As I’ve said before, I’m a huge fan of classic radio shows, also known as Old Time Radio. These were the dramas, comedies, mysteries, Westerns, adventures and science fiction shows (among other genres) broadcast on radio primarily between the 1930s and the early 1960s.
In the “mystery” category, two of my favorite shows are Let George Do It and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Both starred Bob Bailey, one of radio’s best actors.
Let George Do It ran from Oct. 18, 1946- Sept. 27, 1954 on the west coast Mutual-Don Lee network and was sponsored by Standard Oil. George Valentine advertised in the papers: “Personal Notice: Danger’s my stock in trade. If the job’s too tough for you to handle, you’ve got a job for me, George Valentine. Write full details.”
In the first show, George is newly released from the Army after World War II and publishes the ad trying to drum up business. He doesn’t quite know what he’s going to do, but he finds a case almost immediately when a boy named Sonny Brooks (Eddie Firestone, Jr.) shows up with his older sister Claire (Frances Robinson) in tow, declaring they’re George’s office boy and secretary, respectively. When the phone rings, Sonny answers it, invites the caller to come up to George’s office, starting George on his first job when George still isn’t quite clear what that’s supposed to be.
Sonny eventually disappeared from the show, but Claire (“Brooksie” to George) remained. At some point, Virginia Gregg replaced Robinson in the role.
I’ve categorized Let George Do It as a mystery series, but that’s what it became. At the start, although some episodes had elements of mystery, there weren’t necessarily crimes to be solved. In one early episode, a radio cowboy star asks George to appear in his place in public because the cowboy star has developed a fear of horses.
As radio historian Elizabeth McLeod wrote in an essay about the series for Radio Spirits, the early George Valentine stories, “were as much about the people who hired him as they were about George himself, and he fit into the tales as a sort of bemused outsider called in to somehow restore order to messes he didn’t create — resulting in stories that bordered as much on light comedy as they did crime drama.”
Bailey left Let George Do It and went on to portray “the man with the action-packed expense account, that fabulous freelance insurance investigator” known as Johnny Dollar.
Bob Bailey was one of six actors to portray Johnny Dollar on CBS between 1949 and 1962 and is generally considered the best of the bunch. When he took over the role in 1955 (he’d play it until 1960), Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar went from a 30 minute episodic show to a serial. Each case during the 1955-1956 season was broadcast in 15 minute chapters over the course of five nights. In some rare instances, cases ran for more than five chapters (The series would return to the 30 minute format in the 1956 season).
Johnny was hired by various insurance companies to look into any number of actual or suspected crimes. His reports came in the form of his (sometimes padded) expense accounts. He worked alone, though would cooperate with local law enforcement.
Some of the five-part stories are expanded versions of earlier 30-minute shows, which resulted in some degree of padding. On the other hand, the multiple chapters allowed for more depth and the introduction of subplots. I tend to prefer the serialized Johnny Dollar stories.
I have a particular fondness for Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. In 1997, I introduced it to my then 11-year-old cousin, who loved the show and balked at the idea of waiting to hear the next episode. In 2003, I wrote a Johnny Dollar script with Johnny’s client named for her. It was performed live at the Cincinnati Old Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention, with one of my closest friends playing the part named after her.
If you enjoy mystery stories (or even sometimes comical mystery stories in the case of early Let George Do It episodes), both Let George Do It and Yours Truly Johnny Dollar are worth seeking out.
Copyright 2018 Patrick Keating.