The great Bob Elliott has died. That’s “Bob” from the comedy team of Bob & Ray (with Ray Goulding). Please read Adam Bernstein‘s wonderful obituary, if those two words can be used together. (Extra points to Bernstein for mentioning Tom Koch, the little-known and under-appreciated writer of many of the duo’s most hysterical routines.)
One of the great moments of my life was writing a script for Bob & Ray, and then watching them perform it. The project was an industrial film, How to Lobby Your Congressperson, a bit of stealth marketing by Philip Morris, which was interested in heading off some anti-tobacco legislation and thought that a little humor might be needed. Or something like that. I heard the words Bob & Ray and eagerly sold my soul. And I’d do it again.
That the video also featured Martin Mull was a double dream come true. I’d been ripping off both Mull and B&R for years, memorizing and reciting their bits, playing Mull’s songs in bands, generally internalizing their rhythms, patterns, bone-dry wit so that I could annoy people at parties.
So I think I had their voices down, if I do say so myself. The shoot was two days, one for Mull as host — doing a lot of the expositional grunt work, but in his signature, smarmy style — and a second day for Bob & Ray. All were utter professionals, no drama that I was privy to. B&R were concerned about making the flight back to NYC and so raced out after the taping. I did get to hang a bit with Mull, who told wonderful stories about Fred Willard. Here’s a picture, with my co-writer, Tom Welsh. (Yeah, a lot of Mull in this appreciation of Bob Elliott.)
This might have been Ray’s last performance. Shortly after the shoot, I called B&R’s agent to pitch a script where the pair would play the Hardy Boys, all grown up, but still childishly naive, in that Bob and Ray way. The agent, who was the widow of their original agent and also near death’s door, quickly informed me that Ray had retired. I thought fast and pitched an idea for Bob and his son Chris to play Tom Swift and Tom Swift, Jr. She said, sure, send the script. So then I had to actually write it.
A month or so later, I sent my half-hour script to Bob’s agent and Chris’ manager, Laurie Lennard, who would become the future ex-wife of Larry David and Oscar-winning producer of An Inconvenient Truth. Had a spooky moment with Larry when he came to my house and I showed him Heavy Metal Parking Lot. (It disturbed him.) As we were blathering, I mentioned I was working on a Chris Elliott project with this woman Laurie Lennard. Larry did a double-take. “I’m seeing her tomorrow night.” What are the chances?
Anyway, the agent said that both Bob and Chris liked my script. And then she asked what the budget was. Budget? Uh…oh, right — I was supposed to pay them money to be in my movie. Hahaha! This had not occurred to me.
So I had to get the rights to the Tom Swift books. Turned out that the guy who owned the then-70-year-old character also owned Babar the Elephant and was planning a huuuge film around that. He wanted $250,000.
As I was contemplating various heists, Bob and Chris got the offer to do Get a Life. Laurie was kind enough to send me the pilot script and promise to send anything of mine to the producers. So Tom and I wrote a Get a Life spec, which was not as good as How to Lobby Your Congressperson, and we did not get hired.
A “Hardy Boys as grown-ups” movie was in the works, starring Ben Stiller and Tom Cruise, but famously imploded. As wonderful as that film surely would have been, I still prefer the idea of Bob & Ray as Frank and Joe. And Bob and Chris as boy inventors.
As one of Bob & Ray’s biggest fans liked to say, So it goes.