Category: Golden Age Article

DVD Review: The Father Dowling Mysteries, Season 2


Note: A version of this article was posted in 2016. 

This 3-DVD series collects the second short season of The Father Dowling Mysteries, originally broadcast in 1990 when the series moved to ABC after NBC produced its first season. The main cast is Tom Bosley (Father Frank Dowling), Tracy Nelson (Sister Steve), James Stephens (Father Prestwick), and Marie (Mary Wickles).

If I had to describe the difference between this season and season one, I’d have to use the word “authenticity.” In season one, our heroes are people who solve mysteries, who just happen to be a priest and a nun. In season two, they are a priest and a nun who come across mysteries in the course of their lives and duties.

They say prayers, perform ceremonies and deal with church hierarchy and bureaucracy. It plays into the plots. In “The Solid Gold Headache Mystery,” Sister Steve is named custodian of the estate of a wealthy man whom she was visiting. In “The Blind Man’s Bluff Mystery,” she shows kindness to a blind conman and is taken in by him. A similar event happens to Father Prestwick in “The Confidence Mystery.” Father Dowling knows who an art thief is, but is far more concerned about his life and his soul than bringing him to justice in “The Legacy Mystery.”  And Father Dowling’s pastoral relationship is key to his involvement in “The Falling Angel Mystery” and “The Perfect Couple Mystery.”

The show isn’t preachy but it makes the characters more believable. Characterization is also better for Sister Steve. She’s still resourceful and frequently ditches her habit to go undercover. However, this doesn’t happen every episode. Unlike in season one, where she seemed to be super-competent at everything, she fails at a couple of her tasks. Sister Steve doesn’t make a good skater, and doesn’t win at every video game. Thus she’s much more of a real person. This is also helps as we learn that she has a hoodlum brother in “The Sanctuary Mystery,” and that her father was an alcoholic in “The Passionate Painter Mystery.”

The supporting acting shifted as subplots became more about Father Prestwick (who works for the Bishop) than their cook Marie. I didn’t like this as much, as I prefer Marie as a character. Still, the officious and demanding Father Prestwick is more effective as a comic foil for Father Dowling.

The guest cast is mostly solid, although a couple of scenes in “The Perfect Couple Mystery”  were painful to watch.

In terms of the plots, they’re mostly okay. Many of the episodes feel more like adventures rather than typical mysteries, and some were not all that clever, such as “The Ghost of a Chance Mystery.” Some of the better ones were “The Visiting Priest Mystery,” where a mob hitman tries to go undercover as a visiting priest at Saint Michael’s; “The Exotic Dance Mystery,” which ends up with Steve going undercover as a card shark; and “The Confidence Mystery” and “Blind Man’s Bluff Mystery,” both of which have some clever twists, though the similarity in plot made airing them both in the same season a dubious decision.

This season also featured “The Falling Angel Mystery,” where a scruffy angel named Michael (not the archangel) shows up with a warning for Father Dowling. I was dubious about the plot as it could have been cheesy and there were some problems with the story. However, James McGeachin does a good job in the role and the twist is one I didn’t see coming. Of course, Father Dowling’s criminal twin brother Blaine has a return appearance, much to Father Dowling’s chagrin.

Ultimately, the plots were not all fantastic. What holds it together is the characters are incredibly likable and a joy to watch.


Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0


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DVD Review: The Father Dowling Mysteries, Season One

A version of this article was originatlly published in 2014.

The Father Dowling Mysteries was a delightful mystery series starring Tom Bosley (Happy Days) and Tracy Nelson as Chicago-based Father Frank Dowling and Sister Stephanie “Steve” Oskowski, a priest and nun who constantly find themselves in the the thick of mysteries. The duo first appeared in a 1987 TV movie before joining the 1989 NBC line up as a mid-season replacement before moving to ABC in 1990 for another mid-season replacement season and its only full season. Having aired on NBC and ABC, the DVD release, of course, comes from CBS Home video. Father Dowling was a character created by Ralph McHenry in a series of popular novels, but the novels really don’t appear to have come much into play in the stories.

The first season set collects the 1987 movie, The Fatal Confession, as well as the seven-episode first season of Father Dowling.

