This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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CALLING JOHNNY DOLLAR
by John Abbott © 2011
(From Radio Recall, October 2011)
Mention Johnny Dollar, and 99% of the audience will think of one person – Bob Bailey. Even though there were 6 actors who voiced the part of Johnny Dollar and two more that auditioned for the part, for almost 6 of the 12 years that Yours Truly ,Johnny Dollar was on the air, Bob Bailey was the voice that answered the phone at the beginning of the program.
But most people do not really know that much about Bob, (not that there is that much to know.) This then, is the background of Bob, as gleaned from an interview with his daughter, Roberta, in 1982, and other sources.
Bob Bailey (born Robert Bainter Bailey) was born on June 13, 1913 in Toledo, Ohio. His parents were stage actors, and, according to his daughter, Bob was literally born backstage in a trunk. His first acting gig was appearing on stage at the age of 18 months.
As an adult, Bob was featured in a number of Chicago-based radio programs. These programs, according to John Dunning’s On the Air included the soap operas Aunt Mary, Girl Alone, Kitty Keene, Incorporated, Knickerbocker Playhouse, Mortimer Gooch, The Story of Holly Sloan, and also One Man’s Family, Road of Life, Skattergood Baines, That Brewster Boy, plus Today’s Children.
Bob made the move to the west coast and was signed by 20th Century-Fox, where he appeared in seven feature films. His first two films, which featured him prominently, were with Laurel and Hardy (The Jitterbugs, 1943 and The Dancing Masters, 1943). Bob also played a supporting role in A Wing and a Prayer (1944), with Don Ameche. According to his daughter, Bob also appeared in Tampico (1943), The Eve of St. Mark (1944), Ladies of Washington (1944), and Sunday Dinner for a Soldier (1944). While on the west Coast, Bob appeared in a number of other radio programs, including Romance, Suspense, and Cavalcade of America.
In 1946, Bob landed the role of George Valentine in the program Let George Do It. From May, 1946 to April, 1953, Bob “let George do it” in 200 programs, with the aid of Frances Robinson, and later Virginia Gregg, playing the part of Booksie.
In 1955, the program Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar came back on the air, and Bob was selected to play the title role. While YTJD ran from 1949 until 1962 (which, along with Suspense, were the last major dramatic series on the air), and featured the exploits of "America's fabulous freelance insurance investigator"; Bailey starred as Johnny only from 1955 through 1960.
It is a little known fact that Bob was a cast member in two earlier YTJD programs, “The Lancer Jewelry Matter” (2/13/53 - no audio copy available) and “The Classified Killer Matter” (2/23/54). Bob did write one YTJD episode, "The Carmen Kringle Matter" (12/22/57) using the pen name "Robert Bainter".
According to the International Movie Database (www.imdb.com) Bob also appeared in a number of television programs while he was Johnny Dollar. These include Mr. & Mrs. North (1954), The Lineup (1957), Tightrope (1959), M Squad (1960), Tales of Wells Fargo (1961), The Investigators (1961), The Lawbreakers (1961 [un-credited]), The Asphalt Jungle (1961), and 87th Precinct (1962). To date, the only program I have verified is the M Squad program “The Man with Frank's Face” in which Bob plays a gangster named Cal Dorso.
In 1960, CBS made the decision to relocate all radio dramas to New York City. For unknown reasons, Bob decided to give up the role and remain in Hollywood. But the program was just not the same without Bob. Bob had appeared in 484 YTJD programs, and made his name synonymous with Johnny Dollar.
While acting in YTJD, Bob also busied himself by writing for the TV program, Fury, starring a young Peter Graves. But even that dried up, and Bob’s last known appearance was in the film Birdman of Alcatraz (1962). Bob appears at the end of the film in group of reporters. Interestingly, another Johnny Dollar (Edmond O'Brien, who had portrayed Johnny from 1950 to 1952) was also in that scene.
While off the radio, Bob was married, with two children. However, there was a darker side to Bob - he had a lifelong struggle with alcohol, and was a member of Alcohol Anonymous. But when the writing and acting jobs dried up, Bob must have had to fight with his inner demons. It did not help that plans for a television series fell through in 1962. There are stories that a pilot show was made, but television executives felt that Bob Bailey just didn't "look the part" of Johnny Dollar (Bob was only 5’ 9” and weighed in around 150-pounds – hardly he-man proportions). Finally, sometime after 1962, Bob was divorced and just disappeared, leaving his family and his life behind.
After nine years, Bob was able to clean up his life and worked in a rehab hospital helping others overcome the problems that he had fought with for those nine years. But the untold events of his missing life took their toll, and Bob suffered a massive stroke in 1973 and spent the next 10 years in a rest home in Lancaster, California. Finally, on August 13, 1983, Bob died from the effects of his stroke at the age of 80.
Over Bob’s life, he most likely appeared in nearly 1000 programs. David Goldin’s online database lists 708 programs, which do not include his earlier soap opera roles. Bob played all sorts of roles, and always was able to deliver a fine performance. In John Dunning’s On the Air, Bob is quoted as saying, “If you know how to handle your voice in radio, it’s almost impossible to destroy an illusion”.
Bob was able to use his voice to deliver that illusion on the air for almost 25 years. After the demise of radio drama, he has continued to deliver that illusion for over 65 years, both as George Valentine and as Johnny Dollar.