CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - One of the Lowcountry's best-loved celebrities marks a milestone birthday on Saturday.
Rainey Evans, who you may know as Happy Raine, turns 80 years old.
She reflected on her life and the television show people still hold dear in their hearts, a connection that began in 1960 with her children's program, The Happy Raine Show.
"We always felt like we were Charleston's family and we had relationships with the people in the community and we cared about them," Evans says. "Charlie [Hall] was always going someplace. Or Carroll Godwin was always someplace acting up in his antic way, crazy guy. But that theme ran through all of us, and we enjoyed our time together. And I couldn't wait to get to work. It was a wonderful experience. Channel 5 was a wonderful place to work."
For 20 years, her program delighted Lowcountry children and their families. These days, her Facebook page is filled with fond memories many of you have shared.
But her TV career didn't begin here on the air. She said The Happy Raine Show began as a fluke. Before her show began, she worked in Channel 5's marketing department. It was there that she decided to have some fun after working on a station promotion for grocery stores. She says
"So we sent them a card and we sent them a Robin Hood hat and it had feathers in them," she says. "And I had feathers left over and I stuck them in my hair and tied a scarf around my head and I went downstairs to see Charlie Hall."
The beloved weather man told her she could pass as a Native American.
"So six months later he came to me and said, "How would like to do a children's show?'"
Her first job before the show would hit the airwaves was to come up with a name for it. The name occurred to her while she driving across the old Cooper River Bridge.
"I said 'Happy,' you know, I'm a happy person. And 'Raine,' why not? So I couldn't wait to get to work the next day and I said, 'Charlie, I have the name: Happy Raine.' And he said, 'It will never fly. But for 20 years, it did," she says. "It was a happy life and a happy time."
The show premiered on April 16, 1960, and she says she did her final show in August of 1980.
"The timing was right," she says. "There were only three channels, and so the children were captive, a captive audience, you know? And they responded and they loved. And I love them and we just had wonderful times together no matter where I went."
She had five children on a show at a time, and the children were booked six months up to a year in advance.
"I had a toy store in Ashley Plaza Mall, and I was behind the counter one day working on a Saturday out of costume," she says. "And a little boy came up to me and looked at me and said, 'Are you Happy Raine?' And I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'You look newer on TV.'"
More than 30 years after the final episode, she still gets the question: "Do you remember me? I was on your show when I was seven years old!"
"'Well,' I say, 'You've changed a lot,'" she says.
Many things have changed over the years, but not the connection with Happy Raine. Evans says she's amazed that people still recognize her.
"And they get this big smile on their face and I think, 'Wow, that tells me something.' That tells me that I was part of their life and they were part of mine," she says. "I was blessed. I was blessed to have a happy personality."
She has touching reminders of her connection with her viewers.
"I got a little note from this guy and he said, 'Thank you for helping me grow up,'" she says. And I was going through my things and I came across a letter from a little girl, and she said, 'Thank you for letting me be on your show.' And she wrote this to me 20 years later. She said, 'I have cerebral palsy, and wherever I went, people covered up my hand and covered up my legs, and you didn't do that. You sat me right up there on that bench. And I didn't have a blanket over my lap, you know, everybody could see. And you didn't hide that from anybody. And I so appreciate that you did that.' And 20 years later she writes that to me."
She says her fans also remember her signature sign-off.
"I just created this little sign language, so it was me, you, friend," she says, pointing to herself, the camera and then holding her first two fingers up together as one.
She also has vivid memories of unexpected things that happened during her show, including the time she was doing a commercial for Peter Pan peanut butter. She received instructions that she should put a banana and peanut butter on a vanilla wafer.
"I didn't have any bananas," she said. "Bananas weren't always around. It used to be bananas had a season. So I couldn't find a banana. So I said, 'I'll just do it with the peanut butter.' So I just put the peanut butter on there and I put it in my mouth and it stuck to the top of my mouth."
It happened in the early 1960s, in the days of live television, so she was forced to muster through.
"The Farm and Home Hour was on right before me, from 8:30 a.m. until 9 a.m., and I was 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., and they decided to cook steaks in the studio," she recalls. "And so the studio was full of smoke. And I walk in there with the kids and you couldn't see anything."
She even said she once decided to write a book, but never got around to it.
As for what's next for Evans, says she has completed her bucket list, so she's working on another one. Evans' father lived to be 108, and she said he was always staying active, making plans, building birdhouses, and working with his hands.
"And I think if you continue to work out plans and stay concentrated, keep your brain going, it's a huge help," she said. "I'm blessed with good health."
Her granddaughter has asked what she wants for her 100th birthday, which is 20 years down the road. Rainey told her she wanted two dozen pink golf balls.