Gene Rayburn was a beloved television and radio host who graced our screens for 45 years! He was best known for the two decades he spent hosting one of the most popular television game shows, "Match Game!" To thank him for all of the work he did, we’re taking a look back at all of his accomplishments.
When Gene was born in Christopher, Illinois, on December 22, 1917, he was known as Eugene Jelyevich. He was the only child of his parents, two Croatian immigrants. Unfortunately, his father died when he was a small baby, and his mother remarried, changing his name to Eugene Rubessa. He attended High School at Lindblom Technical High School, where he was the senior class president and where he performed in multiple school plays. After graduation, he went on to attend Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.
Gene then served in the United States Air Force during World War II. When he decided to pursue a career in acting, he decided to use a stage name. He randomly stuck his finger in the phone book, and it landed on the name "Rayburn!" He got his start as a radio performer on a popular morning show on WNEW (now WBBR) with Jack Lescoulie and Dee Finch. The shows were so successful, that they are often credited with helping morning shows become so popular!
After leaving radio, he landed himself a spot in a Broadway Musical! He became the lead in "Bye Bye Birdie," following in the footsteps of Dick Van Dyke after he left to star in his own television show. That was the beginning of Gene's television career, and it wasn’t long before he became the original announcer for Steve Allen’s show, "Tonight."
His success there led to his being chosen as the host of a summer game show, "Make the Connection!" After that, he went on to work on a variety of other game shows, including "Choose Up Sides," "Dough Re Mi," and "Tic Tac Dough!" His big break came in 1962 when he was cast as the host of the original "Match Game." He remained with the show until it was cancelled in 1969. The show would later be revived four more times, and he remained the host until it finally drew to an end in 1983.
His life didn’t just revolve around his work though! In 1940, when he was 23 years old, he married the love of his life, Helen Ticknor. They were married for 56 years, until Helen passed away in October of 1996. During their life together, the two had one daughter, and they named her Lynne. Gene passed away on November 19, 1999, at Lynne’s home, and they spread his ashes among her garden.
Gene had a long and successful career, and we’re so grateful that he was around for so long. We are truly blessed to have been given the opportunity to have him in our lives and on our televisions, hosting some of our favorite shows. Thankfully, even though he is gone, we still can watch old reruns and remember all the laughter he brought us throughout the years.