Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Enduring Appeal of the Man with the Action-packed Expense Account

September 30, 1962 marked the end of the golden age of radio, as the last two network radio dramas aired their final episodes. One of them, the long-running dramatic showcase Suspense, was among old-time radio's most iconic programs. The other was lesser-known series but no less remarkable. Despite a lack of big-name stars or even a sponsor for most of its run, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar had been running almost continuously since 1949 and endured long after many better known radio shows had either transitioned to television or been canceled all together. 

Johnny Dollar - both the show and the character - started out little different than dozens of other detective shows from the heyday of radio drama. The employers may have been insurance companies rather than suspicious spouses, but the methods employed were virtually indistinguishable, aside from the weekly accounting of his "action-packed expense account". That changed in 1955 with the debut of new leading men both on-air and behind the scenes. Five actors had already played the title role before radio veteran Bob Bailey took over, but Bailey is the one who is not just best remembered but also best loved by fans, due to a portrayal balanced the hard-boiled elements with a more humanized take on the character. At the same time, under the guidance of veteran writer/producer Jack Johnstone, the program shifted from a standard once-a-week presentation to serialized stories that ran five days a week. The new format allowed for a more character-driven approach and, though, the daily format only lasted a little over a year those stories remain the most popular and are still repeated on old-radio showcases all over the country.

My documentary The "Whatever Became of Johnny Dollar?" Matter, projected to be completed by the end of 2013, examines this unique program that continues to find not just new fans but also fans who are as devoted today as they were five decades ago. The film will do so in the manner of its inspiration - interviews with experts, pounding the pavement and, of course, with every expense documented (and then some). If you want to learn more about the project, come back to this blog for updates and/or feel free to drop me a note at citizenk41@aol.com. Thanks.