Ultimately, this isn’t a series made by the cleverness of its mysteries, or by bone-chilling suspense, or by CSI-like crime scene details. In the end, Father Dowling stands firmly on the charm and chemistry of its two protagonists, and Bosley and Nelson are wonderful to watch.

Bosley is very believable as Father Dowling. He does a perfect job creating the balance that’s required in a clerical detective. Dowling is clever, but he’s also compassionate. He cares about catching the bad guy, but he also cares about people’s souls and lives. In so many ways, Frank Dowling is a bit of a throwback to a gentler era in television that spawned characters like Andy Taylor. He is truly good and kind, and also doesn’t take himself too seriously.

Sister Steve is street-smart but also very compassionate. The biggest flaw with the way the series played the character was that in each episode, they had to have her do something you wouldn’t typically expect a nun to do, mostly in the line of duty but sometimes not: beating the neighborhood boys at basketball, playing pool, fixing a car, mixing drinks at a bar, or teaching an aerobics class. It was all in the line of work. Sometimes, it was humorous, though at times it could get goofy and a little repetitive. The first few episodes had her being able to do every single thing well. Thankfully, in the “Face in the Mirror Mystery,” they finally had her undertake a task she couldn’t do well: rollerskating.

Rounding out the regulars were Father Dowling’s cranky housekeeper Marie (Mary Wickes) and the very particular Father Phil (James Stephens), who would appear in the first and last episodes of the 1989 series before becoming a regular.

As for the episodes themselves:

The Fatal Confession had some good moments in it as Father Dowling looks into the apparent suicide of a former parishioner, but the last quarter of it or so is just too much like a soap opera

“The Missing Body Mystery,” the feature-length first episode of the 1989 series, begins with a man stumbling into St. Michaels and dying. When Father Dowling returns after calling the police, the body is gone. His stability is called into question and the bishop wants to relieve him and replace him with Father Phil. It’s a great story and a solid beginning.

“What Do You Call Girl Mystery” is a story about a slain high-priced call girl that manages to tell a good story without being exploitative or sleazy.

“The Man Who Came to Dinner Mystery” is probably the only clunker in the first season. Steve’s ex-fiance (played by Nelson’s then-husband William Moses) witnesses a murder, but when he shows up with the police, the body’s gone. Even worse, someone’s trying to kill him. This story not only has a similar plot to a much better episode that aired two weeks previously, as a well as a weak conclusion, but it tries to create dramatic conflict over Steve’s decision to become a nun and fails.

The main problem is that we’re told that Steve was almost ready to marry her ex when she ran off to the convent to become a nun. Why would a young woman make this very radical decision? All of the reasons Sister Steve gives, such as, “It was the right thing for me,” don’t really ring true. It’s impossible to believe that the Catholic Church would allow someone with such weak reasons, or inability to articulate them, to become a nun at all. Of course, treating the subject realistically may have required too much religiosity for network TV executives’ liking. But if you can’t do it well, why do it at all? Why try to introduce a dramatic subplot that’s not believable?

The season got back on track with the two part “Mafia Priest Mystery,” in which Father Luciana, the son of a mafia family, becomes Father Dowling’s new assistant. He’s trying to make a break with the family business, but is drawn into an effort to help his brother Peter go straight, and finds himself framed for murdering the DA. This is a great story with a lot of tension, suspects, and situations. We do learn whodunit about halfway through the second episode, but there’s still some great suspense including a delightful train chase. I also appreciate how the episode highlights both Frank and Steve’s compassion as they deal with and minister to members of the crime family even while trying to find the killer.

“The Face in the Mirror Mystery” is actually a pretty decent story despite the fact that the premise of an “evil twin” of the main character has been done to death. This is a great cat-and-mouse game between Father Dowling and his twin brother Blaine, though the payoff scene is a little silly.

The season concluded with “The Pretty Baby Mystery,” which has a woman chased by armed men, leaving her baby in the church. Father Dowling and Steve try to find the mother and end up getting arrested by the Feds. This is another episode that really respects the characters’ vocation and differentiates them from the typical TV detective. The episode also marks the return of James Stevens as Father Phil, who has become the Bishop’s assistant.

