Special thanks to Jason Bereza for the pictures
This is a tribute to my favorite game show host of my favorite game show, Match Game! This page will focus on his years in game shows.
As Brett Somers once put it, "he's the world's greatest straightman." Gene, with his trademark grin, big teeth, and slight overbite, entertained us for 3 decades. He was a fine impressionist. Who could forget Mr. and Mrs. Periwinkle, Count Dracula, The Godfather, Jimmy Durante, even Jack Benny? His microphone he used on Match Game became a trademark, because of its long length and slim look. In fact, it's strange to see him without one. In the early days of MG 7x, he used a body mic., and later a much shorter one. Probably what made Gene so hilariously funny was his incredible knack to ad lib and do wild and crazy things. No other game show host has had the guts or imagination to do such funny things.
Gene's first game show. This show is best described as a predecessor to Third Degree. Two guests have something in common, and the four panelists must make the connection between the two. While the show had a straightforward format, Gene still displayed some of his talents. He sometimes sang and played guitar. One notable moment was when he was victim of one of Buster Keaton's pies.
The only kids game show produced by Goodson-Todman. It's a kid's version of Beat the Clock, which pitted two groups of kids, the Bronco Busters and the Space Pilots. A series of stunts would be played, with one kid from each team competing. The losing team would get a chance to earn points by completing a "Super-Doo" stunt, provided by Mr. Mischief, a talking head that sounds like Ed Wynn, but is actually voiced by Don Pardo. Gene, of course, was very good with the kids, but by today's standards, the show does have that 50s hokey-ness to it. Taped in the era of Howdy Doody and Leave it to Beaver, this show fits right in with the era where "say kids, what time is it?" and "Ah, gee whiz, pop!" were common catch phrases. Gene also did a funny walk as he led the losing kid to "Mr. Mischief".
Gene hosted only the last 4 weeks of TTD, because Jack Barry was too busy battling out the game show scandals.
A "name that tune" type game. Three players listen to the first three notes of a song, and then bid money on their ability to name the tune on the fourth note. Gene would start each show with a monologue to provide an element of humor into the show.
Gene briefly hosted this show after Merv Griffin left to persue his own talk show. Play Your Hunch is a game of intuition, where you try to guess which one of three is the real Mc.Coy, for example, which of three ladies is wearing stockings? Is it X, Y or Z?
What else can be said about this show? It's a bare bones foundation to a classic. This version was very straightforward, and the questions resemble that of Family Feud. Gene has mentioned several times that he felt this game was better when he could simply get some laughs to keep it interesting, and that in the beginning, it was very restricting for him, and a pain in the BLANK. Mark Goodson was reluctant about Match Game being played for laughs, but Gene did try his best with these restrictions.
Based on the description in The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows, this was similar to Candid Camera, where people on the street are put in amusing situations. The show, however, was very expensive to produce and was pulled off the air quickly.
"This isn't a job, it's a social engagement"
Charles Nelson Reilly's summary of Match Game, as Gene often described it
The ultimate classic. Gene's best show. Gene insisted to Mark Goodson to let Match Game be played for laughs, and to allow him to get laughs in any possible way. Mark gave in, and even hired comedy writers to write the questions. Each show was something different. You just never knew what was going to happen. Viewers tuned in to see Brett and Charles exchange banter back and forth, and to watch Richard Dawson give away another $5000 to a lucky contestant. Gene sometimes went offstage and goofed with cameramen, crew and producers, much like David Letterman does today. Viewers also enjoyed Betty White's occasional practical jokes on Gene, Patti Deutsche's stare into the camera during the intro, Fannie Flagg's increasingly weird shirts, Mc.Lean's smart-aleck remarks, Bill Daly's strange answers, and other celebs like Bill Cullen, Allen Ludden, Gary Burghoff and David Doyle, who would make infrequent appearances here and there. Even when Richard Dawson's attitude started to change in '78, people still tuned in, perhaps to see if Richard will snap out of his foul mood and smile for once. Match Game ended all too soon. Gene blamed the shift in time slots for the demise of Match Game.
