Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Getting to Know Gene Rayburn

Adam Nedeff's The Matchless Gene Rayburn (BearManor Media, $32.95) is an amazingly detailed, authoritative biography of the man who, for all his other accomplishments, is best-
remembered as the zany host of one of TV's most popular game shows, Match Game. 

By Nedeff's account, Rayburn was often frustrated by the way Match Game overshadowed other aspects of his career, and how he was pigeonholed as a game show host. I think the man himself would be pleased by the amount of attention given in this book to his work as a radio disc jockey and announcer for The Tonight Show, as well as his Broadway performances. Nedeff says, "My hope for this book is that it makes that image on the TV screen a little more three-dimensional." I'd say that's a goal he fully accomplishes. Two important elements that help are the author's access to some of the late star's own reminiscences, and interviews with many people important to both his personal and professional life, including his daughter Lynne.

But if you want to know about Match Game (I certainly did), there's a lengthy and fascinating section devoted to that topic. I was interested to read about the sometimes-tense relationship between Rayburn, who had his own freewheeling, improvisational style as an emcee, and producer Mark Goodson, a purist who thought nothing should distract attention from the game itself. The show's long history, from its original, more staid version in the 1960s, to its revival as Match Game '73, and even the disastrous 1983-84 revival that welded it to Hollywood Squares in an hour-long version that quickly tanked, is covered in full. I found it great fun to learn about how those wacky Match Game questions were contrived, the trouble that arose from time to time with CBS censors, and the ways in which network scheduling unnecessarily shortened its run.

Nedeff is also the author of other books on game shows, including a biography of Quizmaster Bill Cullen, which I plan to investigate sooner rather than later. He also has a website, Game Show Utopia. 

P.S. No disclaimer today --  I bought my own copy at full price, and didn't even get any parting gifts.

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