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.