“I’m not gonna read that. You read that.”

The science of meta-marketing – the kind of knowingly ironic ad that sells by acknowledging its own absurdity – wasn’t anywhere close to being invented in 1948. Back then, your sponsors gave you copy, and you read it. As solemnly as possible, because no matter how pompous they might be they were still your financial backers…

…and then, as you might have guessed, there were Bob & Ray. Quick, amused, instinctively subversive – a bad combination for commercial pitchmen at the best of times.
Listening to the old Boston shows now, it’s amazing that they got away with what they did. Instead of coming in with a glowing plug for Mission Bell Wine in the middle of their jingle, for instance, Ray would insert a deadpan promo for his next news broadcast (‘…coming up at one-thirty. Thank you.’). Or he and Bob would get into a heated fight over who’d just missed the cue. Sometimes they’d just take over singing the jingle entirely. In tango tempo.

Surprisingly – at least, according to Bob Elliott in later years – nobody seemed to mind this kind of tomfoolery. Not even when they turned a ‘simple phone call’ to get a trial TV set into a series of skits featuring spectacularly un-helpful ‘special operators’. During a stint with a floorwax sponsor that asked them to urge customers to make a side-by-side test on their own floors, Bob once enquired mid-pitch, "Uh..if we’re so sure they’ll think [sponsor’s wax] is better, why should they bother doing the test?"

Even the occasional objection was turned to account. When a railroad company tried writing ‘Do Not Ad-Lib’ on their copy, Bob dutifully pointed it out to Ray on-air. Ray was dutifully hurt. ‘Well, what the hey [sic]? There’s always the bus, you know what I mean?’

By the next episode, the commercial has been recorded beforehand. By another announcer.

In the autumn of ’48, a new patsy signed on – the West Peabody Speedway. Stock car racing – Saturday afternoon, dollar admission – was ‘America’s newest thrill sensation!’ and the boys made great play with copy describing the ‘pulse-pounding action’. (‘I just wanna say, I was out there last night, and my pulse is awful sore.’) 

Then, one afternoon, inspiration struck on the grand – and slighly Frebergian – scale. The result is transcribed below, picking up just after the commercial proper. To get the full flavour, note that the lines are being ad-libbed on the fly, but the performance is totally deadpan.   

Ray: …just fifteen miles north of Boston Common. And – I dunno, I suppose we all have to start there, so I’ll meet you at the north Common – 

Bob: Up by the Park Street entrance, up there.

Ray (upset): Wouldn’t you think they’d let you start from your own home? S’pose you live out in Worchester, for goodness’ sakes, and they make you come all the way in to the north –

Bob: Nope, no, that’s one of the rules.

Ray: Well, alright, so we’ll meet you all at the Boston Common, pack a lunch, and take off to the West Peabody Speedway.

Where is it, you say? Why, it’s just off the Newberyport Turnpike, at the corner of Pine & Lake streets, in West Peabody. And I don’t believe there’s a soul in Massachusetts who doesn’t know where Pine & Lake streets are.

Bob: It’s a famed spot. It was under that spreading oak tree at Pine & Lake streets –

Ray: The village smithy said –

Bob: No; George Washington took command of the Continental Army, if I remember rightly.

Ray: I believe you’re right. It was also there that Fulton invented the – invented the –

Bob: It was here that Eli Whitney…

Ray: What’d that Fulton fella do? Oh, he invented the – right, the sewing machine, yes.

Bob: Naturally it was a sewing machine, he couldn’t get a steamboat up there to Pine & Lake streets.

Ray: It was also there, you might like to know, that the first potato was grown in North America. It’s also there that the Mississippi River starts its long, wending way south –

Bob: It’s there, at the foot of the great Rocky Mountains, friends, where you’ll see goats grazing…

Ray: Ahhhh, beautiful. I think we oughta do a beautiful picturesque-type travelogue on Pine & Lake streets.

[pretentious travelogue music up]

Bob: Picture, if you can, Pine & Lake streets in West Peabody…

Ray: Aw, friends it’s – it’s a Heaven on earth. Pine & Lake streets in West Peabody –

Bob: The poet Sturdley once wrote, of this place –

Ray: – Little rows of neat white houses… blanketed by a warming sun. And the peasants, going about their duties.

Bob: It was here that Kay Arikalian [sp? – producer of Mission Bell Wine] first put her hands in a bottle of wine.

Ray: Yes, these peasants, going about their duties… gathering dollar bills, and bringing them home in the evenings.

Bob: Children sixty cents, including tax.

Ray: Yes. Ah, to be there, now that fall is here…

Bob: Children were cheapest on this spot in the United States than anywhere else. Sixty cents. Including tax.

Ray: Yes folks… at the corner of Pine & Lake streets, your life becomes a Poem. And you’ll sing, and you’ll be happy, and you’ll permanently settle down at the corner of Pine & Lake streets.

Bob: It was about West Peabody that Stephen Foster wrote his famous My Old Kentucky Home. [pause] It was while he was visiting up there.

Ray: Hoagy Carmichael – yes, when he wrote Stardust.

Bob: It was a sunny day, and he was down at the beach.

Ray: And had Christopher Columbus been there… just think, he’d’ve been at Pine & Lake streets too.

Bob: Had the Pilgrims landed in West Peabody, they would have seen what is now Pine – uh, surrounded by Lake – streets.

Ray: So when you go to Pine & Lake Streets in West Peabody, friends: you’ve been somewhere.

Bob: You’ve been to Pine & Lake streets in West Peabody.

Ray: So until the next time, so long.

[pretentious travelogue music fade out]


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