Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Gerald Mohr Matter

In a previous post, I compared the multiple Johnny Dollars to the multitude of actors who've played James Bond. Though my point there was that the consensus opinion about Bob Bailey means there's nothing akin to Connery vs. Moore, I found myself thinking of the two actors who only appeared in audition programs and whether one of them might count as the George Lazenby of Johnny Dollar. I don't say that to insult either of the two audition-show-only Johnny Dollars, Richard Powell and Gerald Mohr, or Lazenby (whose sole outing as Bond, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, was actually pretty good) but rather to place them in the larger history of the program.

Of the two, the case is stronger for Mohr. Where Powell was literally the first actor to play the role - and hired when they still thought the character would be named Lloyd London - Mohr is the one who came between two actors who had long runs in the role. Similarly, as with On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Mohr's lone story The Trans-Pacific Matter represented an attempt to take the series in a new direction. Unlike the Bond film, which ended up being a stylistic outlier in the series, The Trans-Pacific Matter was very much a pilot for what Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar would become.

That's evident not just in the earliest use of the Joseph Mullendore's "Love Theme No. 1" but also the more thoughtful tone for the character director/producer Jack Johnstone was going for, even as he re-used a story originally performed by Edmond O'Brien. Where the story falls short, though, is in the leading man himself. Though Mohr was a good actor, he was better suited to more traditional hard-boiled roles like Philip Marlowe, who he portrayed as well as anyone including Bogart.

Mohr's take on Johnny Dollar is credible but ultimately not particularly different - or distinguished - from his predecessors, lacking the vocal and emotional nuances the character would later attain. It's unclear if this factor or other work commitments is why Mohr didn't go on to play the role regularly. According to radio historian Stewart Wright, a trade magazine announced Mohr's casting, but following that what Jack Johnstone described as "a flock of actors" would be auditioned. 

This flock included, of course, Bob Bailey who brought the added dimension to the part that makes his tenure so beloved. Some might say this makes Mohr just a footnote in the history of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. If so, then it's very telling that even the show's footnotes are a sign of quality.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Art of Adaptation Matter

As a lifelong comics fan. one of the most interesting parts of interviewing award-winning writer David Gallaher was hearing his insights on the process of adapting a radio show for the comics medium. Here's a brief excerpt.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Brick By Brick Matter

Over the past few weeks, I interviewed radio historian Martin Grams, Jr. and David Gallaher, writer of the Johnny Dollar graphic novel "The Brief Candle Matter". Of course, the interviews are the easy part. Transcribing them to identify which pieces fit with those already shot to best tell the story is rather more painstaking, though, satisfying in other ways. In any case, I think both of them for sitting down with me.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Lost Voices

I continue to be grateful for the generosity of radio historian John Dunning and his wife Helen in getting me copies of the various interviews they've done with people associated with Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. As time passes, the number of primary sources for a documentary about the golden age of radio can only diminish, making Dunning's conversations with the likes of Jack Johnstone and Bob Bailey's daughter Roberta Goodwin all the more precious. Now, if I could find a similar source of high quality images of the various actors and production personnel who worked on the show, I'd be totally set.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The "What About Bob?" Matter

Last Friday would have been Bob Bailey's 101st birthday. In honor of that, here's a rough version of a segment about him.

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day in Mind

The 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing naturally brings radio to mind, as that's how so many Americans learned that their loved ones were in the thick of what (then-)General Eisenhower called "a great crusade". For me, the figure that stands out the most is Orson Welles. With all due respect to titans such as Norman Corwin, Jack Johnstone and Wyllis Cooper (to name a few), I firmly believe that Welles was the greatest talent in the history of radio drama. Welles was many things - showman, agitator, lades man (to put it politely) and, yes, genius. What tends to be overlooked is the degree to which he was a patriot in the finest American tradition, something this special broadcast he produced to mark the D-Day landing makes abundantly clear.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Remembrance Matter

I get my middle name from a great uncle who served in World War Two as the tail-gunner in a B-17. He didn't make it back. Admittedly, I don't think of him - and the millions of other soldiers who've sacrificed so much for our country - as often as I should. Nonetheless, I am grateful - hopefully more grateful than I was as a child when I first learned about this part of my family history. The freedoms these legions have secured for us are themselves legion, including the freedom to work on a documentary about an old radio show of all things (even if I don't have as much free time to devote to it as I'd like).

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Second Best Matter

When a role is played by multiple actors, there's typically spirited debate among fans about who did it best. Whether the debate is about Sean Connery vs. Roger Moore (or, perhaps, Daniel Craig) or Tom Baker vs. David Tennant (personally, I prefer Christopher Eccleston), the only consensus is that each actor's partisans are confident that the others' are wrong. Johnny Dollar is different, because there is virtually no dissent that Bob Bailey played him best. Where things get interesting is the conversation about who was second best. As you can see from the clip below, three different interviewees each offered different opinions on the matter.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Putting It Together (Step One)

There are still some interviews to be shot and lots of research to be done, but that's no reason not to start putting pieces together to get a sense of what the final shape of this effort will be. I enjoyed putting this together, rough though it is, and hope you will as well.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

...There Is a Season...

This is obviously a little off-topic, but the passing of Pete Seeger seems significant enough to warrant a bit of digression. As much as I respected him and his contributions to popular music. the late Pete Seeger was never one of my favorite musicians. He was, however, a hero to me for the ways he stood up for his beliefs throughout his life. 

When called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Seeger didn't use the 5th Amendment - constitutional though it may have been to invoke his right to avoid self-incrimination. Rather, he honed in on a more pertinent point by referring to the 1st Amendment and the principle of freedom of association. Simply put, Seeger told the committee that it was none of their business what groups he belonged to, communist or otherwise. For his trouble, he was indicted for contempt of Congress and would spend several years dealing with the fall-out of that exceptionally principle decision.

Seeger told me about this in a phone call a little over five years ago. The ostensible purpose of the call was to clarify some rights questions about the release of one of his old concerts, but that took up maybe three
 minutes of the 20 minute call. For the rest of it, Seeger (I can't pretend a sufficient level of familiarity to call him Pete) gave me an unsolicited history lesson.

He told me about the world tour he and his family undertook once the HUAC situation had finally been put to rest. He talked about the Soviet Union and his belief that the post-revolution circumstances had made the emergence of someone like Stalin almost inevitable. Most memorably, he related an anecdote about Eleanor Roosevelt and the eminently graceful way in which she engaged one of her husband's mistresses after his death.

It's hard to recall another instance where such a brief slice of time left me feeling so much more enlightened and just as 
much in awe of someone. There's a school of thought that one should never meet their heroes, because of the seeming inevitability of disappointment, and perhaps Pete Seeger was the exception that proves the rule. He was never talking down to me - at least I never felt he was. Instead, he gave me lots to ponder and, now that he's gone, a very personal story to tell. I can only imagine how many lives he touched through music or conversation and will always be grateful that I was one of them.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The 12 Month Matter

It's been about a year since I started researching and interviewing for this project. Though the production hasn't progressed as fast as I'd like ("life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans" as a famous songwriter once opined), I'm still pleased with what's been done so far. This includes my interview with broadcasting legend Ed Walker, who remains the host of WAMU-FM's weekly old-time radio showcase The Big Broadcast (Sunday nights at 7:00 and available to listen online). Here are Ed's thoughts on some of the elements that made Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar a success.