Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Ray Rayner, a Staple of Chicago Children's Television in the 1960s & 70s. (1919-2004)

Ray Rayner was born Raymond M. Rahner on July 23, 1919, in Queens, New York.

In 1942, Rahner (pronounced "Rayner") enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and trained as a navigator on B-17s. Promoted Second Lieutenant, he was assigned to the 422nd Bombardment Squadron, 305th Bombardment Group (Heavy), deploying to England and 8th Air Force in September 1942. Rahner quickly developed a reputation for superior airmanship.

On March 8, 1943, Rahner was assigned to a crew different from his own, with Lt. Albert Kuehl as a pilot and Lt. Floyd Truesdell as a copilot. Truesdell was on his first B-17 mission after transferring to the USAAF from Royal Air Force Coastal Command and would die at the controls of his B-17F 42-5376 JJ-X "Eager Eagle" in a mid-air collision with RAF No. 96 Squadron Bristol Beaufighter V8715 on August 31, 1943.

Sixty-seven B-17s attacked the railway yards at Rennes, including 16 from the 305th Bombardment Group. The formation was attacked by German fighters en route to the target. Kuehl's aircraft, with Rahner navigating, bore the brunt of enemy attacks: the No. 3 engine was destroyed, and the airplane's radio compartment, hydraulics, and control systems were all damaged. Every member of the crew was wounded -- particularly the bombardier, Lt. Arthur Spatz of Reno, Nevada. Though he was himself wounded, Lt. Rahner administered first aid, saving Spatz's life, then took over as Bombardier, toggling the bombs and fighting off German fighter attacks from two gun positions. Though the B-17 dropped out of formation, Rahner successfully navigated it to an RAF base in England. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for that action.

On April 4, 1943, Rahner was a navigator in "Chuck Wagon," B-17F #42-5146 (code JJ-S). In a raid on the Renault automotive works near Paris, Rahner's aircraft was shot down, crashing in Normandy, and Rahner was taken prisoner. After being processed through Stalag VII A (Moosburg), he was imprisoned at Stalag Luft III for 2½ years. There he helped edit the camp newspaper, "The Circuit," and contributed to the digging of tunnels Tom, Dick, and Harry, serving as a lookout for German "ferrets" and helping disperse the dirt; as depicted in the film The Great Escape—though he was transferred to another camp before the escape took place.  (Written by Russ Burgos)

During his time as a POW, he would discover his talent for entertaining, namely through his fellow prisoners and his German captors.

Ray Rayner's "Rayner Shine" (Rain or Shine) was a short-lived weather program on WBKB, which later became WLS-TV in Chicago.

"The Ray Rayner Show" started in 1953; he and his co-host Mina Kolb would host a free-form show featuring music, comedy skits, dance, and pantomime. The show was geared toward teens. The show had a call-in Guess the Song Game to win a prize. It ran for five years on Saturdays until 1958. 

In 1956, Rayner hosted the TV Bowling Classic on Wednesdays at 11 PM on WBBM-TV Channel 2. He also hosted Teen Pinners, a bowling program with teen bowlers produced for the teenage crowd.

WBBM-TV asked Rayner to switch to a children's program in 1958; though initially reluctant, he did so with a show called "The Little People," which ran for two years.

The "Popeye's Firehouse" children's show featured Ray Rayner, whom WBBM-TV executives hoped would make a dent in the ratings, who worked on the show for two years. On Popeye's Firehouse, Rayner appeared as "Chief Abernathy." John Coughlan's voice was heard in the show, too. Dave Garroway, famous for his show "Garroway At Large (1949-1954)," had anchored the station's early attempts on a program called "Rayner Shine," starring Ray Rayner as host. 
Ray Rayner hosts a TV show called "Popeye's Firehouse."
on Chicago's channel 5, WNBQ.
Ray Rayner would move on to WGN-TV in 1961. Rayner's first role on WGN was as Sergeant Pettibone, the host of the afternoon "The Dick Tracy Show" in 1961. Here, Rayner sported a 2-way wrist radio like Tracy's, through which he would pretend to hear the call "Tracy...this is the Chief...," and the Chief would describe the latest trouble caused by Pruneface, etc., which would be the cue to roll a Dick Tracy cartoon.
Ray Rayner, as Sgt. Pettibone was the host of the Dick Tracy Show with Police Dog Tracer on WGN-TV.
Among other low-budget Rayner's morning show feature was "Let's Go into the Closet," where he would find a marching band jacket and baton (no doubt borrowed from the Big Top Band on Bozo) and proceed to march around the set to some corny tune. Then, there were the traffic reports, which were an attempt to keep parents from switching to the news on another channel. The reports were dubbed over a b/w aerial video of the expressways  the same video was shown daily.