It sounded like a good idea and in many ways,it worked. However, there were some changes that made this show short lived. While both Match Game and Hollywood Squares were relatively unchanged in format, it was NBC's insistence on booking primarily NBC stars who have never played either game that ruined it. Some of the MG regulars were there to play on occasion, including Mc.Lean Stevenson, Skip Stevenson, Charles Nelson Reilly, Fannie Flagg, Bill Daly, and many others. Other than Jon Bauman, there were no regulars for Match Game or Hollywood Squares. So, without a regular panel, Gene had no chance to develop a rapport for the panelists, especially since the panelist's seating positions changed daily (CNR was usually in his spot, however, and Jon remained in the lower tier, far left) and the panelists weren't always 3 males and 3 females. In fact, it was frequently inbalanced. As a result, Gene is grumpier, especially when the panel has none of the original regulars at all. Also, they had to finish an entire game in half an hour to give equal time for Hollywood Squares, and the crazy antics that happened on the original Match Game didn't happen as much. As for Hollywood Squares, none of the stars were briefed, so the jokes for the questions frequently fell flat. Also, when you have stars like Michael Winslow and Mindy Cohn instead of Wally Cox and Paul Lynde, this version of Hollywood Squares just wasn't the same. The questions were funnier than the celeb's funny responses. Gene didn't like being a regular on Hollywood Squares, especially since he never got any funny questions. Jon Bauman's hosting style is also quite different from Peter Marshall. While Jon did a decent job, he really needed to work on moving the game more quickly. One major change for both Squares and Match Game was a $30,000 possible win. It has happened, but we have yet to see more episodes resurface.
The less that could be said about this show, the better. Break the Bank was a very poorly planned show, and certainly not Gene's kind of show. The main game was a variation of Password Plus, where the answer to the question was a clue to the puzzle. In the beginning of the run, Gene did manage to get some laughs out of the stupid stunts in the prize vault, but the producers weren't impressed. They insisted he play it straight. Gene could've had some great fun with the stunts and saved the show from early cancellation. However, sadly, Gene is nothing like his funny self. He became very unhappy with the format and looked very embarassed by the stunts in the prize vault, which typically involved finding flowers in pop up snake cans and tongue twisters. Also, in the early shows, Gene looked LOST in that prize vault, trying to locate the stunts. Gene wasn't briefed about the stunts either, because he's obviously reading the description of the stunt for the first time. Because of this, the producers decided to stop the clock so that Gene didn't have to rush through describing how to do each stunt. The show occasionally had celebrity guests, (if you consider washed up names like Willy Tyler and Lester, Jm. J Bullock, and Fred Barry of What's Happening as celebrities) but the celebs contributed very little to the stunts, and never did anything spectacular. Charles Nelson Reilly was reunited with Gene for one week, and even he couldn't add much interest to the proceedings. The couples very rarely got more than 2 minutes of time, so the bonus game had to move quickly, thus spontaneous moments were impossible. It was a rough three months for Gene-o, and then he was fired. What's worse is, Gene, a game show legend, was replaced by an unknown named Joe Farago, and the show became MUCH worse when he took over. Shortly after Joe took over, the prize vault stunts were eliminated, in favor of a lackluster "Master Puzzle" format where the couple played another puzzle for up to 10 bank cards. The couples no longer had to "earn" the prizes, they just picked out cards (there were 50 altogether) and won whatever was on them. One of the cards was a "bankrupt" card meaning the couples lost whatever they won at that point. One element of Break the Bank that was ACTUALLY exciting was taken away. It was the "pause" as the machine went through the code on the card. Instead, the couple inserted the card, and BREAK BANK was flashed immediately. Joe Farago now has a much more successful "career" as an informercial spokesperson.
Gene substitute hosted this Password clone while Ed Mc.Mahon played. More info later
During the Bud Collyer era, Gene filled in for To Tell The Truth, and did a decent job.
Gene hosted while Bert Convy and his wife Ann played. Of course, Gene does an excellent job of hosting, IMO, almost better than Bert. He jokes around with the couples in a way only he can.
Celebrity Match Mates- pilot for Tattletales
Party Line- ('85)
It's sad that this pilot didn't sell. It was shot sometime after MG/HS ended. Gene is still in top form and is obviously having a great time with this game, which was a predecessor to Hot Streak. It proves he can joke around with the civilians just as well as the celebrities. By the time Hot Streak aired, Gene was already "retired". Party Line would've made a great series for Gene
Gene has made appearances on several game shows and other tv shows, including To Tell The Truth, What's My Line, Tattletales, Beat the Clock, The Name's the Same, and $10,000 Pyramid. Here are some highlights of guest appearances.
