Chicago Television's Busiest Man

Those five-minute Dick Tracy cartoons that Ray aired in between the live segments could never air in today's politically correct world.  Produced and syndicated in 1961 by UPA, it was the first attempt at animating the character that had been popular since 1931 when he debuted as a newspaper strip in The Chicago Tribune.  Voiced by veteran actor Everett Sloane, Tracy hardly had any screen time himself save for a few generic scenes that were used to tie-in with the local hosts.  Featured more prominently were Tracy's assistants, known as "The Retouchables:"  Heap O'Calorie (played by Johnny Coons in his best "Andy Devine" voice; Joe Jitsu (Benny Rubin); Hemlock Holmes (Jerry Hausner); and Go Go Gomez (voiced by the legendary Mel Blanc).   The Chicago version was the brainchild of Hal Stein in the fall of 1961.  Stein was hired after original producer Fred Silverman was dumped by the station when he failed to create a suitable kid's show.  WGN-TV scheduled it at 6:30pm up against network programming.  The February/March Nielson index showed The Dick Tracy Show average better than a 13 with an average audience share of over 27%.  When the show moved to 4:30pm it ranked 17's and 18's with a 40% audience share.  In January of 1962, WGN-TV opened The Crime Stopper Club.  Members received a badge, a secret code decoder, membership card, a moral oath, and a monthly newsletter.  After only five announcements, the station had over 130,000 members!  Floored by such an amazing response WGN-TV discontinued membership solicitation for the rest of the show's run.



L-R- Ron MacAdam, Ray Rayner, Dale Juhlin (director), and Hal Stein.  Courtesy of The MBC.

Ray at "Puppets, Pies, & Prizes" April 2001 at The MBC.  That's Elmer The Elephant's John Conrad with his back to the camera.  From The Video Veteran collection.  Photo by Greg West

Rayner was undoubtedly the busiest man at WGN-TV in the 1960s. Besides his morning show (which at one time carried 70% of the Chicago viewing audience) and his noontime antics as Oliver O. Oliver on Bozo's Circus, Rayner also hosted a 4:30 live kid show that changed formats during the decade. First was the above mentioned The Dick Tracy Show, which Rayner appeared as Sgt. Pettibone, who handled radio communications from the Crimestopper Cruiser, a vehicle equipped with the latest in sophisticated crime stopping devices.  He was assisted by Tracer the Dog, though at first he didn't have a name.  A contest provided the canine's moniker.

Tracer was brought to life by Ron MacAdam, an impressionist who was also known for his well-produced and entertaining nightclub routines.  MacAdam handled all the voices on the series which by the end of the show's run totaled more than 58 characters.  Among the many were Gregory, the old mailman; Scoop Wilson, star reporter for The Exaggerated Press.  Scoop sounded like James Cagney; and the nemesis of both Pettibone and Tracer, Reginald 'Reggie' R. Marplot.   MacAdam would refer to Rayner as "Super Klutz" and loved to play pranks while Rayner was on camera.  Since Tracer sat in a basket on the desk in front of Ray, MacAdam would be underneath the desk working the puppet.  More than once Ray would get up only to find his shoelaces had been tied together!  Then to add to the prank, MacAdam would have Dick Tracy appear on the Crime Stopper Cruiser video screen and order Sgt. Pettibone to march around the room!  MacAdam would be the voice of Dick Tracy for all the local segments.  Even producer Hal Stein would join in the fun ready to toss a bucket of water at Ray from off stage!  On the show's final first-run episode, Pettibone and Tracer, disguised as villains, are off to Eviltania in pursuit of the evil Marplot.  Fans would never learn what happened.  

Next came Rocket To Adventure around 1965, in response to the NASA space race frenzy. Rayner appeared in a spacesuit and piloted a spaceship. The show featured a different cartoon for each day. It is one of the first exposures of Japanese animation with entries such as Gigantor and 8th Man.

He appeared as Oliver on The Bozo 25th Anniversary Special (considered by many as the best of the anniversary shows) and as himself on The Bozo Show 30th Anniversary program.  His last Chicago appearance was at the grand opening celebration of the new "Puppets, Pies & Prizes" exhibit at The Museum Of Broadcast Communications in April of 2001 (along with old colleagues Don Sandburg and Marshall Brodien).   Illness forced him to sit out The Bozo Show 40th Anniversary Finale.  Ray is warmly remembered by children and adults alike even though he has not been on Chicago television on a regular basis since 1981.  True testimony to the talent of this very special human being.  

On January 21, 2004 Ray Rayner passed away at the age of 84.

copyright 2000-2003 Steve Jajkowski