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‘Match Game’: What to know about the original game show

Brett Somers with Gene Rayburn and Charles Nelson

Brett Somers with Gene Rayburn and Charles Nelson Reilly on "Match Game." Photo Credit: GSN

Alec Baldwin likes playing with matches.

The Massapequa-born actor is back — with his long, skinny mic in hand — Jan. 4 at 10 p.m. for a second season of “Match Game,” ABC’s revival of the classic fill-in-the-blanks game show of the ’70s. The reboot also may make you nostalgic for the previous version, which airs in reruns several times a day on Buzzr (channel 95 on Optimum).

Here are eight tidbits you may not have known about “Match Game,” its original host, Gene Rayburn, and the other crazies who appeared on the show.

1. BEFORE “MATCH GAME,” THERE WAS “THE MATCH GAME”

Sure, you remember the 1970s version, but you’ve probably drawn a blank when it comes to NBC’s less risqué edition, titled “The Match Game,” which premiered on Dec. 31, 1962, and ran for seven years. Back then Rayburn asked far more generic questions (for example, name a big dog) than in later versions. The game also pitted two teams — each consisting of two contestants and a celebrity team captain — against each other.

2. THE “GODFATHER OF SOUL” WAS A CELEBRITY GUEST

The NBC version featured many A-listers as team captains, including James Brown, who competed against Rita Moreno in May 1969. Other curious celebrity matchups included Liza Minnelli and Dustin Hoffman; Barbara Feldon and Don Adams; and Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. On one occasion, Rayburn competed against Michele Lee and Ed McMahon filled in as host.

3. THE ’60S SHOW HAD A WILD THEME SONG

“A Swingin’ Safari,” a composition for tin whistle and trumpet, opened “The Match Game.” It was written by German orchestra leader Bert Kaempfert, who also composed the music for “Strangers in the Night” and “Danke Schoen.”

4. RAYBURN AND CHARLES NELSON REILLY WERE A MATCH ON BROADWAY

Rayburn, who was an accomplished actor, replaced Dick Van Dyke in the Broadway production of “Bye Bye Birdie” in April 1961. Rayburn’s understudy, who also had a small role in “Birdie,” was Reilly, later a fixture on the ’70s “Match Game.”

5. BRETT SOMERS BELONGED TO THE ACTORS STUDIO

She’s mainly remembered as Reilly’s sparring partner on “Match Game,” but Somers began her career on the New York stage and was a member of the Actors Studio from 1952 until her death in 2007. Though she played dramatic roles on many series including “The Defenders” and “Naked City,” her best-known TV role was Blanche, the ex-wife of Oscar Madison, played by real-life husband Jack Klugman, on “The Odd Couple.”

6. FUTURE STARS STRUCK IT RICH ON “MATCH GAME”

Long before everybody knew her name on “Cheers,” Kirstie Alley won $6,000 on “Match Game” in 1979. (The following year, she won $800 on “Password Plus.”) Other soon-to-be celebs who proved they weren’t Dumb Doras were talk-show host Jenny Jones, who won $5,000 in 1973, and “CHiPS” actress Brianne Leary, who scored $9,000 two years later. Leary is the only contestant to return as a panelist.

7. A DOZEN EPISODES WERE SHOT IN ONE WEEKEND

Rayburn lived in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and flew to Los Angeles every other Friday to film 12 shows over Saturday and Sunday.

8. THAT WASN’T WATER IN THEIR DRINKING CUPS

Filming days usually consisted of lunch and dinner breaks, and as the day went on, vodka usually ended up in the cups celebs drank from on the set.

And here are a couple of things we bet you didn’t know about these “Match Game” regulars:

RICHARD DAWSON WAS IN THE BOXING MATCH GAME

The Brit with a wit left his home in Hampshire, England, at 14 to join the Merchant Marines, where he worked as a laundry boy and waiter. He also earned extra money boxing his shipmates.

BETTY WHITE’S NOBEL PRIZED POSSESSION

Betty White and her late husband, “Password” host Allen Ludden, were good friends with John Steinbeck. The author gave White a copy of the Nobel Prize acceptance speech he was working on the day they met.

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