Bob and Ray Get Wally Ballou’s Report on the World’s Fair, Early


So if Bob and Ray are known to someone who’s not a fan of old-time radio or of a previous generation’s comedians, it’s probably for one of these things: one of them (Bob) being father to Chris Elliot; the Slow Talkers of America; or Wally Ballou. Wally Ballou was I think their most reliable “field correspondent” bringing interviews. His first and most obvious running gag was that his cues were always mistimed. He’d almost always lose the first few syllables of “This is Wally Ballou, reporting from — ” and if that sounds like a slender thread on which to hang a recurring character, well, watch the noon news anchor throw to whoever’s in the field. Sixty years later the timing is still off.

Wally Ballou would interview as diligently as possible the people who occupy the Bob and Ray world. They’re all daft. It’s often not the obvious, clownishly goofy; it’s often just people with an odd idea that gets rigorously investigated. The hopefully-embedded link above, “591119 Wally Ballou on the Coming World’s Fair” if you just download the link, features Wally Ballou interviewing the guy who took the Perisphere home after the 1939 World’s Fair, and who had hopes for it to reappear in 1964. A slight premise? Perhaps. Talented people can build a lot on a slight premise.

Wally Ballou casts a long comic shadow. Bob Newhart has described how his career-defining telephone calls were written, essentially, as spec scripts for Wally Ballou. That was a revelation that floored me. I believe it; once you’ve studied the rhythms of both a Newhart telephone sketch and a Wally Ballou interview it’s hard to believe you ever didn’t notice that. But it also puts lie to the claim that Bob Newhart’s phone interviews were hilarious because the audience could imagine the absurd things he was hearing back. Bob Newhart’s phone interviews were hilarious because they found hilarious things to be about. Wally Ballou has both sides of the conversation and that doesn’t hurt either.

Jim Scancarelli, artist and writer for the comic strip Gasoline Alley — still running! — is among other things an old-time radio fan. Any sales clerk is likely to turn out to be Frank Nelson’s character from The Jack Benny Program. And when he needs a reporter for a scene Molly Ballew (sic) or her sister Polly Ballew are reliably called in to host. Their other sister Hulla Ballew has also appeared, as a newspaper journalist. For some reason Scancarelli has made it surprisingly insistent that these are Wally’s sisters. I would have thought making them his daughters, or even grand-daughters, less taxing on the timeline. After all, one of the defining traits of Gasoline Alley was that it progressed in more or less real time.

TV journalist Polly Ballew notes she's the sister of Molly and Wally Ballew (sic).
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley from the 2nd of August, 2010. One of the times she was introduced she or Molly specifically name-checked Bob and Ray. I haven’t been able to find that one.

Also I’m delighted that one of the running sketches, the Bob and Ray Trophy Train, takes the train in to Lansing, Michigan. And not just for a visit; the train, bringing souvenirs of Bob and Ray’s life on a goodwill tour to the areas outside CBS Studios, is said to be wintering over in Lansing. Well, I could walk to the train station where that would have been. (It’s a restaurant now.) Maybe it would have wintered at some other spot. Should ask the local comedy troupes if there’s a plaque marking the spot.

Bob and Ray also name-check radio station WJIM, which back then must have been the CBS affiliate. It’s still running, although as one of those News-Talk format stations that do so much to wear out one’s interest in news. WJIM was, Wikipedia claims, named after license owner Harold Gross’s son. It claims also that legend says Gross won the license, Lansing’s first commercial radio license, in a card game. That all delights me.

Color Classics: All’s Fair At The Fair


For today’s cartoon I’m stepping back into the Fleischer Color Classics, with a short released the 26th of August, 1938: All’s Fair At The Fair. The title gives away the subject: it’s a World’s Fair cartoon, and since it was the late 30s it’s a severely Art Deco setting to show off the automated and mechanized world of tomorrow, the one that doesn’t really need people in it.

This is a setting, and a hook to hang jokes on, that’s well-designed for the Fleischer Cartoons: Max and Dave Fleischer had a particular thrill for ingenious mechanisms and gadgetry. Sometimes I suspect they’re a little bothered to have to have characters in their cartoons, and so the automated, people-less World of Tomorrow plays to their strengths. After the initial scenes this is a very empty World’s Fair, with just one country-hick pair of characters appearing at all. I’m not sure the characters even had any written dialogue. The way they mutter evokes the contemporary Popeye style, in which the voices were recorded after animation. But Elmer and Miranda haven’t got the personality of Popeye and Olive Oyl, and Jack Mercer (the voice of Popeye) and Margie Hines (who had taken over voicing Olive Oyl and Betty Boop) couldn’t do much to give them character.

But this isn’t one to watch for the characters. It’s one to watch for gadgets doing things, and for the lovely background and set designs. That works, all, doesn’t it?

Finley Peter Dunne: The Paris Exposition


Finley Peter Dunne is a person I think of as forgotten, probably because you never hear about his fans anymore, although that’s probably just my ignorance talking. I’d be glad to hear I was wrong. In the late 19th and early 20th century he wrote a great many essays presented as the conversations of Mister Dooley, of Archey Road, barkeep and amateur sage.

Much of his writing is about the politics of the day, so if you aren’t up on just what the hot issues of 1905 were he might as well be writing in a foreign language, an impression not helped by his decision to write in dialect. But if you do carry on I think it’s rewarding, funny and with that humane, warm cynicism that’s so much easier to take.

In this entry, from Mister Dooley’s Philosophy, Mister Dooley is skeptical of the Paris Universal Exposition of 1900.


“If this r-rush iv people to th’ Paris exposition keeps up,” said Mr.Hennessy, “they won’t be enough left here f’r to ilict a prisidint.”

“They’ll be enough left,” said Mr. Dooley. “There always is. No wan has gone fr’m Arrchey r-road, where th’ voters ar-re made. I’ve looked ar- round ivry mornin’ expectin’ to miss some familyar faces. I thought Dorgan, th’ plumber, wud go sure, but he give it up at th’ las’ moment, an’ will spind his summer on th’ dhrainage canal. Th’ baseball season ‘ll keep a good manny others back, an’ a number iv riprisintative cit’zens who have stock or jobs in th’ wire mills have decided that ’tis much betther to inthrust their savin’s to John W. Gates thin to blow thim in again th’ sthreets iv Cairo.”

“But takin’ it by an’ large ’twill be a hard winter f’r th’ r-rich. Manny iv thim will have money enough f’r to return, but they’ll be much sufferin’ among thim. I ixpict to have people dhroppin’ in here nex’ fall with subscription books f’r th’ survivors iv th’ Paris exhibition. Th’ women down be th’ rollin’ mills ‘ll be sewin’ flannels f’r th’ disthressed millyonaires, an’ whin th’ childher kick about th’ food ye’ll say, Hinnissy, ‘Just think iv th’ poor wretches in th’ Lake Shore dhrive an’ thank Gawd f’r what ye have.’ Th’ mayor ‘ll open soup kitchens where th’ unforchnit people can come an’ get a hearty meal an’ watch th’ ticker, an’ whin th’ season grows hard, ye’ll see pinched an’ hungry plutocrats thrampin’ th’ sthreets with signs r-readin’: ‘Give us a cold bottle or we perish.’ Perhaps th’ polis ‘ll charge thim an’ bust in their stovepipe hats, th’ prisidint ‘ll sind th’ ar-rmy here, a conspiracy ‘ll be discovered at th’ club to blow up th’ poorhouse, an’ volunteers ‘ll be called on fr’m th’ nickel bed houses to protect th’ vested inthrests iv established poverty.”

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