Overall, the first season of Father Dowling was thoroughly enjoyable. It manages to be a mostly well-written, family-friendly detective series with likable characters. It treats its main characters with respect, but also manages a great deal of humor and warmth. I’ll look forward to future seasons.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Space 1999: Dragon’s Domain

Dragon’s Domain is the Third Box set in British Audio Drama producer Big Finish’s re-imagining of the Gerry Anderson classic series, Space 1999. It stars Mark Bonnar as Commander John Koening, Maria Teresa Creasey as Doctor Helena Russell, Timothy Bentinck as Space Commissioner Simmons, and Glen McCready as Alan Carter.

The series follows the adventures of the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha after the Moon was blown from its orbit and sent into deep space in the events of the two hour adventure Breakaway. Like the previous two box sets, there are three episodes in this set.

First up is “Skull in the Sky.”

After the opening theme, we find ourselves on a very different Alpha than we’re used to. It’s Planet Alpha and Commissioner Simmons is Governor, ruling a semi-Police State after exiling Commander Koenig after the apparent death of Alan Carter. He delivers an oration on the anniversary of his sacrifice that allowed the discovery of water that allowed life to come to the moon.

Things get complicated when an Eagle is spotted…Alan Carter’s Eagle.

This has a nice mystery plot while also allowing the regulars a chance to play slightly different versions of their typical characters. More than that, the series builds to a satisfying, mind-blowing conclusion that leaves listeners and a few of the leads with a lot of questions.

The second story is, “The Godhead Interrogative:”

Dhashka Kano is trying to decode the relic left by the alientZantar at the end of the previous box set. While some think she’s become obsessed, the situation becomes a top priority when a hundred engines attach themselves to the moon and begin pulling off on a course with a strange world.

This is a very solid story with a great sense of mystery with a bit of the vibe of the movie, Arrival.  There are some great, realistic and grounded twists and surprises along the way. It’s emotionally and intellectually engaging. If I had any complaint, it was that Alan Carter got a bit annoying in this episode with his focus on Dhashka’s work habits.

The conclude episode is the titular story, “Dragon’s Domain”

Dragon’s Domain sees Alpha building a ship that could allow them to abandon the moon and return to the wormhole that brought them into deep space. Alan Carter teams up with a French scientist and falls in love as they work the ship and plan a test flight. The test flight leaves…and then everything goes wrong.

This is a solidly packed Sci-Fi story that manages to make a relationship between a main character and a one-off really have an impact while also creating an atmosphere of mystery and terror in deep space. It manages to be suspenseful, and scary without being gory or gratuitous.  It has a realistic time scale which means this story actually takes place over the course of several years.

This time scale does present a few slight problems. Mainly, it seems like for some issues, time has moved forward, while for others, like the relationship between Captain Koenig and Doctor Russell, things seem to have remained at a standstill. Then again, being stuck in deep space. may limit options to force a resolution. One of them can’t exactly request a transfer. Hopefully, the effects of the passage of time are visited in a future box set.
All in all, Dragon’s Domain offer more than a nostalgia high for fans of the original TV series. It’s adult sci-fi at its finest, mixing high concepts, realistic characters, and practical touches that make give this far-fetched premise seem far more realistic, sometimes frighteningly so.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0
Dragon’s Domain is available exclusively at Big Finish.

Streaming Review: Tales of Wells Fargo: New Orleans Trackdown


Tales of Wells Fargo is set in the 1870s and 1880s. This episode came from a sixth and final season where the show expanded its format to an hour and went from black-and-white to color.

In “New Orleans Trackdown,” a Wells Fargo stage is held up by two robbers. They are defeated by a passenger who uses a form of foot-fighting martial arts. However, just as stage driver Beau McCloud (Jack Ging) thinks the day has been saved, his rescuer knocks him out and takes a box from the mailbag.

It turns out that the jewelry box contained a necklace that was insured for $250,000 (nearly $7.5 million in today’s dollars, assuming the episode was set in 1880). Wells Fargo agent Jim Hardie (Dale Robertson) recognizes the description of the technique used by the second robber as a gentlemanly foot fighting technique used in New Orleans. So Hardie grabs his fanciest outfit and travels to New Orleans.

There he interviews the jeweler (Bob Bailey) who sent the necklace and insured it. He finds that it was purchased from a prominent and formerly wealthy New Orleans family who isn’t doing as well after the Civil War.


Confession: I’d never seen an episode of Tales of Wells Fargo before watching this, and I can’t recommend this as an entry point, though not because the story was hard to follow. It was probably a much better show than this in its early days. In its first two seasons, Tales of Wells Fargo was a top ten show. This episode’s quality is far below that.

