The Legacy Of Gene Rayburn

With the 47th Anniversary of March Game ’73’s premiere just passing. I thought for this next edition of the legacy series, we would look at Gene Rayburn. Eugene Rubessa, better known to most audiences as Gene Rayburn, is one of America’s most remembered emcees; known for hosting Match Game in three different stints. Gene hosted 14 shows in his career, but Match Game is what everyone remembers about him. I want to dive into the career of Gene Rayburn and see why he’s so fondly remembered. 

Audience Interaction

One of the toughest parts of being a host is making sure the audience right in front of you, and the people at home, are into the show. Gene knew when the audience was enjoying something and when they weren’t; He surely wasn’t afraid to tell someone to sit down if he knew the audience wasn’t enjoying it and if they were, he would let the contestant or celebrity run wild which worked for the party atmosphere of Match Game. Gene’s own facial expressions could speak for themselves, let alone the audience at certain moments. Gene was also all about getting laughs, even when Mark Goodson was against it; Rayburn knew that Match Game didn’t need much game to be a great show.

A great fill in

Gene has stood in to host countless shows, such as Tic Tac Dough, Tattletales, Make The Connection to name a few. Every time, Gene could fit into the show like a glove, and sometimes outshine the original host. He also showed a more straight and serious personality to him, which a lot of times was contrary to what he was known for; showing his versatility and quickness to adapt, which again could easily be forgotten about Gene. 

The Sky was the Limit

Gene was not only a game show host. Before he even got the skinny mic that would be associated with him, he worked with Jack Lescoulie and eventually Dee Finch in what was regarded as the first “morning-drive” radio shows, which helped popularize radio shows in cars. He also acted as the announcer for Tonight with Steve Allen, which would eventually become the well renowned Tonight Show. And having his fair share in acting and even getting his wife and daughter into it with “The Impossible Years” all before The Match Game would be the success it would eventually become. He also appeared as a panellist for The Name’s The Same, What’s My Line?, To Tell The Truth, and I’ve Got A Secret. Which shows how extensive and how much of an asset he was to the industry even when the networks didn’t think so…

Aftermath

Gene’s career declined in the late eighties, which is a rather sad story; It was because of ageism and network opinions. By this time, Gene’s age was revealed by an Entertainment Tonight reporter and showed that he was much older than people believed he was. This caused a proposed revival of Match Game to go up in smoke; The format wouldn’t return until 1990, when it was hosted by Ross Shafer. Gene was essentially forced out of hosting shows because he was over 70 and the networks felt he was a liability because of it. Gene’s last game show was short-lived The Movie Masters. While I think it definitely wasn’t what he wanted his last game show to be, he made the best of it and was always smiling because he just wanted to do a show and he proved that age is just a number.

Gene’s legacy will always be remembered for the blanks and for being the host that could be just as silly as the celebrities and that he had as much fun hosting as we did watching, which is what he wants people to remember him for. Gene was always about laughs and he could make everyone laugh.

Jamie Dyer

Jamie Dyer is an experienced writer, broadcaster, musician and social media marketer. He enjoys Old Time Radio, vintage TV, collecting vinyl and supporting the New York Knicks.

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