Bob Elliott, the remaining half of the radio-satire team of Bob and Ray, died this week at the age of 92. I’m glad Mr. Elliott got to see the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, whose blithe disregard for facts brings to mind so many of the duo’s defiantly ill-informed characters.
Bob and Ray rarely included political references in their skits (one reason they’re so timeless), but I remember one from the 1970s in which Ray Goulding’s character is interviewed about his candidacy for president. At first, he’s all bluster and confidence, making Trumpish claims of how he can get things done; he’s running in both parties’ primaries because he figures that will double his chances of getting elected. Eventually, a skeptical Bob gets him to admit that he’s just unemployed and living at his mother’s in New Hampshire, but he’s discovered that people don’t consider him as much of a “bum” if he says he’s there to run for president.
There were many skits in which Bob’s character unmasks some kind of “expert” played by Ray as a fraud. Think of how many scandals we might have avoided had Bob—or his reporter character Wally Ballou, who specialized in slowly realizing he was talking to an idiot—been at the helm of “Meet the Press.”
In another skit, Ray plays a “far-sighted urban planner” who unfortunately lost his Washington office when a rival urban planner tore it down to build a parking lot. (“I’ll get him for that, too, if it’s the last thing I do,” Ray says.) His idea is to tear down modern luxury apartment buildings to make room for new low-income housing, reasoning that the inhabitants of the luxury buildings can take round-the-world cruises until he figures out what to do with them.
Then there was Ray’s author of an 1,100-page American history book. Bob begins his interview by noting, “You have Abraham Lincoln driving to his inauguration in an automobile. Did you check on that at all?” The book also includes references to “Nelson Washington” as the first president of the United States and Bailey’s Mistake, Maine, as its first capital city. Ray protests, “l had all the facts, it was just that I had a few of the names wrong, and a few dates were wrong,” and, besides, the book is handsomely bound in leather. “I don’t care about the binding,” says an incredulous Bob, “it’s the book inside that counts.”
If only that were true. At least we have a wealth of Bob and Ray recordings to remind us that self-delusion is a stubborn thing.