- 81 years old
- Date of birth: Dec 22, 1917
- Date of passing: Nov 29, 1999
|Let the memory of Gene be with us forever|
Born Eugene Rubessa in Christopher, Illinois, he was the only child of Croatian immigrants and graduated from Lindblom Technical High School and later from Knox College. While a student at Lindblom, he was senior class president and acted in the plays Robert of Sicily, andMrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch.
Rayburn was married to Helen Ticknor from 1940 until her death in October 1996. They had one child, a daughter, Lynn. After Lynn's birth, Rayburn enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force and served in World War II.
Before appearing in television, Rayburn was a very successful actor and radio performer. He had a popular morning drive time radio show in New York, first with Jack Lescoulie (Anything Goes) and later with Dee Finch (Rayburn & Finch) on WNEW (now WBBR). Radio history pegs Rayburn's pairings with Lescoulie and Finch as the first two-man teams in morning radio. When Rayburn left WNEW, Dee Finch continued the format withGene Klavan.
Breaking into television as the original announcer on Steve Allen's Tonight, Gene Rayburn began a long association with game-show producers Mark Goodson and Bill Todman in 1953. He first appeared on Robert Q. Lewis's The Name's the Same; Rayburn frequently sat in for regular panelist Carl Reiner, lending a comic touch to the panel. In 1955, he took over as host of the summer replacement game show, Make the Connection, from original host, Jim McKay. From there he hosted shows such as Choose Up Sides, Dough Re Mi, and the daytime version of Tic Tac Dough. On radio, Rayburn became one of the many hosts of the NBC program Monitor in 1961 and remained with the show until 1973.
From 1962 to 1969 Rayburn hosted The Match Game. In the original version, which aired from New York on NBC, Rayburn read questions to two panels, each consisting of a celebrity and two audience members. The questions in the original game were ordinary, like "Name a kind of muffin," or "John loves his ____________." Rayburn usually played it straight, though he would make jokes as the situation warranted. Because it was a live show, very few episodes were recorded for posterity; only four are known to exist. The show was cancelled in 1969 to make room for the topical, short-lived game show Letters to Laugh-In.
Goodson-Todman revived The Match Game in 1973 for CBS. Gene Rayburn returned as host, and introduced a new format in which two contestants tried to match the responses of six celebrities. Writer Dick DeBartolo, a veteran of the original show, created funnier and often risqué questions ("After being hit by a steamroller, Norman had to slide his ____________ under the door.") Rayburn reveled in this freewheeling new approach, and often indulged in funny voices, banter with the celebrities, and mock arguments with the technical crew. Millions tuned in, and it soon became the highest-rated show in daytime television history.
From 1973 to 1977, The Match Game was #1 among all daytime network game shows — three of those years it was the highest rated in all of daytime shows.
The daytime revival of The Match Game, which featured regular panelists Richard Dawson, 1973 to 1978, Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly, ran until 1979 on CBS and another three years in first-run syndication. A concurrent night-time version, Match Game PM, aired from 1975 to 1980. Rayburn was nominated for two Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Host or Hostess in a Game or Audience Participation Show.
During the years when The Match Game was taped in Los Angeles, Rayburn lived in Osterville, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, and would commute to California every two weeks and tape 12 shows over the course of a weekend (five daytime shows and one nighttime show per taping day).
In 1983, a year after the syndicated Match Game disappeared, the show was revived as part of the Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour, with Rayburn hosting the Match Game segment and sitting on the panel of the Hollywood Squares segment. The show lasted nine months on NBC.
Rayburn knitted socks as a publicity stunt during his time on Rayburn and Finch and later became avid in needlepoint, and filled the long plane rides from New York to Hollywood with his hobby. In 1974, Goodson made a surprise on-air appearance to congratulate the host on making the show #1 among daytime television programs and gave Rayburn a needlepoint bag as a gift.
During his time in the Air Force, Rayburn was trained in meteorology and occasionally demonstrated his knowledge of the weather on Match Game.
During and between his Match Game years, Rayburn served as guest panelist on two other Goodson-Todman shows, What's My Line? and To Tell the Truth. Also during the run of the 1970sMatch Game, Gene and wife Helen appeared on the game show Tattletales, hosted by Bert Convy. Three years after the original Match Game was cancelled, Rayburn hosted the short-livedHeatter-Quigley Productions show, The Amateur's Guide to Love. In 1983 he hosted a pilot for Reg Grundy Productions called Party Line, which later became Bruce Forsyth's Hot Streak.
Rayburn appeared on Fantasy Island as a game-show host — he and another host were game show rivals who vied to win the woman they both loved by creating the ultimate game show, with life-or-death consequences.
Rayburn once hosted a local New York City-based show on WNEW-TV (now WNYW), Helluva Town, and between game show stints in 1982-83 he returned to WNEW as host of a weekly local talk/lifestyles show called Saturday Morning Live. He ended his brief tenure to return as co-host of The Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour.
Just before production was to begin on a new Rayburn-emceed Match Game revival in 1985, an Entertainment Tonight reporter publicly disclosed that Rayburn was much older than many believed. Rayburn had trouble finding jobs after that, blaming the reporter for revealing his age and subjecting him to age discrimination.
Rayburn portrayed himself on a Saturday Night Live sketch in 1990, which featured Susan Lucci (as her character from All My Children, Erica Kane). He returned as one of Kane's many previous husbands, to stop another marriage (officiated by his old "Choose Up Sides" co-star Don Pardo) with the host of a game show portrayed by Phil Hartman. He also continued to make appearances on talk shows throughout the late 1980s and 90s, usually to discuss classic game shows, including appearances on Vicki! and The Maury Povich Show and The Late Show with Ross Shafer. Coincidentally, Shafer would host the 1990 Match Game revival.
Rayburn's last TV appearance was a 1998 interview with Access Hollywood intended to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the CBS Match Game. Portions of the interview have been rebroadcast on the Game Show Network, which in 2001 showed portions of another previously unaired interview during the first airing of its Match Game Blankathon.
Though in poor health, Rayburn appeared in person to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. A month later, he died at his daughter Lynne Rayburn's Beverly, Massachusetts home of congestive heart failure on November 29, 1999. He was cremated and his ashes spread in the garden of his daughter's home.
"Me too, Gene, you were the greatest in game shows. Your humor kept me laughing and held my spirits up."
"ill miss you gene rayburn you were the best"
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