In 1995, Gene made an appearance with Peter Marshall, Wink Martindale, Monty Hall and Tom Kennedy. During this appearance, Gene hosts a round of Match Game with the above mentioned as panelists, plus Phil Donahue and 2 studio audience members playing along. The segment was quite rushed, but Gene's classic style of hosting is still there. The Match Game question played was "Dumb Dora is sooo dumb... instead of giving the victim mouth to mouth resusitation, she gave him mouth to BLANK resusitation."
A game show parody that's also a parody of Susan Lucci's character on All My Children. Susan falls in love with the game show host, and they decide to marry. And who do you believe comes out to object over the ceremony?
Gene made a few appearances on the show. On his first guest appearance, Fannie Flagg plays his wife, who has a pesky little dog that Gene must tolerate. Gene did a pratfall into the swimming pool to save her dog in one scene. In Gene's second appearance, he is joined by Ethel Merman. In his third, and probably most memorable appearance, Jayne Meadows plays Gene's ex-wife, who doesn't know Gene is on board. Gene does another pratfall when he twists his leg getting off the bar stool and tripping on the patio chair.
Did you know that...
Gene did needlepoint in his spare time, especially while flying to Los Angeles to tape Match Game. Mark Goodson gave Gene a needlepoint bag as a gift on an episode of Match Game 74. Once, Richard Dawson surprised Gene with a blown up picture of Gene knitting a pair of socks during his radio days. Gene explained that they did that for some charity.
Gene's classic microphone got a lot of abuse from Gene using it as a sword, or a javelin. For a publicity shot, he put the mike in his teeth as if it was a long stemmed rose. Once during Match Game PM, the cord completely came off of it, and they had to cut to commercial to give Gene a new mike. Once on Match Game 75, instead of his usual mike, someone placed an old style radio mike on the desk. Richard Dawson explained that his usual mike was not working, and he had to use that old one. Gene was very amused and tried to pick it up. It was obviously VERY heavy, as he was hunched over trying to carry it! Meanwhile, Richard reached under the desk and revealed Gene's usual microphone, much to Gene's relief.
Gene Rayburn was the original announcer on Steve Allen's Tonight Show? He also guest hosted the show many times.
One of Gene's earliest roles on Broadway was in the Neil Simon play "Come Blow Your Horn". The play was somewhat biographical of Neil Simon, and Gene portrayed Neil's father.
In the mid 1990's, Gene and Charles Nelson Reilly reunited once more and worked together in "La Caux Au Foilles."
Gene visited with the panelists he'd gotten to know so well. In 1997, Brett Somers surprised him on The Maury Povich Show, and Gene was elated to see her. Gene also sported one of his MG microphones, which was chrome plated. It would be the last time they appeared together on TV.
Gene made an appearance on the Jenny Jones Show. Unfortunately, Jenny only talked to him for about 5 or 10 minutes, and was ignored thruout the rest of the show. Not the right way to treat a legend...
Gene also did promos for "BobCat Goldtwhait's Big A** Show", along with other game show legends. He only had a couple of lines, and one would wonder if Gene ACTUALLY knew what he was promoting!
GSN had aired segments of an interview they did with Gene Rayburn before his death, and aired them during a Match Game Marathon
Gene made two other appearances before his death. He was interviewed on Access Hollywood, and also made some commentary on an A&E Biography of Mark Goodson.
In the many appearances Gene made on talk shows and specials, fans could count on seeing Gene's "pretty nipples" blooper which was edited out of the original broadcast, and the "cuckoo friend and Ollie" answer. Even though he must've seen the nipples blooper MANY times, he still looked incredibly embarrassed after they showed it. Gene always spoke fondly of Brett and Charles, but never spoke of Richard Dawson except for a TV Guide interview. He acknowledged that in the beginning, Richard was very funny, and they were friends, but when Family Feud became a hit, he said Richard became a "loner with a very large ego".
Gene Rayburn died at the age of 81, on November 29th, 1999. Gene's wife, Helen died in 1996. Gene retired after The Movie Masters, and in 1998 relocated to Los Angeles. Before his death, he moved back to New York. He remained quite sharp and able at his age, and even at his old age retained that goofy grin. Gene is missed dearly by many game show fans.
Posthumously, Charles and Brett appeared on The Today Show to reminisce about Match Game, and surprised them with one of Gene's microphones. Brett mentioned that she'd get letters from people thinking she had cancer, and she set the record straight that she's NEVER had cancer.