The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio The great ones are back in action.

Dollar

Yours Truly Johnny Dollar began as an attempt to create a poor man's Philip Marlowe. By the time the show signed off the air in 1962, it'd outlasted Philip Marlowe on the radio as well as other great detectives including Sam Spade. A ponderous 713 episodes survive to this day.

Johnny Dollar's adventures took him to 39 states and 24 foreign countries. Dollar was the center of the show. He was an Independent Insurance Investigator who freelanced for a variety of insurance companies. Each episode had a new set of supporting characters.

What made Johnny Dollar different was his action-packed (and usually heavily padded) expense account including legitimate items (such as cab fare) and more questionable items such as airfare for pleasure after soliving the case.

Johnny Dollar's first run ended after six season after the end of the 1953-54 season. The decision was made to bring Johnny Dollar back for the 1955-56 season. There couldn't have been a worse time to try and revive a moribound radio series. The great shows were gone or pulling out. Jack Webb had seen the writing on the wall for radio, stating that radio drama go away, with radio becoming a medium for news and music.

That may have been the future, but in 1955, Johnny Dollar came back with a vengeance, led by Jack Johnstone. Johnstone, who'd written 15-minute serials for the Adventures of Superman helped change the show to doing five fifteen minute episodes a week for thirteen months. With Let George Do It Star Bob Bailey taking over, the series began a second life, richer than its first. Bailey departed after the 1960 season as the show relocated from Los Angeles to New York. But the show didn't end until September 30, 1962 when the last broadcast occurred, bringing down the curtain on old time radio.

The end of Old Time Radio couldn't have been prevented, however Johnny Dollar extended the medium's life and guaranteed that Old Time Radio would go out with a bang rather than a whimper.

As with the Sherlock Holmes series, we will profile each Johnny Dollar as we get to their episodes. (However, you can read Bailey's profile over at the Let George Do It page.)

Eight men played the role of Johnny Dollar including two who only auditioned for the role, but never went on air:

Dick Powell$Dick Powell (1904-63): Dick Powell is one of the most distinct leading men in the world of Old Time Radio Detectives. He spent the first part of his entertainment career, playing young singing romantic leads. At the age of 40, he landed the part of Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet and began a second career as a dramatic actor. This would play out on the radio in several venues. He would bring several of his motion picture performances to the radio via the Lux Radio Theater including his performance in Murder My Sweet and To the Ends of the Earth.

Powell would also come to radio as a sleuth on three other occassions in stand alone shows. He played the lead in Rogue's Gallery as a detective that was knocked silly and encountered Eugor, a character in his subconcious that would help him solve whatever case he was on.

He parlayed that into the role of Richard Diamond, a laid back singing detective.He also played the police officer foil for his then-wife Joan Blondell's private investigator in Miss Pinkerton, Incorporated.

In television, Powell was a pioneer, his Four Star Productions turned out memorable programs such as, The Four Star Playhouse, Richard Diamond Private Detective (with David Janssen in the lead), The Zane Grey Theater, Burke's Law, and the Dick Powell Theater.

Powell died far too young as a result of making the film, The Conqueror, a classically bad film that featured John Wayne as Genghis Khan. The film was shot downwind from a nuclear testing site. He developed cancer along with nearly half the cast and crew and half the population of nearby St. George, Utah. Powell succumbed in 1963.

For the Johnny Dollar audition, Powell played the character as a lovable rogue in a similar vein to his Richard Rogue character with a little extra of the "rogue" added for spice. Powell didn't end up playing Johnny Dollar on the air, but his audition gives a nice picture of what might have been.

$$Charles Russell: Russell (1918-1985) was a Hollywood bit player that won the part as the second Johnny Dollar. He played the lead in Inner Sanctum, a B-movie based on one of the classic old time radio shows, and had a small part in Give My Regards to Broadway. (Picture Courtesy: Old Time Radio Researchers.) Losing a big star like Powell and replacing him with Russell had to be a disappointment for the show's producers. It was akin to replacing George Clooney with George Wendt.

Russell created a lighter version of Dollar that was more tongue in cheek, in similar style to Sam Spade. And was the most likely Johnny Dollar to place items on his expense account that in real life that would have caused a real life insurance investigator lose his bonding.

Russell's departure in the 1950 season is never discussed anywhere that I've found in my research. What is known of Russell is that he played in 17 movies between 1943-49. He left Johnny Dollar in 1950, the same year his three year marriage ended in divorce. He died in 1985. It is probable that he was the same person as TV Producer Charles W. Russell who served as a producer for such TV shows as Casey, Crime Photographer and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

$$$Edmund O'Brien became the second on-air Johnny Dollar in February 1950. O'Brien had previously played an insurance investigator in the 1947 film The Killers. He'd previously tried to break in to hardboiled radio drama when he recorded the pilot episode for Nightbeat, but the role instead went to Frank Lovejoy. Growing up O'Brien was the next door neighbor to Harry Houdini, and he had his first break in acting in Orson Welles' Mercury Theater. After O'Brien left Johnny Dollar after the 1951-52 season, he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe for his role in The Barefoot Contessa. He got a second Golden Globe and a nomination for a second Oscar ten years later for his role in Seven Days in May. Over the course of his long career in film and television, O'Brien played in every genre and a wide variety of roles. From a poisoned accountant trying to solve his own Murder in DOA to the heavy in Pete Kelly's Blues, the role of Crowley in The Further Adventures of Gallegher, Syndicated Private Detective Johnny Midnight, and much more. O'Brien left behind a legacy that his Johnny Dollar performances compliment. For more on Mr. O'Brien, visit this great fan website.

