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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The 1955 Auditions For the Role of Johnny Dollar
by Stewart Wright, ©2013
(From Radio Recall, August 2013)
A Small Mystery:
Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar is a favorite
series of many Old-Time Radio fans. Much has
been written aoout the series, including an
excellent three volume set of books, "The Who is
Johnny Dollar Matter!" by MWOTRC member
John C. Abbott. However, there are still some
small mysteries surrounding the series. During a
March, 2013 research trip, with the assistance of
an archivist, I uncovered CBS internal documents
about the return of the series to the air in October,
1955. These documents were a revelation and
helped me to solve one of those small mysteries:
how the 1955 lead actor selection process was
On September 19, 1954 the John Lund
run of the series ended with the broadcast of "The
Upjohn Matter." For more than a year Yours Truly,
Johnny Dollar was absent from the CBS radio
lineup. Some fans wondered if the series would
We jump to late Summer, 1955. In an
attempt to increase listenership, CBS Radio
executives planned to revive a once popular
programming format: the five-night-a-week 15-minute show. Each nightly installment would
have an intriguing ending that would encourage
listeners to tune in for each of the following
installments until the current story line was
resolved. Several previous CBS series were
considered for resurrection including Rocky
Jordan and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.
The Search for a "New" Johnny Dollar
The decision was made to bring back
"The man with the action-packed expense
account" to the CBS airwaves. An audition show
with Gerald Mohr as Dollar was produced in late
August, 1955. It was announced in at least one
trade publication that Mohr would be the new
Johnny Dollar. However, Mohr was either too
busy with work in television and motion pictures to
accept the role or CBS executives decided to look
elsewhere for the lead for the revived series.
Time was getting short. CBS planned to
bring back Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar in its Fall
1955 lineup. A lead actor had to be found quickly.
Most Old-Time Radio fans assume that Bob
Bailey was the natural and only other alternative.
That assumption is incorrect! CBS executives
weren't sure who would play the role of Johnny
A traditional method was used to find the "new" Johnny Dollar: the Casting Call. The word
was put out that CBS was casting the lead role for
Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. More than a dozen
actors were initially considered and scheduled for
auditions in mid-September, 1955. Each actor
would have 20 minutes to pitch themselves to
director Jack Johnstone and pertorm a five-page
audition script with Lillian Buyeff.
Most of the actors who auditioned had
impressive radio credentials. Several had lead
role experience in detective-type series, such as
Paul Dubev (Jeff Regan, Investigator and The
Adventures of Frank Race), Larry Thor (Broadway
Is My Beat) , Jack Moyles (A Man Named Jordan,
O'Hara, and Rocky Jordan), and Bob Bailey (Let
George Do It). Other actors such as Tony Barrett,
Vic Perrin, Barney Phillips, Hy Averback, and
Frank Gerstle had solid radio experience.
The Winner Is:
Bob Bailey won the role. Less than two
weeks later, on September 25th, he was taping
the first five-part Johnny Dollar episode, "The
Macormack Matter." The series returned to the
CBS airwaves on Monday, October 03, 1955.
Bailey would play Johnny Dollar for the remainder
of the series' origination from Hollywood, a period
of over five years.
A Surprising Candidate:
There was at least one surprise on the
audition list. This actor had virtually no radio
experience and was scratched from the list prior
to his audition. He would later go on to fame on
television as The Rifleman. Yes, Chuck Connors
was considered for the role of Johnny Dollar.
I would like to acknowledge the
assistance of Klaudia Englund of the Special
Collections Department at the Grant A. Brimhall
Library for bringing many Yours Truly, Johnny
Dollar related CBS documents to my attention.