Ray Rayner, the legendary television personality who hosted children’s shows in Chicago during the 1960s and ’70s, died on Jan. 21 from complications of pneumonia. He was 84.
The New York native served as a 2nd lieutenant in the Army Air Corps during World War II. When his B-17 was shot down, Reyner was captured by the Germans and held as a prisoner of war for two years. After he returned to the states, Rayner attended Holy Cross College for a year, then transferred to Fordham University, where he graduated with a degree in philosophy. He later earned a master’s in humanities from the University of Chicago.
Rayner started his broadcasting career in radio, working as a disc jockey and a news director before taking a job as a staff announcer for the CBS affiliate in Chicago. When he moved to WGN-TV Channel 9 in 1961, Rayner became a popular presence in the lives of Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers who would watch him on “Bozo’s Circus,” “The Dick Tracy Show,” “Breakfast With Bugs Bunny” and his own series, “Ray Rayner and Friends.”
Wearing a jumpsuit covered in “to do” notes, Reyner would entertain kids with music, crafts, games and unique side-kicks, including Cuddly Dudley, the giant orange dog; Dr. Lester Fisher, director of the Lincoln Park Zoo; and Chelveston the Duck, who thrived on nipping at Rayner’s legs and attacking heads of lettuce.
When he wasn’t on television, Reyner acted in numerous stage productions at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse and the Forum Theatre. He moved to Arizona in the 1980s and delivered weather reports for the CBS affiliate in Albuquerque. In 2000, he was inducted into the Chicago Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ Silver Circle.