed numerous recurring characters, with Elliott's stable counting the hapless news reporter Wally Ballou, fast-talking sports announcer Biff Burns and the spokesperson for the Slow Talkers of America, who drove Goulding's interviewer into a frenzy with his delayed responses to questions, among its number. The popularity of Bob and Ray's Boston-area show led to similar assignments on national broadcasting networks and several stations in New York, as well as occasional forays into television, most notably the 15-minute "Bob & Ray" (NBC, 1951-53) which also featured young starlets Cloris Leachman and Audrey Meadows. They received greater exposure during this period as the voices of two animated pitchmen for Piels Beer, which led to the pair's own advertising voice-over company, Goulding Elliott Greybar. In the 1970s, Bob and Ray were introduced to a whole new audience through animated segments for "The Electric Company" (PBS, 1971-77) and a 1979 TV special for NBC that teamed them with Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman and Gilda Radner from "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ). They also made their Broadway debut with "The Two and Only" in 1970 and a 1984 follow-up, "A Night of Two Stars," in 1984. Their final radio show was a 1987 stint with National Public Radio, which ended shortly before Goulding's death in 1990. Elliott's career continued on television as a co-star on his son Chris Elliott's bizarre cult sitcom "Get a Life" (Fox, 1990-92) and as an occasional performer on radio, most notably with Garrison Keillor's American Radio Company of the Air. Bob and Ray were inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1995, while their unique brand of humor was feted in press and print by the likes of David Letterman, Al Franken and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. In 2010, Elliott's granddaughter, Abby Elliott, continued in the family tradition by joining the cast of "Saturday Night Live." Having quietly retired during the 2000s, Bob Elliott died at his home in Cundy's Harbor, Maine on February 2, 2016 at the age of 92; in his official announcement, Chris Elliott revealed that his father had been suffering from throat cancer.