He joined the cast of Bozo's Circus as a country bumpkin clown "Oliver O. Oliver" who had a talent for singing. Bozo and Oliver sang songs like 'A Clown Is a Kind of a Guy. 

Rayner hosted the Laurel & Hardy Theater in the summer of 1963. Before each film and during the commercial breaks, he provided biographical information about Stan and Ollie. The Laurel & Hardy Theater later became the Ray Rayner Theater, showcasing WGN's library of classic comedy movies.
By 1965, Rayner's clown character and "Sandy," played by Don Sandburg, were added to Larry Harmon's Bozo coloring books. Rayner left the show in 1971 because he wanted more time for other projects. After that, he would occasionally appear on the show as Oliver and fill in for Ned Locke as "Mr. Ray" when needed. 
Ray Rayner as Oliver O. Oliver on the right. Ringmaster Ned Locke is on the left, and Bob Bell as Bozo the Clown is in the center during the WGN-TV-produced show "Bozo's Circus." (1967)
Ray Rayner as Oliver O. Oliver on Bozo's Circus in 1967. Note Bozo's early red suit.
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 as an astronaut on a spaceship, introducing space adventure cartoons. 
Rocket to Adventure.
In 1968, Rayner also appeared in television commercials for McDonald's as Ronald McDonald.
Ray Rayner was the first.
1968 McDonald's Commercial
Featuring Ray Rayner.

At one point, WGN-TV had enough hope in being able to syndicate Rayner's "The Dick Tracy Show" to produce a pilot for that purpose.

Chelveston the Duck.
Beginning in 1962, Rayner hosted the show "Breakfast With Bugs Bunny," which was an early morning weekday show that first starred Dick Coughlan and was produced by Don Sandburg.

When Coughlan left, Ray Rayner recently arrived from WBBM-TV and working afternoons as "Oliver O. Oliver" on Bozo's Circus, and "Sgt. Henry Pettibone"  in the "Crime Stopper Cruiser" on "The Dick Tracy Show" took over. This made Rayner one of the busiest and highest-paid talents on Channel 9. It became "Ray Rayner and His Friends" in 1964.  

At the time, a show director suggested that Rayner wear a jumpsuit because they were only $5 at Sears. On his first show, Ray wore a brown jumpsuit. But it needed something, so Sandburg suggested using notes stuck to the jumpsuit, and the rest is history. He covered his jumpsuit with little squares of paper (this predates Post-it Notes), and during the show, he would pull them off, one at a time, and read them out loud to see what to do next (time for a cartoon, traffic report, visit with Cuddly Dudley, etc.).
"Ray Rayner and His Friends" featured old cartoons such as various Warner Brothers character cartoons, arts-and-crafts, and animals such as Chelveston, the Duck, 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 walk around the set, eat, or bathe while a then-current top 40 song was played. Rayner later said he put duck feed in the cuffs of his coveralls so Chelveston would nip at them, then save himself from the duck by giving him a head of lettuce to pick apart. What was not known to the public until after the program was no longer on the air was that Chelveston was actually played by four different ducks over the years.
Left to Right; Clod Hopper (1972-1973), Cooky (1968–1994), Ray Rayner (Oliver O. Oliver 1961–1971), and Bozo. Ray Rayner was still helping out Bozo's Circus after his character ended in 1972.

