Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, “the transcribed adventures of the man with the action-packed expense account — America’s fabulous freelance insurance investigator” aired on CBS Radio from January 1949 to September 1962. There were 811 episodes in the 12-year run, and more than 720 still exist today. I think I have all of them.
As originally conceived, Johnny Dollar was a smart, tough, wisecracking detective who tossed silver-dollars as tips to waiters and bellhops. Dick Powell (who we heard recently as Richard Diamond), starred in the first audition show, recorded in 1948 but he withdrew before the show started production. The show, for which Powell auditioned, was originally titled “Yours Truly, Lloyd London,” although the name of the show and its lead character were apparently changed before first episode recording in December of 1948.
At first, there was little to distinguish Johnny Dollar from other detective series at the time (Richard Diamond, Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade). While always a friend of the police, Johnny wasn’t necessarily a stickler for the strictest interpretation of the law. He was willing to let some things slide to satisfy his own sense of justice, as long as the interests of his employer were also protected. The first run ended in 1954. CBS Radio revived Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar in October 1955 with a new leading man, a new director, and a new format. The program changed from a 30-minute, one-episode-per-week affair to a 15-minute, five-nights-a-week serial (Monday through Friday, 8-8:15pm EST) produced and directed by radio veteran Jack Johnstone. The new Johnny Dollar was Bob Bailey (Our Johnny Dollar on this particular show), who had just come off another network detective series, Let George Do It. With a new lead and 75 minutes of air time each week, it became possible to develop each storyline with more detail and with more characters. The serial scripts were usually written by Jack Johnstone, “John Dawson” (a pseudonym for E. Jack Neuman), Les Crutchfield, or Robert Ryf. Blake Edwards also contributed several scripts and the show was always produced and directed by Johnstone. The show featured an excellent stock company of supporting actors, including Virginia Gregg, Harry Bartell, Vic Perrin, Lawrence Dobkin, Parley Baer, Howard McNear, John Dehner, Alan Reed, and Forrest Lewis. Movie character actors appeared occasionally.
In late 1956 CBS Radio retooled the show, which reverted to a weekly half-hour drama, airing on late Sunday afternoons. Bob Bailey continued in the leading role until 1960 (and wrote one episode, “The Carmen Kringle Matter”).
Tonight’s show, The Shepherd Matter, was originally one of the five-night serials but has been edited to fit into the time allowed. I must stress that nothing has been removed except the show introductions and the preview of the next day’s show from each of the daily programs. The show itself is basically intact. It was originally broadcast from the 16th through the 20th of April, 1956.
George Burns & Gracie Allen Program
Watching the Neighbor’s Daughter June 16, 1949
On this show, jumped-to conclusions and mistaken identities take George and Gracie on their prevalent zany course. With Bill goodwill, Rudy Vallee and Richard Crenna.
George Burns (Born Nathan Birnbaum) was the ninth of 12 children born to Louis and Dorothy Birnbaum in New York City. His father was a substitute cantor at the local synagogue but did not work very often. Nattie (as he was known to his family) started working in 1903 after his father’s death from influenza, shining shoes, running errands, and selling newspapers. When he landed a job as a syrup maker in a local candy shop at the age of seven, Nattie Birnbaum was discovered singing harmony with the Pee-Wee Quartet. George recalled, “We started out singing on ferryboats, in saloons, in brothels, and on street corners. We’d put our hats down for donations. Sometimes the customers threw something in the hats. Sometimes they took something out of the hats. Sometimes they took the hats.”
Grace Ethel Cecile Rosalie Allen, known as Gracie Allen, alleged that she was born in July of 1906. Her husband listed her birth year as 1902 but no one really knows the real date (or year for that matter) as many records were destroyed in the earthquake and great fire of April, 1906. A Search of Census records show that her birth year was more likely 1895 or 1896.
Burns and Allen weren’t afraid of pulling a stunt now and again. In 1940, Gracie announced she was running for President of the United States on the Surprise Party ticket. For this stunt, Burns and Allen did a cross-country whistlestop campaign tour on a private train, performing their live radio show in different cities. In one of her campaign speeches Gracie said, “I don’t know much about the Lend-Lease Bill, but if we owe it we should pay it.” Allen was also the subject of one of S.S. Van Dine’s famous Philo Vance mystery novels, The Gracie Allen Murder Case. Typically, she couldn’t resist posturing a classic Gracie Allen review: “S.S. Van Dine is silly to spend six months writing a novel when you can buy one for two dollars and ninety five cents.”
Richard Diamond, Private Detective:
Butcher Shop Protection 3/9/51
This series starred Dick Powell (no relation to William Powell) which aired from 1949 to 1953, first on NBC, then ABC and finally on CBS. The title character was a rather light-hearted but quick-witted detective who often ended the episodes singing to his girlfriend, Helen.
The series moved to television in 1957 and was produced by Powell’s company, Four Star Television, and ran for three years. On TV, David Janssen played a more hard-boiled private eye and his secretary renamed “Sam”, was only ever shown on camera from the waist down, most assuredly to display her beautiful legs (which belonged to Mary Tyler Moore).
Mr. Powell was married three times, his brides included Joan Blondell and June Allyson, with whom he had two children. Powell’s ranch-style house in Mandeville Canyon, Los Angeles, was used as the setting for the television show Hart to Hart.
Next Week: Your Truly, Johnny dollar