Ray Rayner, Star Of "Ray Rayner and his Friends," on WGN-TV In The 1960s And 70s, Dies


January 21, 2004

Ray Rayner, the actor who played Oliver O. Oliver on "Bozo's Circus" for a decade and who hosted his own kids' show 'Ray Rayner and His Friends" for 19 years on WGN-TV, passed away on January 21 following complications from pneumonia. He was 84 years old.

Mr. Rayner retired from WGN-TV in December 1980. Fans can visit wgntv.com to share their favorite Ray Rayner memories. The message board will be up until next Friday, January 30, 2004.

"Ray was a good guy. That's the one thing that everybody remembers about him. When he was on the air - that's the impression you got. He was a very friendly, warm person. That's one of the reasons his morning show was so tremendously successful," commented Allen Hall, a former colleague and the longtime producer of "The Bozo Show" on WGN-TV.

"Ray Rayner was most definitely one of Chicago's Very Own. Ray's work was enjoyed by everyone who grew up in Chicago," commented John Vitanovec, VP/General Manager of WGN-TV. "His tenure here at WGN is still a time recalled fondly by our viewers. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. He will be missed."

WGN-TV hired Ray Rayner to portray Sergeant Henry Pettibone as host of the "Dick Tracy" show in 1961. He joined "Bozo's Circus" as Oliver O. Oliver that same year and continued in that role until 1971. In 1962, Ray replaced Dick Coughlan as host of "Breakfast with Bugs Bunny." In 1964, the show was renamed "Ray Rayner and His Friends," and quickly became a staple to thousands of Chicagoland grade school children. "Ray Rayner and His Friends" ran until January, 1981. In 1966, the "Dick Tracy" show ended a five-year run and Ray hosted "Rocket to Adventure" for two-seasons.

"Ray Rayner and His Friends," which aired weekday mornings, featured cartoons, songs, pantomime antics, jokes, riddles, mock newscasts and daily weather forecasts geared to the younger set, as well as traffic, sports and news information for parents. Ray's canine puppet friend Cuddly Dudley visited the program twice a week, and one day a week was set aside for a "do-it-yourself project." Ray showed his young viewers how to make everything from pup pencil holders, to mushroom pincushions, to stocking mice. Once a week Dr. Lester Fisher, director of the Lincoln Park Zoo, and Ray took viewers behind-the-scenes at the zoo. Chelveston the duck was also a regular visitor to the show. Any off-camera staff or crew was referred to as "Chauncy."

Ray left Chicago television in 1981 and became a weather forecaster and fill-in news anchor for the CBS affiliate in Albuquerque, New Mexico until 1989. In his "spare time," Rayner hosted the nationally syndicated "PM Magazine," and wrote three original plays. In 1984, he returned to Chicago to join the cast of "Guys and Dolls." He made several guest appearances as himself on "The Bozo Show" and in WGN-TV anniversary specials.

Born in New York City, Ray was a navigator on a B-17 in the United States Air Force and spent two years in a German military prison camp. He picked up a taste for acting during his POW days and pursued the profession during his college years following the war.

After the war, Rayner returned to a Long Island radio station, and he started to work his way west to Dayton, Ohio, then Grand Rapids, Michigan. He hosted music and quiz programs and wrote some news. In 1953 he found himself in Chicago, auditioning at WBBM-TV. There, Rayner worked for eight years on a variety of children's shows including "Rayner Shine," "The Little Show" with a duck named Havelock, and in "Popeye's Firehouse," as Chief Abernathy. He had an active career as a commercial announcer and as an MC on a teenage dance party program. He was also one of the first Ronald McDonalds to appear in network television commercials.

Throughout much of his career, Ray Rayner also acted on the serious side of theater, playing demanding roles in such productions as Arthur Miller's "The Crucible," "Assassination, 1865," "The Rainmaker,"and "The Caine Mutiny." He also appeared in lighter productions such as "The Odd Couple" and "Fiddler on the Roof." Reaching out to younger actors, Rayner directed students in Loyola Academy productions.

Rayner attended Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass, and then went on to Fordham University in New York where he graduated with a B.A. degree in literature and philosophy. He also received an M.A. in Humanities from the University of Chicago. Ray was the recipient of many awards including local Emmy Awards, and most recently, in 2000, Rayner was inducted into the Chicago Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences' Silver Circle.

Mr. Rayner was most recently enjoying his retirement in Fort Myers, Florida. He is survived by his second wife Marie Rayner, daughter Christina Miller, son Mark Rayner, and four grandchildren: Troy, Hilary, Sean and Patrick.

The family has asked that donations be made to the Make A Wish foundation.
Make A Wish Foundation
1-866-880-1382
P.O. Box 29119
Phoenix, AZ 85038-5010
 

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