In the annals of American broadcasting, some names echo across generations, not necessarily because they had previously unheard of skills, but primarily because they were the face of iconic shows that somehow define the very fabric of American society. Gene Rayburn and The Match Game have been a delight to viewers for over two decades.
Gene Rayburn was born in Christopher Illinois on December 22, 1917, the son of Croatian immigrants. His father died when Gene was hardly a child. His mother married Milan Rubessa after several years.
Gene attended the Technical High School in Lindblom, where he was a popular figure among the students, especially because of his impressive performances in school plays and theatre productions. After finishing high school he enrolled at Knox College. After graduating from Knox College, Ray joined the US Army Air Force and served patriotically during the Second World War.
In 1930, Gene moved to New York to become an opera singer and decided to choose a name for himself, and frankly, he did so in the most bizarre way possible. He chose the name Rayburn by randomly putting his finger in the phone book.
Although Gene Rayburn was known as a successful television personality, he first cut his teeth as a radio interpreter. His first radio job was on a popular morning car drive show in New York, which he hosted first with Jack Lescoulie and later with Dee Finch.
The show was later renamed after the hosts [Rayburn & Finch] on what was then WNEW, now known as WBBR. After a fairly successful career in radio, Rayburn was the first announcer on the television show Tonight With Steve Allen in 1953. He also established good relationships with the producers of the game show Mark Goodson and Bill Todman.
Although he was one of the first stations to popularize the morning car ride on the radio, Gene’s most enduring legacy will remain his ability to entertain television audiences on The Match Game. Participants in the game show would try to compare the answers to rather ridiculous questions to a panel of some of the best celebrity names, including Richard Dawson, Brett Somers, Charles Nelson, to name a few.
Rayburn was known for his occasional mistakes during the show, the questions in the show were always spiced up by double sentences. Throughout his long and eventful television career, Rayburn has been acknowledged on numerous occasions. In 1999 he received a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He has also been nominated five times for a Daytime Emmy.
Gene Rayburn is credited with the invention of the long, thin microphone, which he preferred to use on the show. In addition to his work as a game show host, Gene Rayburn had the opportunity to work in the theater and appear in the Broadway production Bye Bye Bye Birdie in the early 1960s. He also appeared in live drama shows such as Robert Montgomery Presents and Kraft Theatre.
At the height of his power, Gene Rayburn graced various television shows around the country. He appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1990. He also appeared on the Vicki!, the Maury Povich Show, and the Late Show with Ross Shafer.
His Wife and Daughter
Gene married Helen Ticknor in 1940, but unfortunately, the marriage ended when Helen died in October 1996. They were married for 56 years. The couple had a daughter, Lynne Rayburn. Before her death, Helen appeared with him on several of his shows, including a short-lived 1970s game show, Tattletales.
Rayburn also hosted the Drum Corps International final of the DCI Championship for two years with his wife and TV host Peter Emmons.
Gene Rayburn’s Death
Gene Rayburn died due to a rapid deterioration in his health after receiving his lifetime achievement award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Gene Rayburn died on November 29, 1999, reportedly of congestive heart failure in Gloucester, Massachusetts. At his request, he was cremated and his ashes scattered in the garden of his daughters’ home.