UPDATED with more information: Bob Elliott, the comedian known variously as radio newscaster Wally Ballou, beer pitchman Harry Piel and, always, as the shorter half of the comedy team of Bob & Ray, died Tuesday at home in Cundy’s Harbor, ME. He was 92. His death was confirmed to the New York Times by his son, Chris Elliott, who followed his father into comedy and acting. Chris Elliott said his father had had throat cancer.
While not as intellectually minded as Nichols & May nor as salt-of-the-earth as Stiller and Meara, Bob & Ray (Goulding) were icons of 1950s East Coast humor, which frequently took aim at the growing consumer culture. Even when they voiced the animated Bert and Harry Piel to celebrate the distinct qualities of the mild Brooklyn brew, they conveyed a wry sense of the absurd without hammering listeners over the head. But they also became famous for promoting metal ingots, flypaper and Heightwatchers Anonymous, among other faux money-makers. In that sense, they were precursors of such contemporary comedians as Garrison Keillor and Steven Wright. Goulding died in 1990.
And indeed, Elliott worked briefly with Keillor on American Radio Company Of The Air, a program that stood in for the better known A Prairie Hone Companion. Bob & Ray appeared briefly on Broadway with a sketch show Bob And Ray — The Two And Only, which ran at the John Golden Theatre in 1970.
But radio was their favored medium. Bob Elliott’s best-known alter ego was, as he said it, “radio’s highly regarded Wally Ballou, winner of over seven international diction awards,” who would interview reliably offbeat characters invented by Goulding. The team won three Peabody Awards for their radio work; they were inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1984 and the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1995. During the ’50s and ’60s, they appeared on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson, The Ed Sullivan Show and, Later, Late Night With David Letterman. They also appeared together in the films Cold Turkey (1971) and Author! Author! (1982). After Goulding’s death, Elliott ventured into television and film, playing Chris’ father in the ’90s sitcom Get A Life and the 1994 movie Cabin Boy. Chris Elliott’s daughters are also in the business: Like her father, actress and comedian Abby Elliott was seen on Saturday Night Live. Bridey Elliott co-starred in the 2015 movie Fort Tilden.
In addition to Chris, Bob Elliott is survived by another son, Robert Jr.; daughters Colony Elliott Santangelo, Amy Elliott Andersen and Shannon Elliott; 11 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.