Game-Show Great Dead
Gene Rayburn, who with alien-probe-like microphone in hand prodded celebrities to intellectual depths as host of TV's polyester-friendly Match Game in the 1960s and 1970s, is dead.
The venerable tube personality passed away Monday of heart failure at his daughter's home in Massachusetts, Associated Press reported today. He was 81.
Steve Allen's announcer during the NBC's first incarnation of The Tonight Show, Rayburn is best remembered for Match Game and its myriad variations: Match Game PM, The Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour, etc.
On Match Game, Rayburn held court each day with six quasi-celebrity guest panelists--regularly foisting the who-the-heck-are-they? likes of Nipsey Russell, Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly on an impressionable TV generation. The way it worked was this: Rayburn read an incomplete phrase (Typically: "Dumb Dora is so dumb..."), the giggling celebs filled in the rest, the contestants guessed which double-entendres the stars scribbled down.
Documentation of these strange customs is currently available via reruns on cable's Game Show Network.
Born December 22, 1917, in Christopher, Illinois, Rayburn came to New York City as a young man with dreams of becoming an opera singer. Didn't happen. Instead, Rayburn worked early and often in TV. Other game-show hosting duties included: Make the Connection (1955), Play Your Hunch (1962), and Snap Judgment (1967). He worked on The Tonight Show from 1954-57.
The first version of Match Game debuted in 1962. Rayburn rode the thing virtually straight into the early 1980s. A 1990 Match Game revival featured many of Rayburn's semi-famous panelists (including Somers and Reilly), but not the man himself.
As Match Game host, Rayburn arguably made two significant pop-culture contributions: (1) He invented the long, skinny mike that became his signature prop; and, (2) He once mistakenly complemented a contestant's nipples. (He meant to say "dimples," thereby virtually inventing the TV blooper industry.)
Today, a former agent remembered Rayburn as a giant of the tubeland quiz.
"He was the Frank Sinatra of game-show hosts," Fred Wostbrock told A.P.
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