Through the annals of American broadcasting, some names reverberate across generations, not necessarily because they possessed skill previously unheard off, but mostly because they were the face of iconic Shows, shows that somehow define the very fabric of the American society. Gene Rayburn and The Match Game were a viewers delight for over two decades.
Gene Rayburn was born on the 22nd of December 1917 to Croatian immigrants in Christopher Illinois. His dad passed away when Gene was barely a child. His mother, after a few years, married Milan Rubessa.
Gene attended the Lindblom Technical High School, where he was a popular figure among students mostly because of his impressive performances in School plays and theatre productions. Upon graduation from High School, he enrolled at the Knox College. After he graduated from Knox, Ray joined the United States Army Air Force and served patriotically during World War II.
Gene moved to New York in 1930 to become an Opera Singer and decided to choose a name for himself and quite frankly he did that in the most bizarre fashion possible. He chose the name Rayburn by randomly sticking his finger in the phone book.
Although Gene Rayburn was known as a successful Television personality, he first cut his teeth as a radio performer. His first radio job was on a popular morning drive show in New York which he co-hosted first with Jack Lescoulie and later Dee Finch.
The show was later renamed after the hosts [Rayburn & Finch] on the then WNEW which is now known as WBBR. After a fairly successful stint in Radio, Rayburn burst into television in 1953 as the first announcer on Steve Allen’s show Tonight With Steve Allen. He also struck up a good relationship with the producers of the game show Mark Goodson and Bill Todman.
Despite been credited as one of the earliest broadcasters to popularize the morning drive on Radio, Gene’s most enduring legacy will remain his ability to amuse TV audiences on the game show The Match Game. Contestants on the game show would try to match answers to quite ridiculous questions with a panel featuring some of the finest celebrity names like Richard Dawson, Brett Somers, Charles Nelson just to name a few.
Rayburn was known for his occasional blunder during the show, questions on the show were always spiced up by double-entendres. During the course of his long and eventful television career, Rayburn has been acknowledged on numerous occasions, he was a recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1999. He has also been nominated five times for a Daytime Emmy award.
Gene Rayburn has been credited with the invention of the long thin microphone which he preferred to use on the show. Aside from being a game show host, Gene had the opportunity in the early 60’s to work in Theatre, appearing on the Broadway production Bye Bye Birdie. He also appeared in live drama shows such as Robert Montgomery Presents and Kraft Theatre
At the peak of his powers, Gene Rayburn graced various TV Shows across the Nation. He appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1990. He also made appearances on Vicki!, The Maury Povich Show, and The Late Show with Ross Shafer.
His Wife and Daughter
Gene got married to Helen Ticknor in 1940 but sadly the marriage came to an end when Helen passed away in October 1996. They were married for 56 years. The couple had a daughter, Lynne Rayburn. Before her passing away, Helen appeared with him on some of his shows, one of which was a short-lived 1970’s game show, Tattletales.
Rayburn also co-hosted the Drum Corps International finals of the DCI Championship alongside his wife and TV presenter Peter Emmons for two years.
Gene Rayburn’s Death
Gene Rayburn passed away due to a rapid decline in his health after he picked up his Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Gene died on the 29th of November 1999. It was reported that he died of congestive heart failure in Gloucester, Massachusetts. In accordance with his wishes, he was cremated and his ashes spread in the garden at his daughters home.