Bob Bailey was “born in a theater trunk” in Toledo, Ohio, to traveling-performer parents. Bob first hit the stage at the age of six. As a young man he began performing on the radio in Chicago, which was a hub of network production during the pre-War years. Bailey appeared in a number of anthology productions originating from WGN and WMAQ, and worked on several of Arch Oboler’s productions.
Bailey reached the West Coast soon after the War broke out. There was a shortage of male-talent because of the War, and Bob landed a standard one year contract with Twentieth Century Fox. He would appear in seven films for Fox. Of medium height and rather skinny, as far as the movies were concerned, Bob Bailey had a face for radio.
Fortunately for his career, he also had a voice for radio. Hollywood was gaining prominence as the center of radio production, and perhaps capitalizing on his Chicago connections, Bailey found occasional work on Oboler’s Everything For The Boys, Treasury Star Parade, Lux Radio Theater, and Arch Oboler’s Plays. In 1946 the door to stardom opened for Bailey with the Don Lee/Mutual network production of Let George Do It.
George Valentine was a departure from the typical hard-boiled detectives of the time. A detailed and believable backstory was built through the first season; Valentine had been a GI during the war, and while he was overseas he had plenty of time to consider what he wanted to do (or more likely, what he DIDN’T want to do) when he got home. He took out a personal ad in the local paper:
Do You Have a Job That Needs Doing?
Let George Do It!
Danger is my stock in trade.
If the job is too tough for you to handle
You’ve got a job for me,
Write FULL details
Conceived as more of a professional problem solver than a detective, the program began as almost a situation comedy before it evolved into a not-quite-hard-boiled detective drama. Valentine always displayed a degree of GI ingenuity and out of the box thinking. Let George Do It had many of the trappings of the Detective genre. He always had an eye for a pretty girl, much to the consternation of his secretary and sometimes love interest Claire Brooks (Brooksie), played by Virginia Gregg. Brooksie’s kid brother was an occasional character; Sonny was none other than Eddie Firestone Jr., and often turned up just when Valentine needed a hand or an obscure piece of information.
As part of the Don Lee Network, Let George Do It was a popular program, but little known in the East for its first five seasons. By that time Bailey was ready to move on, and he found an opportunity in the reformulated version of CBS’s Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.
Johnny Dollar had been a popular detective radio program for several years, with different actors in the lead role. Dollar was an insurance investigator with an “Action Packed Expense Account” beginning in 1949. His various cases took Johnny Dollar around the world in search of insurance fraud. By the end of the 1954 season, YTJD was little different from the rest of the detectives on the air. In order to breath new life into the show, production was turned over to Jack Johnstone, who had previously produced Buck Rogers and The Adventures of Superman. One of Johnstone’s first moves was to change the format from a weekly half hour to a five day a week 15 minute show. The new format allowed for week-long story arcs and greater character and plot development.
This was a great fit for the thinking-man detective persona Bob Bailey developed on Let George Do It. Of all the actors to handle the Johnny Dollar role, Bailey is the fan favorite. Unfortunately the daily format only lasted for thirteen months before returning to weekly episodes (Johnstone continued to contribute scripts). By this time the writing was on the wall for Radio Drama. CBS moved production to New York as a cost cutting move in 1960, but Bailey chose to remain in Hollywood.
Bailey made a few television appearances, and began writing for TV (he wrote “the Carmen Kringle Matter” Christmas episode for Johnny Dollar’s 1957 season). He would battle with alcoholism for most of his remaining years. He began to make a recovery with the help of Alcoholic’s Anonymous when he was felled by a massive heart attack. He would spend most of the remaining ten years of his life in a convalescent home, renewing his relationships with friends and family.