The most interesting thing about this episode is the oddity of seeing Bob Bailey, the voice of the most noted insurance investigator of them all, playing a beneficiary of a big insurance policy. The initial stage robbery was also pretty good.

After that, the episode really seems to move at a glacial pace. We learn that Beau McCloud got a promotion (yay, I guess) so that the series could retool for its last twenty episodes with other characters. The scenes in New Orleans are tedious, focusing on the family that sold the jewels and their inability to let the wheel-chair bound matriarch of the family know that they are no longer filthy rich. There is a point to be made there, but the show is awfully long-winded in making it.

The show could have worked with a little less time spent on the family and a little more intrigue and mystery over what happened to the necklace. However, the series undermined the sense of mystery with a character who seemed to exist to make clear who the bad guy was. It felt like the writers were unsure what to do with an hour-long run time, and the result was meandering and tedious.

As for Bob Bailey’s performance, he was fine, but there wasn’t a whole lot to his character. The writing gave Bailey little to work with.

The later episodes of Tales of Wells Fargo are only available with the Starz app. If you subscribe to Starz or can get a free trial to watch it, and you’re curious to see one of Bob Bailey’s last acting roles, than maybe it’s worth watching.

Otherwise, I can’t recommend it. “New Orleans Trackdown” is a below-average show of once-solid TV series.

Rating: 2.0 out of 5.0

Streaming Review: No Escape

Note: Having done a lot of research for more recent Bob Bailey series, I decided it’d be worthwhile to review a couple of things I viewed starring Bob Bailey as part of the research.

No Escape is a 1953 film noir set in San Francisco. The theme of the film is that because of its geography, once the police get a bead on you and set up a dragnet, there’s no way out. The poor unfortunate sap who finds himself in this situation is John Howard Tracy, a talented piano player plagued by alcoholism. The girlfriend (Marjorie Steele) of a tough San Francisco cop (Sonny Tufts) is the prime suspect of a murder, and Tracy could provide key evidence that could implicate her. However, her boyfriend decides to frame Tracy, who has to find some way to prove his innocence while avoiding capture.

There’s a lot to like about this film, starting with Lew Ayres’s performance. Lew Ayres is perhaps most familiar as Dr. Kildare, the titular character of the television show, and he is a bit past his prime in that series. This film is nearly a decade earlier, and Ayres delivers a charismatic performance and creates an interesting character in Tracy. The art direction of the film is good, too. The music of the film is above average, and the use of some real location shots of San Francisco, while not exclusive to No Escape, enhance the pleasure of it considerably.

The plot is the weak spot. The mystery at the core of the story is predictable and the big surprise twist I’d figured out well in advance of the end.  Still, it’s an enjoyable and diverting film even if it’s not a great one.

Bob Bailey’s Role

Bob Bailey’s role is credited as “Detective Bob,” and in the film he delivers functional dialogue. If some police officer needs to say something like, “Look, he’s over there,” this will be the type of line that Detective Bob will get. Bailey does what’s expected but there’s really no opportunity to do anything with the role.

The obvious reason for Bailey taking on this part is the money. He was about to step away from his starring role in Let George Do It to focus on screenwriting. The money he got for the film would make a good nest egg.

If the film served any purpose, it showed that Bailey could indeed play a detective. Despite the insistence by TV execs that Bailey didn’t look the part of George Valentine or Johnny Dollar, Bailey looks perfectly believable as Detective Bob. Then again, his problem was never reality, but Hollywood standards for what a private detective should look like.

Overall, the film is not a bad little noir to watch, and offering a chance to see Bob Bailey, even in a limited role, may be an added enticement.

Rating 3.5 out of 5 Stars

No Escape can be streamed for free by Amazon Prime subscribers.

Audio Drama Review: The Great Gildersleeve, Volume 5

Volume 5 of the Radio Archives Great Gildersleeve (the third featuring Harold Peary) collection brings us near to the conclusion of the first season of The Great Gildersleeve. While it might have been nice for the set to conclude that season, The Great Gildersleeve produced 44 episodes. Even with the few missing episodes, that’s a lot of material to get through, and even three twelve-episode sets hasn’t been enough. There are two more season 1 episodes in Volume 6.