Every little girl's birthday wish was to get their own Cuddly Dudley.
Ray also had a talking dog puppet, Cuddly Dudley, created and voiced by Roy Brown, aka "Cooky the Cook" from Bozo Circus. The segment would highlight viewer mail, including many hand-drawn pictures submitted by children. The segment was often humorous, allowing Rayner and Brown to interact and use comedic ad-libs. 
NOTE: The dog house has misspelled Cuddly Dudley as "Cuddley."
Rayner's turtle races were epic. Three turtles, painted numbers on their shells, were placed in the center of a tabletop with perhaps a 3-foot circumference circle with a finish line painted at the circle's edge. Rayner would try to entice the turtles to run to the finish line by cheering them on. 

The seemingly impromptu nature of Ray Rayner's show was fascinating to children.

He would also simulcast traffic reports from sister-station WGN Radio over stock footage of traffic moving along the Chicago-area highways.

Cubs-Sox, half & half, baseball
helmet from May 6, 1980.
During baseball season, he would show & narrate highlights of the Cubs and White Sox games from the previous day, wearing a custom baseball helmet that had the front half of the Cubs and the front half of the Sox, resulting in a two-billed helmet, which he would spin around on his head 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" (who quite often was the wife of Producer Dick Flanders) that was 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 be displayed alongside the original, emphasizing his comical ineptness regarding crafts. 
He held an annual jellybean contest where viewers were to submit guesses of the quantity in a large jar displayed for some time on the show. He would have an Advent calendar every Christmas and reveal the number of days until Christmas.
Another bit was a lip-syncing sketch Rayner would usually do to an older novelty song such as "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh" by Allan Sherman. However, he would also perform songs while actually singing.

Another show segment was the PBS news (for Pretend Broadcasting System). He would sit at a table with a wire strainer with the letters PBS on it as a microphone. The "news" reports consisted of viewer letters. In addition to Diver Dan and lots of Warner Brothers cartoons, another staple of the show was a live-action "talking animal" series "Rupert the Rat, Kookie the Kitten, and Bessie the Bunny, down on the Animal Farm.

The feature "Ark in the Park" was 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
Rayner also featured a "How and Why" segment on his shows with J. Bruce Mitchell of Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, as did Garfield Goose and Friends. 

Rayner added the game "TV POWWW!" where those at home could play a video game by phone. Rayner hosted this show until January 23, 1981. How did this work?[1]

At the end of each show, A friendly reminder to dress appropriately for the weather, and - last but not least - at the end of every show, the outstretched arm, with the open hand and his fingers wiggling wildly;


During his time at Channel 9, starting in 1974, Rayner hosted a Thursday night broadcast of The Illinois State Lottery. 
It was a weekly drawing featuring a top prize of $300,000 ("Weekly Bonanza") and the second prize of $50,000 to a field of about a dozen contestants who had won a unique lottery game over the preceding seven days. The show aired at 7:00 PM.
Chicago, July 3, 1975 - Picking up the Winnings. Chicago television personality Ray Rayner congratulates Chicago Policeman Michael Berchel, whose mother, Grace Berchel, from Chicago, won a $50,000 prize in the Illinois Lottery drawing Thursday night in Chicago.

Ray Rayner in the Elmhurst Illinois 4th of July Parade.
The Story of Television. 1972

I met Mel Thillens at his business office of the "Thillens Armored Car Check Cashing Company" on Devon Avenue, just east of Western Avenue. I just walked in and asked to speak with Mr. Thillens in the spring of 1968; I was 8 years old. Mel Thillins stepped out of his office to greet me. He took me into his office. 

I asked him if I could work at Thillens Stadium for the season. Mel asked me a few questions to determine my interest in working at the Stadium. Mel gave me a day and time to meet him at the stadium. He introduced me to the staff, telling them that I'd be helping them out.

I was allowed to attend any and all games I wanted to for free. When working, I was allowed to eat, drink, and snack for free. As a matter of fact, I don't remember there being any limit to food and drink. Sounds good. Although I didn't get any money, I met some local celebrities, like Ray Rayner, Eddie Feigner and his team, the King and his Court, the Queen and her Court, the Donkey Baseball teams, etc.

