Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar - Truly, one of the best shows. Feb 25, 2014 19:56:40 GMT -5
Post by Erik Rupp on Feb 25, 2014 19:56:40 GMT -5
When it comes to radio drama there were dozens of truly great shows: Dragnet, Gunsmoke, Richard Diamond, X Minus One, The Six Shooter, and as part of that list Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar would have to be included.
Some might argue that the 1955/56 season of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar was actually the best radio drama of that era. I might actually be inclined to agree with that assessment. At the very least I'd say it's among the top five for sure. Why?
Well, after a year off (the show had run from January of 1949 until September of 1954 with three different actors playing the title role - Charles Russell, Edmond O'Brien, and John Lund), the show was completely retooled. Instead of the usual half hour format once a week, the show was slotted in for a fifteen minute mini-episode every weeknight. This gave the show over an hour of airtime for each episode (the episodes would run in five parts for a week long episode), and that gave the producer (Jack Johnstone, also the show's director) and the writing staff (which also occasionally included Johnstone) a chance to really flesh out both the characters and the plots. Suddenly, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar went from being an above average detective show to an outstanding dramatic show that happened to be about an insurance investigator. Bob Bailey became the new Johnny Dollar as the show reappeared on the airwaves in October, 1955, and a better actor for the role would have been impossible to find. Bailey had just come off a couple years in another radio detective show, Let George Do It, which was itself a good show. Edmond O'Brien may have been the best actor to play Johnny Dollar (he did win an Academy Award, after all), but Bob Bailey was arguably the best Johnny Dollar (an argument that he usually wins among old time radio fans).
Jonstone had previously worked on The Six Shooter with James Stwart in the title role (aka Britt Ponsett), and that show was well known for being a little different than the usual Western radio show. That show, like the 1955/56 season of Johnny Dollar, was well known for it's outstanding drama (and, occasionally, some light comedy to go with the dramatics in the story). Johnstone's style carried over to Johnny Dollar extremely well, and the writing staff (which included John Dawson - aka E. Jack Neuman, Robert Ryf, and Les Crutchfield) was in perfect sync with Johnstone. It was lightning in a bottle - the right actor, producer/director/writer, and writing staff, as well as a phenomenal supporting cast (which often included the great, and very busy, Virginia Gregg, as well as the great, and just as busy, John Dehner). Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar had been elevated into greatness. With 75 minutes each week instead of 30 the plots were more intricate, and the cast of characters much larger. Johnny Dollar, himself, also became more well rounded and human. Every aspect of the show had been improved greatly, even the theme music. Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar became not only better, but more popular than ever.
Fortunately for fans of classic radio drama, most of that season has survived intact (with only a couple of the 15 minute segments missing). But not only did the episodes survive intact, most surived in nearly FM quality sound.
Sadly, in late Fall of 1956 CBS decided to scrap their five night per week format that Johnny Dollar had been using, and the show reverted back to a 30 minute show once a week. It ran like that (continuing the elite quality as much as the 30 minute format would allow, with Bob Bailey still in the title role until 1960 when CBS moved all radio drama to New York City. Bailey, not wanting to leave Southern California, dropped out of the show and was replaced by Bob Readick, who was a decent, if undistinguished Johnny Dollar. For the final year of the show Mandel Kramer was, "The man with the action packed expense account, America's fabulous freelance insurance investigator," Yours truly, Johnny Dollar. Kramer was considered to be a slight upgrade from Readick, but he was no Bob Bailey.
Interestingly, the weakest (and most generic) of the Johnny Dollars was the first man in the role, Charles Russell. Russell wasn't bad at all, he just came across as a standard issue private eye. Edmond O'Brien brought more personality and flair to the role, and John Lund was almost as good, but it was Bob Bailey who really elevated Johnny Dollar into a great character.
But despite the fact that 12 of it's 13 years featured the show in a weekly, half hour format, it will always be the one year that the show ran for fifteen minutes every weeknight for which Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar will be remembered most.
Truly a great show.