The series was initially conceived and launched prior to Pearl Harbor, but at this point, it was firmly on a war footing, and reflects many elements that became part of everyone’s lives for the duration. There is an episode on a Victory Garden that Gildersleeve, Judge Hooker, and Leroy plant together. There is also a Victory Ship christening that Gildersleeve and his family have to find some way to get to. Gildersleeve’s niece Marjorie volunteers to write to soldiers overseas and gets so overwhelmed with requests that it gets outsourced to the rest of the family, writing in her name. The shortage of rubber and the need to carpool with gasoline rationing comes into play more than once. These little glimpses at life during the War adds a good deal of historic insight to the comedy.

However, it’s not all war for Gildersleeve and family. There’s an attempt made to introduce recurring characters in the form of new next-door neighbors. While I think the episode where the neighbors are introduced is pretty funny, as Leroy ends up getting Gildersleeve committed to a fistfight, the only recurring character is the hyper daughter of the house, which is hardly a unique character idea.

Gildersleeve’s frenemy relationship with Judge Hooker takes a couple of interesting turns. First, to counterprogram Hooker’s well-received radio lectures, Gildersleeve creates an alternate persona as a mystery radio singer who gets a timeslot opposite Hooker on another station and steals Hooker’s audience. This serves to introduce the element of Harold Perry lending his solid singing voice to the program, which would become a more prominent part of the program and lead to his departure in 1950. Later in the series, Hooker gives Gildersleeve a spare tire inner tube, leading Gildersleeve to organize a tribute dinner. Given that Gildersleeve is organizing it,  it proves the adage that no good deed goes unpunished, as Gildersleeve nearly wrecks Hooker’s reputation in the process.

Probably the best episode in this set is “Gildersleeve’s Goat, Horace.” A stray goat adopts Gildersleeve and his family and turns their world upside down, as the goat becomes a menace to the community. I have to give high marks to the production team for the great job they did in this season creating stories around animals using some solid sound effects skills.

If the series has one thing that got repetitive, it is the number of stories that involved con men. Three different episodes in this set feature con men trying to fleece Summerfield’s residents. It’s particularly noticeable that the first two episodes in the set (which were separated when they aired by another, lost, episode) were both about con-men-related stories. Of course, coming up with fresh ideas every week is a challenge when you have to turn out forty-four straight weeks of programs.

Overall, this set is a lot of fun while also being insightful. Listeners who don’t mind too much about flaws related to the the era or the challenge of putting out 44 weeks of programming will enjoy it even more.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

The Bob Bailey Matter, Part Five

Continued from Part Four

Her father was dead.

Roberta Goodwin had come to accept this It’d been nine years since she’d seen him. She’d tried to find her dad, Bob Bailey. She’d contacted all his friends, the studios, the talent agencies. No one knew where her father was. There were many things that could have happened to a prematurely aging alcoholic in his fifties who’d lost everything, and none of them bore thinking about. She moved on with her life, got married, and started a family.

One day in the early 1970s, she got a phone call.

The voice on the other end said, “Hello, this is your dad.”

“This is not funny, whoever’s playing this joke on me—!” 

“No, it’s me.”

Bailey convinced her. He’d drifted around for many years until finally going a rehabilitation center in Antelope Valley in North Los Angeles County and getting clean. And for two years, his life was going well. He found renewed purpose in life at the rehab center, helping others to recover from addiction and get on their feet again.

Then in 1973, Bailey suffered a debilitating stroke that left him paralyzed on his right side and confined to a convalescent hospital for the rest of his life.

What About Bob?

During most of his final years, Bob Bailey thought his radio work had been forgotten. We don’t know if he actively was bothered by this, but there was no doubt he thought this. Old time radio programs were never intended to be replayed forever. It was assumed once broadcast, they were gone forever. Even after transcription recording disks were sent out to stations, it was expected that they would be destroyed. The idea of reruns was rarely considered. More often than not, when a radio series wanted to reuse a script, it would have actors perform the same script over again rather than rebraodcast a previous performance. It was only late in the Golden Age of Radio that Television programs began to see the value of reruns and series like Dragnet and I Love Lucy  began syndicating their old episodes.

