Q & A: Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar on TV

I get a lot of e-mails from people asking me about television shows, made-for-TV movies or miniseries they remember from years or even decades past. I try to answer each question as best I can. Every now and then I like to pull out a few e-mails to answer here at Television Obscurities for everyone to enjoy. Keep reading for today’s questions and answers.

I am trying to locate a copy of the TV pilot of a long running radio show that was the last dramatized radio show on the air. It was called “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar”. A TV pilot was made in 1962 starring Bob Bailey and I believe the show’s subtitle was “Annie’s Child.” I believe it was on CBS TV.

Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar ran for more than 800 episodes on CBS Radio from 1949 to 1962 (with a hiatus during parts of 1954 and 1955). Johnny was an insurance investigator who worked out of Hartford, Connecticut (the insurance capitol of the world) but his cases took him all over the country and occasionally the world. The show debuted in February 1949 and the first incarnation ended in September 1954.

Eight different actors voiced the character over the course of the show’s 12-year run, perhaps most famously Bob Bailey, who took over the role when Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar was revived in October 1955. He remained with the show until 1960. The Golden Age of Radio is generally considers to have ended in September 1962 when both Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and Suspense.

Several attempts were made to translate the radio show to the small screen. According to Wikipedia, two pilots were filmed: one in 1958 starring Bob Bailey and another in 1962 starring William Bryant. The Thrilling Detective Web Site, on the other hand, states the 1962 pilot starred Bailey.

My research suggests that there were indeed two pilots filmed but neither of them starred Bailey. The first pilot was filmed in late 1949 for CBS-TV. The network hoped to air a half-hour series live on the West Coast and via kinescope on the East Coast. Charles Russell, who voiced the character on radio, starred as Johnny Dollar in the pilot. The network decided to pass on the pilot, which never aired.

Russell was replaced on the radio show by Edmond O’Brien in February 1950. I found at least one reference to CBS-TV taking another stab at a TV pilot in 1951 but nothing seems to have come of it. John Lund took over as Johnny Dollar in November 1952 and voiced the character until the show ended its first run in September 1954.

When the radio show was revived in October 1955, Bob Bailey was the new voice of Johnny Dollar. It didn’t take long for CBS-TV to try again. In November 1956, the network began preparing a new pilot based on a script by E. Jack Newman, who had also written for the radio show but nothing seems to have come of it. Screen Gems planned a filmed series for CBS-TV in 1959 but it also appears to have gone nowhere. Whether Bailey was attached to either of these projects is unknown. Bailey left the radio show in November 1960 and was replaced by Bob Readick in December 1960. Readick was then replaced by Mandel Kramer in June 1961.

In late 1961 or early 1962, MGM-TV and Project III Enterprises completed a pilot for a proposed half-hour TV series to air during the 1962-1963 season. William Bryant starred in the pilot, which was written and executive produced by Blake Edwards. Henry Mancini composed music for the pilot. It was not picked up and never aired.

CBS Radio broadcast the final episode of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar on September 30th, 1962.

Is it possible a TV pilot was completed at some point in the late 1950s with Bailey playing Johnny Dollar? Certainly. If anyone has any information, please share.

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15 Replies to “Q & A: Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar on TV”

  1. I’ll have to see if I can dig it up, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a picture of Bob Bailey that was captioned as a publicity still for a Johnny Dollar pilot.

    Seems like Johnny Dollar would be a good fit for a TV series, but none of the actors who voiced him on the radio had the right look or the screen presence, really.

    1. I think that Alan Ladd would have been an excellent choice to play the part. I would really love to see a TV version of the series.

  2. Personally, I’d rather not have the show in the visual medium. It would spoil it IMO. Some shows conveyed well to TV. Others, like Fibber McGee and Molly were good but not great on the big screen but didn’t come off well on TV. Mainly because, again IMO, Jim and Marion Jordon WERE the characters. If someone feels differently, who’s to say there’s only one way to think about it? BTW, the hall closet wasn’t nearly as funny in the movies as when it’s pictured in the Theater of the Mind. Don’t open that door, McGee! Oh-oh, too late

  3. I’ve always thought JD would make a great TV series, using a film noir setting and using minimal atmosphere actors, a la The Avengers. Most of the radio scripts would run almost verbatim. Keep the early 50’s vibe and values. Don’t try at all to modernise it. Maybe even B&W filming. Let’s do a kick-start for a pilot!

    1. I’ve been mulling this concept over as of late, too. I think it’s the right moment. A TV series using the radio episode scripts. I think a film noir feel might work, but then again, it might not hook the younger audience and without them, the series would likely have a short run because they are the target audience for advertisers. It’s hard to beat Bailey. Not sure any current talent has the same sense as he did. Maybe Ryan Reynolds, but a new talent may work, too. They’d have to take the role seriously, but also have the sly, slightly comedic timing.

      How do we get the ball rolling?

      1. I am in for doing a film but either Brad Pitt who has thst snarky attitude or Leonard DiCaprio anyone want help me produce?

  4. Belated Fun Fact:
    One of Bob Bailey’s last acting roles was a recurring role as a judge on Sam Benedict, a 1962-63 lawyer show starring Edmond O’Brien.
    Bailey did three episodes as Judge Ionic; if Sam Benedict had gone more than one season, he might have done more … but we’ll never know, will we?
    Bob Bailey did these shows when he was 49 years old, but he looked quite a bit older; he reired from screen acting not long after (I wonder if he and his fellow Dollar Edmond O’Brien traded notes).
    Sam Benedict is available as a commercial DVD set, so you may check it out for yourself.

    1. I always thought that Jack Kelly of Maverick would have made a good Dollar on tv.
      A new tv series would be great, not sure who of the current crop of thirty- something actors would be best.

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