Bob & Ray musings of the week (yes, I know it’s still the same week!)

From the blurb announcing ‘Hbc Day at Canada’s Wonderland!’ posted to the company intranet today:

It’s the ultimate coaster experience featuring twists, turns, flat loops, drops and prototype open air seating that will only intensify the thrills and excitement. BEHEMOTH is Canada’s longest, tallest and fastest coaster.

I dunno. Call me a lily-livered chicken, but when I’m selecting my Ultimate Roller-Coaster Experience, ensuring the open-air seating has passed the beta-test is kind of a priority…

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Meanwhile. Still working out the biographical urges re: Bob & Ray, so you might want to save time and go off shaking your head in amused exasperation now. Did I mention there were pretty flower pictures to look at?

This particular set of musings is kind of a spillover from the last. It about figures that I’d just get done commenting on how self-effacing the duo were when a CBS episode featuring Ray’s tales of his recent ‘European tour’ comes up in the rotation. ‘Course, he only gets as far as ‘So, we arrived in Paris…’ when a SFX rock ‘crashes’ through the control-room window – apparently a random production gag – and he promptly decides to go off into a corner to sulk. Shortly thereafter Bob inadvertently reveals that the mountain Ray ‘conquered’ as a kid was actually a fifty-foot hill, so he stays in that corner for pretty much the entire ep.

As noted elsewhere in these chronicles, I like Ray Goulding quite a lot…as much as anyone can like someone they’ve only ‘met’ via performance and the odd scrap of celebrity profiling. Neither man was much interested in being interviewed, but (vide their profile in The Encylopaedia of Old-Time Radio) it was Ray who was notorious for it, and of a widow and six children he left none who cared to capitalise on the connexion after his death – which is a rather fine tribute, when you think about it.

It’s a source of gentle humour itself, their strategies when confronted with the need to talk publicly about anything but their craft (on which subject, I should note, they were both articulate and interesting). Generally they duck the personal stuff by talking to each other instead, leaving the interviewer caught in the crossfire, too amused to notice and/or care that he’s not being told anything of much real interest. For the New Yorker profiles, however, they’re required each to describe their own lives and times at length, and alone.

Bob copes by becoming a character out of his own routines – one of those gently chatty seniors we’ve all felt too bad to ignore on the bus. Rambling on about how his mother’s people were from Maine, and his one uncle owned a drugstore, and willed his really nice soda-fountain equipment to Bob, who now has it up in his summer house in – wait for it – Maine, and…
His partner, on the other hand, just does not say anything. After a quick tribute to his parents, Ray rattles through a list of his siblings living and dead, names his wife and numbers his children, and that’s it. Not actually shyness, apparently – the same article describes him as cheerfully extroverted to the point of attracting ‘floorwalker questions’ from old ladies in department stores – simply extreme reserve.

On the other hand, insofar as it’s possible to tease their individual contributions out of the comic alchemy, it’s Ray who’s much more the natural clown, the one with the surreal streak, in contrast to Bob’s knack of spinning existing mundanities to the edge of satire. Left to his own devices – as both of them were on occasion in the earliest days, when one or the other was out sick or on vacation – Bob probably would’ve carved out a very comfortable niche as a radio ‘personality’, trading benign quips with his co-hosts and featuring the ‘Weird News of the Day’. Always assuming he didn’t tire of the whole thing and go off to Maine to become a painter.
Ray…I don’t know what Ray would’ve done with himself. In one solo outing he browses a book of Dali illustrations, bewildered but rather pleased with the attempt (‘makes me think I’ve got a lot going on upstairs, let me tell you!’); in another, he picks the boss’ secretary out of the impromptu audience and cheerily proceeds – to the modern ear, anyway – to lay himself wide open for a harassment suit. (Let us just say it has been awhile since a radio host could innocently offer a female guest a recipe for ‘Hollow-weenies’.)

None of which means he wouldn’t likely have become a highly-respected announcer, maybe even made it to New York, but…as in re: most natural clowns…you do always get the feeling there was a lot more going on behind than he ever saw the point of revealing.

It shows up again in their relationships with their respective characters. Bob maintains at all times a respectful distance between himself and his fictional world; Ray…does not. The effect is rather like a ventriloquist backchatting with his dummy, except without even the fig leaf of a wooden face to respond to. All the interaction here is going on in Ray’s head.

Therein, Mary McGoon alternately chides him (“I don’t know what Ray thinks he’s doing in that white suit!”) and pets him (‘so good-lookin!’). His guests insult him, and he gives it right back. He and Webley Webster nearly come to…blows…or something…in one ep, after Ray flirts with Web’s girlfriend (hot pickup line in 1960: “Hey, you’ve got cute eyes, haven’t you!”). That the girlfriend is being played by a do-it-yourself hypnosis record (“I want you to just lean back…close your eyes…”) in no way detracts from the general Freudian mess.

(Mary, at least in the eps I have, also took charge, lady-like, of greeting the real-life guests in the studio. I know female impersonation was considered a comedy commonplace back then…but one really wonders what was running through these people’s heads upon being confronted by their strikingly masculine host, standing over six feet and correspondingly broad, burbling at them in a New England matron’s falsetto.)

Born and raised in an industrial mill town, Ray moved his own family out to small-town as soon as he could and seems to have thoroughly enjoyed playing country sportsman – hunting, fishing, golf, baseball and football in season, that sort of thing. Also, in a rather funny echo of the Dali incident, photography. In the last of the New Yorker profiles, among his typically spare list of things to do in retirement is ‘take a lot of pictures, I always have. That doesn’t take much effort; you just get out there and focus.’

Along similar lines, on one Dick Cavett appearance he brings up Robert Benchley’s ‘hilarious’ series of early short films and wonders why somebody doesn’t put them on TV (I can only imagine what he and Bob would’ve made of  YouTube). Asked by Cavett if he’d ever met Benchley personally, Ray murmurs “No…I just read everything he ever wrote.” And for just a moment, the suggestion of vulnerability becomes something much more definite.

Meaning that, in the end, probably the best and only thing I could do for the man would be to leave him (or his memory) to himself. Having got all this out of my system, I’ll let the professionals handle the biography, and leave the above as a tribute to a fictional ‘friendship’ that’s given me a lot of enjoyment over a lot of years.

Thanks, Ray. And Bob. And all the rest of yourselves, too.

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