Of course, there were first-run syndication programs that aired at various times and on various stations with local or regional sponsors. Yet, most syndication of Golden Age Radio drama had stopped by the early 1960s domestically. The networks archived a handful of their own recordings and would trot out a few clips here and there, mostly of old comedy programs. Those programs which the networks didn’t save were destined to be lost forever

This is where Old Time Radio collectors took a hand. Thousands of individual collectors, large and small acquired transcription disks and tape recordings of old time radio programs. Fanciful stories about how this happened arose. However, the truth was far more mundane. Super collector David Goldin explained how he accumulated his collection: “Most of the transcriptions over the years have been bought, usually ten or twenty at a time, from record stores, radio stations, syndicators, advertising agencies, the performers who were on the programs and some special situations as well. Many people involved with these programs have allowed me access to personal collections

These sort of stories are told hundreds and thousands of times by many collectors both large and small in many places through the sixties and seventies. Taken together, they explains how golden age radio programs have survived the fickleness of networks.

In the 1970s, there would be renewed public interest in old time radio. It would be one of many trends in the 1970s. It was fed by genuine nostalgia. In an era defined by Vietnam and Watergate, the old-fashioned patriotism and innocence of many old time radio programs were certainly appealing during a difficult era.  There also was some appreciation for radio as a comedic and dramatic medium that would lead to many radio revival attempts (see parts one, two, and three of my look at the 1970s.) Of course, the fact is that so much of the golden age of radio had such enduring quality. Listeners got to enjoy the radio works of comedians like Jack Benny and Red Skelton who’d remained active on Television long after radio ended while also discovering or rediscovering Fibber McGee and Molly, The Shadow The Mercury Theatre of the Air, Suspense, X Minus One, Sam Spade, and of course, the Yours Truly Johnny Dollar serials.

In the 1970s, there would be old time radio rebroadcasts throughout the U.S. and radio shows where old time radio stars were interviewed. The seventies also saw the formation of collectors clubs. Organizations began long histories of preservation The Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety And Comedy (SPERDVAC) was founded in 1974, and in 1976, the first Friends of Old Time Radio Convention (FOTR) was held in 1976. SPERDVAC would begin hosting its own conventions in 1984. The Conventions brought together collectors, fans, and surviving cast and crew from the golden age of radio. There would be interviews and panels with surviving performers and crew from the Golden Age of Radio. Recordings were often made, capturing living history while it was still alive. These conventions would also feature recreations of old-time radio programs with the original actors when possible.

Many fans wondered what had happened to Bob Bailey. Bailey was far from the only old time radio figure to drop off the radar. In those days before the Internet, it was far easier to lose track of people. Yet Bailey was the most notable radio figure who couldn’t be accounted for. Other figures from the Golden Age of Radio who knew Bailey best were asked about him, but if they knew anything, they weren’t telling.

Denver-based old-time radio host John Dunning, who would go on to become one of the Golden Age of radio’s foremost historians, was well aware of the mystery. He had played all of the available Yours Truly Johnny Dollar serials from start to finish on his programs twice. Bailey became quite popular with listeners in Denver who asked Dunning if Bailey was alive, what he was doing, and if they could write for him. Dunning could give his listeners no answers. Then in the early 1980s, he sent copies of the serials to a radio station in Grand Junction which played them for the first time. The Grand Junction radio station got a call from a woman who identified herself as Bob Bailey’s daughter, Roberta Goodwin.

Dunning got in touch and arranged an interview which occurred on February 7, 1982 and is probably the most quoted interview about the Golden Age of Radio. Goodwin shared keen insights into not only her dad’s career challenges but also her perspective on the Golden Age of Radio from someone who saw it up close and personal. She’d called her dad when after speaking to Dunning to set the interview and he was excited that she knew something he’d done was still being listened to.

. Towards the end of their time, he brought up Goodwin’s statement that he’d disappeared from her life for nine years and asked if that was something he could ask her about. She said that in most cases she would have said no, but that, it might help someone, and she told the story of her Dad’s struggle with addiction and his disappearance. On the air, Dunning provided the address for his listeners to send a card or letter to Bob Bailey.

In June,  Representatives of the Board of SPERDVAC made the journey to the convalescent hospital; om Antelope Valley to and surprised Bailey with a birthday cake and a card for his 69th birthday. They also sent him materials for honorary membership and tasked a local member of SPERDVAC with going back to visit him just to make sure the material was received. Bailey told the man how much the birthday celebration had meant to him. Bailey hadn’t realized that he hadn’t been forgotten.