O'Brien brought a more gritty Noir type performance in his taken on Johnny Dollar.

$$$$John Lund (1911-92): John Lund was born in Rochester, New York and enjoyed a solid but not spectacular career in radio, movies, and stage. Lund was respected by his colleageus and served as Vice-President of the Screen Actor's Guild from 1950-59. He retired to San Diego in 1963 and enjoyed a 39 year marriage.

 

 

Gerald Mohr$$$$$ Gerald Mohr (1914-68) Mohr's most memorable lead role was as radio's  Philip Marlowe. Arguably, Mohr's version of Marlowe is definitive both in terms of quality and quantity of performances.  His opening line from Philip Marlowe, ""et this, and get it straight: Crime is a sucker's road and those who travel it wind up in the gutter, the prison or the grave. There's no other end ... but they never learn!" was among the best openings to any radio show and Mohr's delivery made it happen in a way that few other actors could manage.

In addition to that Mohr was a frequent cast member on The Whistler making an astonishing number of appearances. When we were doing the program Rogue's Gallery on the podcast, I was astonished at how many times, Mohr played the murderer.  Most weeks, Gerald Mohr character did it.  In addition to this Mohr played a murderer on The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe one week and then returned as perhaps the best Archie Goodwin on the series the next week.  Of course, his radio career was not all mayhem and mystery. He also played a recurring character as a charming French teacher on Our Miss Brooks. When producers availed themselves of Mohr's services, they would be guaranteed to use him and often-a mark of his true talent.

$$$$$$Bob Bailey (1913-1983): On television and in the movies, he was a bit player, with his biggest role in film being as a straight man in the Laurel and Hardy Film, Jitterbugs.

It was on radio that Bailey had his greatest success. In addition to Let George Do It, Bailey led the remarkable revival of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. While most radio dramas were bowing to television and cashing in their chips, Bailey touched off a revival of Johnny Dollar that would ensure that Old Time Radio went off the air with a bang rather than a whimper.  CBS moved its radio production to New York City and left Bob Bailey behind in 1960. In 1962, he played a bit part in the Bird Man of Alcatraz.

Yours Truly Johnny Dollar Episodes

Dick Powell Audition

Charles Russell Episodes:

Edmond O'Brien Episodes

John Lund Episodes:

Gerald Mohr Audition:

Bob Bailey Episodes:

Thanksgiving Episode Played Out of Order:

Christmas Episodes (Played Out of Order):

Episodes posted every Tuesday and Friday

Episode Log source: Otrsite and Old Time Radio Researchers.

*Episodes played out of order in honor of the passing of Shirley Mitchell.

**Played out of order as episode was missing at the time it would have originally been pesented.

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Comments (6) Trackbacks (2)
  1. hey Adam love the new show.I was listening to the Charles Russell episode of the MILFORD BROOKS III MATTER abd I had a question.Did Bob Baily play Milford brooks the third.It sure sounded like him.It sounded to me like there were two Johnny Dollars.
    Keep up the good work
    Lance
    PS I really like the new theme music.its sort of a “techno noir” sound

  2. Adam,
    I know it was pure coincidence, but I downloaded the Trans-Pacific Export Matter to my iPod the same morning I heard it played on Sirius Radio so I waited a couple of days to listen to the Podcast. I found it interesting an interesting counterpoint to hear your comments as opposed to Greg Bells on the same episode.
    Thanks for bringing a great medium back for some of us. I enjoy hearing these shows and seeing the action on my mind’s stage. You commentary adds greatly to what is presented.
    On question please; when you aren’t doing a great job podcasting what is your ‘day job’. I bet it is nowhere near as rewarding as the pleasure you bring to all your fans out here.
    Mark C.

  3. Hi Adam,
    Been listening for a while now here in Spain and I love the podcasts. I had one question about Johnny Dollar, is it me or is his expense account getting less and less action packed? No more 1$ tip for a 70cent cab fare, and when in the Virginia Beach matter, he finds out he’s been mislead by the company he doesn’t add items in his expense account like breakfast 40$, like he did in the previous version of the episode, he, almost matter of factly, adds 500$ to the total. Having to fill out expense accounts myself, and always being honest and accurate with them I enjoyed listeing to how Johnny was creative doing his. Is it going to stay this way or do future episodes have Johnny return to his creative expense report filling?
    Keep up the great work, thanks for the podcast.
    Javier

  4. Just discovered this site researching a question I had about Johnny Dollar (the show that hooked me on OTR radio). Marvelous site, and one that I will be frequenting regularly. Thanks much.
    James

  5. Technically JD is not a detective. He is an isurance investigator. I know, same thing right? Listen to the shows and you will see he makes it a point to correct people about it. Great writing, Blake Edwards wrote many of the early shows. Lots of TV favorites on the shows also. Like John McIntire, Parely Baer, Howard McNear and Virginnia Gregg. My Favorite radio show.

  6. Hi Adam,
    I have been enjoying Johnny Dollar since the beginning and it has always been one of my favourite shows. I never understood why people kept asking about when the five part series where going to start as I thought the 30min one part shows were excellent. Now that I have been listening to five part shows I understand: they are so much better, the extra time really lets the characters and the story develop further and I have been enjoying them inmensly. I also really hate how, in other shows, they recap what has happened in previous episodes as it always seems artificial and clumsy, but in the Johnny Dollar episodes this is not the case and I find myself think how seamless and how natural it seems.
    Thanks for bringing these episodes to life again,
    Javier- near Madrid in Spain


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