I met Ray Rayner at Thillens Stadium in 1968. Ray was on a WGN 16" softball team playing the Playboy Bunnies. The evening game was for a charity. It was standing room only. 

If you know anything about Thillens Stadium, one kid worked the manual scoreboard, placing the number of runs per inning and a total runs count. The Strikes, Balls, and Outs scoreboard lights were worked from an elevated platform, with the game announcer from behind the home plate. I worked the strikes and outs from the announcer's booth.

Ray sat in the announcer's booth when the WGN vs.Playboy Bunnies game ended. We talked for quite some time. Ray told me he would speak of the charity softball game on his show on Monday. I jokingly mentioned that I never heard my name called on the Romper Room Show. Rayner told me he'd tell me on his TV show the next day, and I could count on him. 

Sure enough... Ray talked about the charity softball game and how much money was raised, and then he said he met a great kid who worked at Thillens Stadium, Dr. Neil Gale. I was floored. It's too bad there were no recording devices to capture that, but it's one of my life's "claim to fame" moments.

Mel Thillens had my name put up on the sign that same day. I couldn't believe it when Mel gave me the picture he had taken the following day. I'm Facebook friends with two of Mel's daughters.
I watched Ray Rayner test his blood sugar after the softball game mentioned above while sitting next to me in the announcer's booth at Thillens Stadium in 1968. You don't do that unless you're diabetic, so getting drunk EVERY night is just ridiculous. It also besmirches his reputation.

Rayner 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 died on January 21, 2004, of complications from pneumonia in Fort Myers, Florida, at the age of 84. He was survived by his daughter Christina Miller, his son Mark Rahner, and his grandchildren Patrick, Sean, Hilary Miller, and Troy Rahner. 


Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

[1] TV Powww was a franchised television game show format in which home viewers controlled a video game via telephone in hopes of winning prizes.

Bozo's TV Powww game.

The TV POWWW format, produced and distributed by Florida syndicator Marvin Kempner, debuted in 1978 on Los Angeles station KABC-TV as part of A.M. Los Angeles, and by the start of the next decade, was seen on 79 local television stations (including national superstation WGN as part of Bozo's Circus) in the United States, as well as several foreign broadcasters. While most stations had dropped TV POWWW by the mid-1980s, stations in Australia and Italy still used it as late as 1990.

Stations were initially supplied with games for the Fairchild Channel F console, but Intellivision games were used following Fairchild's withdrawal from the home video game market. Kempner later unsuccessfully attempted to interest both Nintendo and Sega in a TV POWWW revival.

While the underlying technology was standardized across participating stations, TV POWWW's presentation format varied from market to market. Many presented TV POWWW as a series of segments that ran during the commercial breaks of television programming (a la Dialing for Dollars). In contrast, some (such as KTTV in Los Angeles) presented TV POWWW as a standalone program.

In the featured video game, the at-home player would give directions over the phone while watching the game on their home screen. When the viewer determined that the weapon was aiming at the target, they said, "Pow!!!" after which that weapon would activate.

Accounts vary as to what kind of controller technology was involved. Some sources state that the gaming consoles sent to the stations were modified for voice activation. However, a 2008 WPIX station retrospective claimed that for the station's version, where the player said: "Pix" (Pron: picks), an employee in the control room manually hit the fire button when the caller indicated a shot.

One of the pitfalls of the gameplay was that, due to broadcasting technicalities, there needed to be a significant lag in transmitting a television signal. The player would experience this lag when playing at home, which likely made playing the game somewhat more complex. (For similar reasons, such a game would be impossible in digital television without the use of a second video chat feed for the player due to the time it takes to process and compress the video stream; most stations also mandate a seven-second delay to prevent obscenities from reaching the air.)