For about a year and a half, fans who enjoyed Bailey’s work could contact him with a letter, a card, or a large print book, although he was unable to write back due to his paralysis. On August 12, 1983, Bailey became sick and was moved to the hospital and died the next day on August 13, 1983 two months after his seventieth birthday.

Bob Bailey Travels the Information Super Highway

Old Time Radio persisted as a major hobby but it faded from the public imagination. Over time, many radio stations dropped old time radio replays or played them late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. Conventions continued to be held but there were fewer old time radio stars to attend as the years went on.

The Internet came and brought major changes and challenges to the old time radio hobby as it did to so many things. While we could go on at length about both the good and bad, there were two things that made a huge difference to Bob Bailey.

First, is how the Internet made collaboration easier across geographic lines. With the increasing prevalence of broadband, it made working with large files (ex: a high quality digital version) of an old time radio program) easier. It became far easier to come together, pick through possible versions of performance and choose the best ones to release to the public.

Secondly, broadband and increasing storage limits made it easier for the average listener to enjoy the full breadth of Bailey’s work. In the 1980s and 90s, if you were a retail old time radio fan, you were limited to a relatively small selection. You could buy a cassette with old time radio programs on both sides. Or maybe you might find an album with five or ten cassette tapes with ten or twenty programs in it. Of course, you listen for free to what was played on the air. But even then you were limited to what the radio station had. For example, John Dunning in 1982 had a very good collection for the time. In the interview with Goodwin, Dunning offered to share tapes of Bailey’s performances with him. He said he had all but five of the Yours Truly Johnny Dollar serial episodes,forty or fifty episodes of Let George Do It, and about fifteen of the later Yours Truly Johnny Dollar half hour episodes.

Today, anyone can listen to all of the Yours Truly Johnny Dollar serial episodes (although four are missing an episode in the middle), they can listen to two hundred episodes of Let George Do It, and more than 180 episodes of the Yours Truly Johnny Dollar half hours.

And listen they do. Bailey’s performances are uploaded to so many places online that it’s impossible to track it all: YouTube video plays, and other old time radio download sites, podcasts, and more. Not all of the places his work is posted provide an easy way of calculating downloads and hits, but those that do show millions of interactions. Bailey’s work is not just remembered by people who heard it when it first aired, but also by people from all around the world who were born after he died.

Bailey’s enduring popularity explains why Radio Spirits released The Bob Bailey Collectionin 2020. As part of the collection, Radio Spirits reached out to super collector Jerry Haendiges and obtained rare recordings of obscure programs Bailey appeared in. The interest Bob Bailey is such that nearly 40 years after his death, people would buy an album of old time radio shows containing episodes of the Public service show Illinois March of Health just because Bailey appears in them!

While there were many solid actors who played detectives during the Golden Age of Radio, there was something really special about Bailey’s portrayal of Johnny Dollar that resonates with listeners to this day and causes to stand out from his peers.


In the end, Bailey was a creative and talented person who dreamt big and had a lot of disappointments. He never landed a great film or television role and he never got close to becoming a director.

Yet, Bailey also achieved many goals that others would envy. He got to act with Laurel and Hardy, he wrote a story that became a movie, as well as a dozen TV episodes. He also spent twelve years as the star of two very successful network radio programs, both are listened to and enjoyed forty years after his death.

The last third of his life was filled with sad and tragic turn of events that you wouldn’t wish on anyone. But at the same time, unlike many, he escaped addiction. He got to try to rebuild his relationship with his daughter, as well help others find their way back. He lived long enough to know that his best work and hadn’t been lost and for his grandchildren to hear it.

Bailey’s work is an essential part of the American Golden Age of Radio. As long as it’s remembered, Bailey’s work will be as well.


John Abbott provided some really great insights as I was researching this series of articles. His Bob Bailey page has a lot of great characters of Bailey throughout his career as well as a very good breakdown of his radio and screen work. John also gave a fascinating presentation via Zoom to the Metropolitian Washington Old Time Radio Club. on the life of Bob Bailey from start to finish. The presentation features a lot of great details, including a whole story about Bailey’s color career as a young man around the Chicago World’s Fair that I just couldn’t fit in here.