Ray Rayner ruled our mornings here in Chicago. As kids, we had a variety of great shows that kept us entertained but, Ray Rayner? He was the man! At one time, he had over 70% of the viewers in the mornings.
In 1962, Ray Rayner took over Breakfast With Bugs Bunny, a morning show hosted by Dick Coughlan. Two years later the show was renamed Ray Rayner & Friends. The show would go on until 1981 when he decided to move to Albuquerque New Mexico. Ironically, that’s where SuperJock Larry Lujack would wind up. The show featured school closings, weather, sports scores (including Slippery Rock), cartoons and segments with Chalveston, a feisty duck with an attitude, Dr. Lester Fisher’s ‘Ark In The Park’ and the most lovable stuffed animal ever…. Cuddly Dudley. As a kid, I had Cuddly’s choo-choo train and a life-sized Cuddly Dudley stuffed animal that went right next to my life-sized Winnie The Pooh.
Cuddly Dudley was a doll the Chicago Tribune would use to entice people to subscribe to the paper in the 60s. WGN TV’s program manager Sheldon Cooper (not to be confused with the Big Bang Theory character) asked voice-actor/announcer at WGN TV Roy Brown what he thought about making the stuffed animal a puppet character that’d have Brown’s voice. Brown was already doing work for kids shows and familiar with what needed to be done. From there, he’d be the voice and the puppeteer for the character and, as they say, the rest was history.
The Cuddly Dudley segment was always on a Friday, before the end of the show (talk about holding the viewer over to the end!) Ray would walk on over to “Cuddly’s doghouse” and sing Cuddly’s song (set to the music of “The Whistler and His Dog” by Arthur Pryor). Like the lyrics to the 15 minute version of Rapper’s Delight, those lyrics are engraved in my brain.
“We’re off to Cuddly Dudley’s house he’s cute as he can be. With his fur of gold and his nose so cold he’s cuddly as can be. He’s got riddles and jokes and the fun that he pokes is never aimed at me. Here’s the place that he lives and the name that he gives is Cuddly.”
From there, on the “PBS” (Pretend Broadcasting System), the segment would feature Cuddly’s jokes, Ray and Cuddly exchanging ad-libbed jokes and showing off artwork submitted by local area kids. If you had your name mentioned, you were a superstar at school that day!
Today, that puppet and his doghouse are part of the collection of the Museum of Broadcast Communications.
Ray Rayner passed away from complications due to pneumonia on January 21, 2004 at the age of 84.