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Ray Rayner (born Raymond M. Rahner on July 23, 1919, Queens, New York – died January 21, 2004) was a staple of Chicago children's television in the 1960s and 1970s on WGN-TV.

Contents

Early life

Rayner (the name was initially spelled "Rahner" but pronounced "Rayner") grew up in Queens, New York. His first media job was working for WGBB radio in Freeport on Long Island while he was attending night school at Fordham University. When World War II broke out he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, serving as the navigator of a B-17 during World War II, when he was shot down over France April 3, 1943. During 2-1/2 years as a POW in Stalag Luft III, he helped prepare the escape depicted in the film The Great Escape (1963) - though he was transferred to another camp before the escape took place. It was during his time as a POW that he would discover his talent for entertaining, namely through his fellow prisoners and his German captors.

Chicago

After briefly working in New York radio following the war, he joined what was then WBKB but later became WBBM-TV in Chicago, working on a weather program called Rayner Shine. He would get a noontime program called The Ray Rayner Show in 1953, he and his co-host Mina Kolb would host a somewhat free form show that would feature music, comedy skits, dance and pantomime. The show, geared towards teens, ran for five years.

WBBM asked Rayner to switch to a children's program in 1958, though reluctant at first, he did so with The Little People, which ran two years, and Popeye's Firehouse for another two. He would move on to WGN-TV in 1961.

WGN-TV Channel 9

His first role on WGN was as Sergeant Pettibone, the host of the Dick Tracy show. He joined the cast of Bozo's Circus as country bumpkin clown Oliver O. Oliver and also hosted his own long-running Ray Rayner and His Friends, which featured old cartoons such as various Warner Brothers character cartoons, arts-and-crafts, and animals such as Chelveston the Duck who was named after RAF Chelveston where Rayner was stationed during World War II. Chelveston would occasionally bite, and Rayner was notably wary. During these segments, Chelveston would basically walk around the set, eat, or bathe while a then-current top 40 song was played.

Ray also had a talking dog puppet Cuddly Dudley voiced by Roy Brown, "Cooky the Cook" from The Bozo Show. The segment would highlight viewer mail which included many hand-drawn pictures submitted by children. The segment was often humorous as it was a chance for Rayner and Brown to interact and use comedic ad-libs. He always wore a jumpsuit, covered with small pieces of paper that held reminders of what to do next on the program (a cartoon, a commercial, a visit from Chelveston, etc.). He would also simulcast traffic reports from sister-station WGN Radio over stock footage of traffic moving along the Chicago-area Interstates. During baseball season, he would show & narrate highlights of the Cubs and White Sox games from the previous day, wearing a custom-sewn ball cap that had the front half of each team's cap, resulting in a two-billed cap which he would spin around, depending on which team's highlights were being shown. The arts-and-crafts was a regular segment that always began with a finished version prepared in advance by someone "behind the scenes" and displayed to the audience, followed by Ray attempting to demonstrate the process in an amusing, all thumbs effort, also set to music, that resulted in a comically sub-par facsimile that more resembled a random collection of felt, construction paper and glue. Ray's version would then be displayed along side the original further emphasizing his comical ineptitude regarding crafts. He held an annual jellybean contest where viewers were to submit guesses of the quantity in a large jar displayed for a period of time on the show. Every Christmas he would have an Advent Calendar and reveal a date until the Christmas holiday. Another bit was a lip-synching sketch Rayner would do usually to an older novelty song such as "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah" by Allan Sherman. However he would also perform serious songs while actually singing. Another feature on the show was Ark in the Park, a taped segment of a trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo featuring the then-director of the zoo Dr. Lester Fisher. The introductory music for this segment was "The Unicorn" by the Irish Rovers.

Following the cancellation of Dick Tracy, a new afternoon program called Rocket to Adventure ran until 1968; this featured early appearances by Gigantor and Tobor the Eighth Man. Rayner hosted the show appearing as an astronaut.

In 1968, Rayner also appeared as Ronald McDonald in nationally televised commercials for McDonald's, filmed in San Bernadino, California.

During his years in Chicago, he also frequently appeared in live theater, including plays at the Forum Dinner Theater in suburban Summit.

Rayner also contributed to a book titled The Story of Television published in 1972. It is basically an industry guide to how a television show is made featuring many photos of Rayner from his Ray Rayner and Friends show. The book is quite rare and commands a high price, when available, from on-line auction sites.

Clips from Rayner's shows are featured in the WGN Christmas special, Bozo, Gar and Ray: WGN TV Classics.

Later years

He moved to KGGM-TV in the 1980s, the CBS affiliate in Albuquerque, New Mexico, before retiring from television. He cited the harsh Chicago winters as the motivating factor. Later, he moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida after his wife of several years died of lung cancer. He is survived by his daughter Christina Miller, his son Mark Rahner, and his grandchildren Patrick, Sean, Hilary Miller and Troy Rahner.

He died on 21 January 2004, of complications from pneumonia in Fort Myers, Florida at the age of 84.

External links

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