Johnny Dollar was not your typical gumshoe chasing wayward husbands and garden-variety murderers. As an independent insurance fraud investigator, Dollar worked without the assistance of a colleague, secretary or partner. Each case began with a phone call from Pat McCracken at the Universal Adjustment Bureau, a fictitious clearinghouse for insurance claims. When a suspicious claim crossed his desk, McCracken enlisted Johnny’s help in cracking the case. Based in Hartford, Connecticut, these “matters,” as Dollar liked to refer to them, took him across the U.S. and abroad. More often than not, these “matters” involved some element of danger.
Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar premiered February 11, 1949 on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) radio station, as a 30-minute weekly series. Initially, Yours Truly, Lloyd London, the title was changed shortly after the first audition for the lead role. Created by Jack Johnstone, each case was presented to the listening audience in hindsight. As Dollar reviewed and reconciled his expense account, each expenditure led to a recollection of a particular moment or aspect pertinent to the investigation and conclusion of the case.
In the earlier episodes, Johnny was known for the silver dollar tips he left behind to food servers and hotel personnel, but eventually the writers stopped emphasizing the gratuities. Johnny tended to stick to business; however, when not on an active case, he loved to spend his free time fishing. Before the introduction of his serious girlfriend, Betty Lewis, Johnny occasionally interacted with the opposite sex.
Several actors portrayed Johnny Dollar over the years. After his 1948 audition, Dick Powell was scheduled to take on the role; however, he left before the show began taping. Powell had accepted the leading role in Richard Diamond, Private Detective. The Johnny Dollar role fell to Charles Russell, who played the character until January 14, 1950. Edmond O’Brien picked up the mantel and played Dollar, until John Lund took over the reigns in 1952. The program stopped production during the 1953/54 season, only to reemerge a year later.
In 1955, Bob Bailey replaced Lund. CBS also changed the format of the program, turning each storyline into a 75-minute episode spread out over 5 nights. The new, live 15-minute episodes aired Monday through Friday. Unfortunately, the daily commitment for a 15-minute broadcast by cast a crewmembers proved to be overwhelming and within a year, the series reverted to its 30-minute, once a week format. Bob Bailey continued in the role, until 1960, when CBS ceased production on the West Coast. Bailey, who was not prepared to relocate to New York, was replaced by Bob Readick. In June of 1961, Mandel Kramer assumed the role of Johnny Dollar, until its final episode aired on September 30, 1962.
During its run, the program featured numerous guest performers. Vincent Price, Jeanette Nolan, Vic Perrin, Harry Bartell and Tony Barrett are only a few of the actors, who found their way to Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Several scriptwriters also worked diligently during the show’s lifetime. They included creator, Jack Johnstone, Les Crutchfield, Robert Ryf and Blake Edwards, many of whom also wrote episodes under various pseudonyms.
After the series ended, there was a brief attempt to revive Johnny Dollar for a television audience. Bob Bailey reprised the role in a made-for-television pilot that aired in 1962; however, television executives dropped the project, citing that Bailey did not have the “right look” for the television version. Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar aired for nearly 12 years. Over 800 episodes were produced, in which more than 700 recordings are still in existence today.
Enjoy this episode of Caylin Matter part I: