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Old Time Radio

How to Hard Boil a Detective, A Look at “Let George Do It”

George Valentine wasn’t any tougher than the next guy, but he certainly was no sissy. He did not aspire to any self-made code of right and wrong, although he tried to be honest with his fellow man and if he made a promise he did his best to keep it. Although he wasn’t a teetotaler, he didn’t keep a bottle of rye whiskey in his desk drawer to get through the morning. He was no rumple-suited, hard-boiled type packing a well-worn .38 in a shoulder holster, in fact, George may not have even carried a gun after he got out of the military and even after serving in the War, George Valentine wasn’t all that hard-boiled.

So how did Let George Do It get lumped in with all the other Hard-boiled Detectives which had escaped the pulps to become a staple of post-War radio? Perhaps we should look at the Hard-boiled Detectives before we pursue that answer. Although the pulps were less than respectable reading during their heydays of the 1930’s and early ’40’s, they inspired some of the great films of the period. The most classic example might be The Maltese Falcon (1941) which helped to cement Humphrey Bogart‘s reputation as a tough guy.

Crime drama had always been a popular part of radio drama simply because the interplay of good guys and bad guys just makes for good stories. Classic mysteries like Sherlock Holmes stories or Agatha Christie adaptations were focused on how smart the detective was in bringing the bad guy to justice. As the detectives became more and more hardboiled, the settings became grittier, the bad guys more violent, and the good guy more jaded. George Valentine begins his detective career with a relatively non-violent, even optimistic notion. Recently released from War service and with no job prospects, Valentine decides to open his own business. With no other resources or specific skills, he rents an office and some furniture and takes out an ad in the local classifieds.

The ad copy reads: “Do you have a crime that needs solving? Do you have a dog that needs walking? Do you have a wife that needs spanking? Let George do it!” In other words, Valentine sets himself up as a “concierge on steroids”. The audition episode, in addition to giving George a teenaged sidekick and a pretty secretary/office manager, involves a murdered mystery writer (who hasn’t been murdered and is not even dead), but murder is not part of the plot for several weeks. The next few episodes involve finding a girl farm for a pig farmer and a cowboy movie star who is afraid of horses.

It does not take long for the bodies to begin pile up for our hero. Apparently, the writers or whoever was paying the writers decided that capital crimes were more likely to hold the interest of the audience. As the content got grittier, George’s want-ad was modified; “Danger is my stock in trade. If you have a job that is too tough for you to handle, you’ve got a job for me. George Valentine. Write full details.” Even as things get more dangerous, Valentine simply cannot help being a nice guy, although he does find more than a few smarmy comments for the cops and his suspects.

The role of George Valentine was created by Bob Bailey. After getting his start in network programs out of Chicago, he built a solid resume with appearances in soaps and dramatic anthologies. He decided to try his luck in Hollywood and in 1943 was signed by 20th Century Fox where he appeared in seven feature films, starting in supporting roles for Laurel and Hardy. Unfortunately, Bailey was not physically imposing enough, nor did he have the sex appeal to develop as a leading man. At the same time, he was too plain to be a memorable character actor.

That everyman plainness was perfect for George Valentine, however, and sponsor Standard Oil soon had a West Coast hit on the Mutual-Don Lee Network. However, the relatively low budgets of radio dropped even further as sponsor dollars migrated to television. For the first years, Bailey’s charm was underscored by a studio orchestra (and the natural laughter of a studio audience) but in later episodes, the orchestra was replaced by a cheaper but less effective organ. In late 1952, Standard dropped sponsorship altogether, but the show kept going as a Mutual syndication. Interest in George Valentine’s brand of detective work eventually won sponsorship from Pream artificial coffee creamer. Unfortunately, the network and sponsor decided that production should be moved to New York, Bailey had found a home as part of L.A.’s “Radio Row” and was unwilling to relocate so the role was given to Olan Soule for nine months in 1954 until the program went off the air.

CBS had their own “nice guy detective” in the form of an “Insurance Investigator with an Action-Packed Expense Account”, Yours Truly Johnny Dollar, which had gone of the air in September 1954. When fan and sponsor interest was high enough to bring Johnny Dollar back to the air, Bailey was hired for the role. Like George, Dollar had been becoming more “hard-boiled” as the series progressed, but when Bailey came on board the insurance investigator became more thoughtful and even-tempered. This was helped by a change in format from a half-hour-weekly to a quarter-hour-daily with five-episode story arcs. This gave Dollar, the people he was helping, and the crooks he took down a greater opportunity for character development.Bob Bailey as Yours Truly Johnny Dollar gave one of the most outstanding performances in Old Time Radio, and although that performance was based on the character developed for Let George Do It, the older program stands on its own as great listening.