  1. My parents had a thing about not watching tv in the morning- probably since it was already hard enough getting me out the door on time. So my incentive to hurry up turned out to be Ray Rayner. If I was ready to go a little early, I could sneak in a few minutes of his show. Yes, I had a Cuddly Dudley, too. One of the few stuffed animals a little boy could have, without anyone giving him a hard time.

    1. I had a Cuddly Dudley as well!! I would probably still have it if it didn't get destroyed in a flood one year...

  2. Thanks for the good read, I grew up watching all this on a Black and White TV, I also remember my sister having a stuffed Cuddly Duddly.
    I passed the stadium often and went to a few King and his court and Queen and her court games or something like those names, when I lived up near Western and Lunt.

  3. Great story Neil, Ray was one-of-a-kind.

    1. I'd like to be able to let the family know how important Ray and Cuddley dudley etc was to me growing up in the 60s. I was a dedicated Ray Rayner Show (a.m.) viewer. Do they have a museum or other space of memorabilia dedicated to him anywhere?

  4. Good stuff Neil! Like so many Chicagoans (ok, suburbians, too!), Ray Rayner was a staple of my childhood. The impact that he and the entire 60s-70s WGN crew had on kids and families in that era was monumental, and so positive. I have only shed a tear for 3 non-relatives who have passed away. One was Walter Payton. Another was Jack Brickhouse. The third was Ray Rayner.

  5. What a great interesting article. Those of us who grew up in Chicago during this time were very lucky. Every day I looked forward to watching him on TV. Ray Rayner was a true Chicago original.

  6. I loved the article and the memories. My sister and I watched his morning program everyday before school and used it as a means of knowing when it was time to leave. We hated it if we had to miss Cuddly Duddly or a Bugs Bunny cartoon!

  7. I was always like, lets get to the cartoon. but what I most liked about him was that he paid attention to us kids when we grew up in a generation were kids were baggage and not wanted. Thank you Ray Rayner.

  8. In my mid-20s, I sent Ray a fan letter and said I'd always wanted to be there at the taping of the show. To my surprise and delight, he replied and told me to just let him know what day I was coming. Watched the taping, then had breakfast with Ray in the WGN-TV commissary. I told him I knew a lot about cartoons, and he told me he received a lot of complaints from parents about a cartoon where a frog commits suicide (the joke was "a frog croaking"). I said, "Sure, it's Cross-Country Detours by Tex Avery!" He wrote down the title to make sure they pulled that cartoon. He was so nice and down to earth. It was a magical morning for me!

    1. Merrie Melodies — Cross Country Detours: https://vimeo.com/167877000

    2. I think WBKB was replaced by WLS, not WBBM.
      WBKB and WLS were ABC. WBBM was/is CBS.

    3. WBKB was on Channel 4 and became WBBM when it was sold to CBS. WENR was on Channel 7 and became owned by ABC. It adopted the call letters WBKB (given up by CBS) and ABC later changed them to WLS-TV...

    4. In the middle 1970's when I was out of school and didn't know what career I wanted, I typed up a letter to Ray and asked him about the idea of working at a TV studio like WGN. He wrote on the back of my letter and sent it back saying that unfortunately those jobs were 'union' and usually went to the relatives of people who were already in that line of work. He was very nice - I wish I hadn't misplaced that letter, as I manage to hang onto almost everything.

  9. Thank you so much for this blog post. I've always loved Ray, and this was a wonderful trip down memory lane.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed my Ray Rayner post. Have you read any of the other Illinois history posts in the Journal @BlueCat?

  10. I just walked through my childhood. Great story

  11. This is the best biography of Ray Rayner I ever read. Kudos!

  12. Ray Rayner before school, Bozo at lunch, and Speed Racer after school!

    1. My funniest memories of Ray was every Thanksgiving he would cook a turkey complete with stuffing. One year he went to carve it when it slid off the table onto the floor. The camera crew all moaned as apparently that was to be their lunch. Thanks for the article.

    2. WHO COULD ASK FOR MORE..!I feel blessed having grown up watching (faithfully) Ray Rayner and all of his shows on TV. After reading his bio-I am proud to say I was and still am a Big fan of his. He will live in my ❤! GOD bless Ray Rahner!