Categories
Old Time Radio

Old Time Radio Crime Shows

 

Die hard fans of Old Time Radio would have us believe that there is something in the OTR world for everyone, and to a great extent they are correct. Many of us find that we have favorites in every OTR genre. However, there are three types of show which Old Time Radio does exceptionally well, arguably a superior storytelling medium than Movies or TV.

These are Horror, Science Fiction and Crime Drama. The first two are actually fairly obvious. To achieve the desired response from the audience, the creators of both these genre must create indelible images for the audience. Common sense would have us believe that the visual media should be better at this, but in actual practice even the best special effects men cannot create images as intense as those created in the minds of an attentive listener. In other words, the scary monster on the screen can never be as scary as the one we can conjure in our own imagination. At least, this is true if the writer, director, and actors in the drama have any more than mediocre talent. Many of the surviving examples of both Horror and Drama were produced by the best talents in the showbiz industry.

Crime Drama is a somewhat different case. Whereas Horror and Science Fiction are image driven, fans of Crime Drama are essentially enjoying a puzzle. Whether the audience is able to solve the puzzle themselves, or they have to wait for the Dashing Detective to solve it for them, makes little difference. The complexity and intricacy of the puzzle are as important as the solution.

The Puzzle Factor is especially important for the so-called Soft Boiled Detectives. These are the guys who specialize in the Whodunit story. Their archetype in both literature and on the Radio is Sherlock Holmes, who always got his man but took the listener through some plot twists that were positively neck snapping. Nero Wolfe, The Saint, Nick and Nora of The Thin Man and Hercule Poirot are also popular Soft Boiled Detectives.

The existence of Soft Boiled Detectives implies Hard Boiled Detectives, and Old Time Radio has them in droves. The came from between the covers of pulp magazines and Noir Detective Cinema, and they flooded the post War airwaves. Part of the reason for their abundance was that they were ideal listening for the target audience of the time, largely rugged veterans who were adapting to the new affluence of of civilian life. The hard boiled detective might taken a licking once in a while, but they were rugged individuals who answered injustice whether it was perpetrated against themselves or those they had taken into their protection.

The archetype of the Hard Boiled Detective is Philip Marlowe. Marlowe was developed in pulps of the 1930s, and even though he was a tough guy, he was a character you would introduce to your grandma; he enjoyed classical music, chess, and had a strong moral code. Other Hard Boiled regulars may have been more Neanderthal, but characters like Sam Spade, Pat Novak, Michael Shayne, Mike Hammer or Johnny Dollar may have had to take their lumps, but they always got their man.

Just because imagery was not as important to crime drama as it was to Horror of Science Fiction radio, it was far from ignored. Thanks to the great writing and production values, when a listener enjoys an episode of the classic Dragnet they are transported to post-War Los Angeles. Although it is a noticeably monochromatic Los Angeles (with occasional flashes of brown from a well behaved Mexican shop owner), Dragnet‘s Los Angeles is a city of lunch counters, War Factory workers, urban sprawl just beginning to spread, and even the junkies wore coats and ties.

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Bob Bailey Johnny Dollar Let George Do It

Let Yours Truly, Bob Bailey, Do It!

Bob Bailey

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,
George Valentine
Write FULL details

Virginia Gregg and Dick Powell

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.

Categories
Bob Bailey Detective Radio Old Time Radio Radio Detective Yours Truly Johnny Dollar

Case Closed “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar”

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:

http://www.otrcat.net/otr6/ytjd_560102_298_caylin_matter_pt_1_otrcat.com_.mp3

Categories
Johnny Dollar Let George Do It

Let Yours Truly, Bob Bailey, Do It : Bob Bailey Old Time Radio Actor


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. He began performing on the radio in Chicago, which was a hub of network production during the prewar 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 WWII 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.  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.

In Let George Do It, George Valentine was a departure from the typical hard-boiled detective of the time. A detailed and believable back story had been built up through the first season; Valentine had been a GI during the war. While he was overseas there was 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,

George Valentine

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 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, Johnny Dollar was little different from the rest of the detectives on the air. In order to breathe 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 days a week 15 minute show. The new format allowed for week-long story arcs and greater character and plot development.

This was a excellent 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.

Bob BaileyBailey 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 Alcoholics Anonymous when a massive heart attack left him partially paralyzed. He would spend most of the his remaining ten years in a convalescent home, renewing his relationships with friends and family.