  13. Ray Rayner would also feature cats and dogs from the Anti Cruelty Society on his morning show. We adopted Mitzi, our miniature collie, from the Anti Cruelty society after she was on his show. The dogs would chase Chelveston around the set but Mitzi was so timid, that Chelveston chase her!

    1. I remember those segments, but when I first saw them, my 4 year old brain thought he said "Auntie Cooley" and I thought she must be a very nice lady to take care of all those animals until they got adopted �� I loved his show ��

  14. That's funny. I too had a Cuddly Duddly doll that was ruined when our basement flooded.

  15. I watch the show every morning and afternoon faithfully from the mid sixty on .

  16. Oh my gosh!!! I sure enjoyed reading this! Ray was a staple in my house every morning when my kids were growing up. I remember hearing Ray and his antics every morning while I was busy hustling & bustling 3 little kids along to get out the door on time,while my kids dressed and ate for school in front of the TV watching Ray.I think as to why he was so popular and appealed to children was because his show was busy and fast paced like a child's mind,which also moves along jumping from one thing than another lol. Ray's show involved so many different things on a child's level and not dwelling on one thing for too long a time, so Rays show really appealed to children, it kept them interested with so many different things. I enjoyed this Neil !!

    1. This is my comment Neil of Oh my Gosh! I dont know why my name isnt on it, I guess I'm not familiar with using this page & how to comment?

  17. Loved the career of that wonderful man. You captured the essence of his contributions to mankind and generations of kids in your superior writing. Thanks.

  18. Really enjoyed reading this. My sister and I grew up watching Ray Rayner and this biography brought up such great memories. Ray lived in our neighborhood and was decently friendly if fans ran into him. Thanks for posting this.

  19. Wonderful information about one of my favorite old time Chicago TV personalities while growing up in the suburbs of Chicago. My best remembered memory was how he use to attach notes to all over his jumpsuit, and rip them off and read them as the show went along... how I miss those simple days, with he and his duck, Chelsea, and Cuddly Duddly...

  20. Thank you for posting this wonderful article. Ray Rayner had quite a varied career. I always enjoyed watching him on TV. He just seemed like such a nice guy.

  21. This was so fun to read. I didn't know he was a war hero! I loved the Dick Tracy show and remember mailing in to get that badge and some other "crime stopping" gear. I watched the Ray Rayner show before school and once saw my friend who was part of an Irish dancing troupe live before school. Last, my Dad worked for the Tribune and was in charge of distributing Cuddly Duddlies. Our basement was full of them, kids were looking in the windows for weeks, such an iconic guy!

  22. I went to grade school with Mark Rayner(St Norbert's in Northbrook) We were fairly good friends and I met Ray a couple of times. Super nice guy. Chicago was a GREAT place to grow up!

  23. What a wonderful accounting of one of my favorite memories. I was so sad when he was no longer airing. Mornings before school weren't the same. Thank you for your efforts to put this together. We need TV shows like this one again. So wholesome and enjoyable. I always looked forward to his cooking tips, especially Thanksgiving. 😁😁

  24. Thanks for this article. I remember watching Ray’s show if I was ready for school in time. What a wonderful reminder of my Chicagoland childhood.

  25. I Loved the Ray Rayner show as a child. Cuddly Duddly was my favorite character!! I am pleasantly surprised to know that he was acted by "Cooky the Clown!" I also remember and loved his umbrella hat. Thank you for the memories.

  26. Oh Neil, Best story ever of OUR beloved Ray Rather! Thanks for all your efforts!

  27. When Ray would fumble around with the papers on his jump suit, I always felt like he was letting us in on “the joke.”

  28. Thanks for a walk through my childhood! Loved Ray!

  29. I love the story Neil! I was a kid in the late 1960s and had a Cuddly Dudley myself. Ray Rayner was amazing. It is so nice to read that he was amazing in so many ways. Being in my late 50s now I still talk about Ray Rayner and enjoying his morning show. Excellent read!


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