Friday, October 25, 2013

Bob Bailey - An Appreciation on the Centennial of his Birth

Scenes from John Wayne Airport (Orange County, California) - Sunday July 15, 2012 So let's set the is 1955 and we live, well, just about anywhere. We may or may not have a television. According to the Statistical Abstract of the United States (1999), in 1955, approximately 94% of households had a radio and only 63% had televisions. In fact, only 73% had phone service!

Why do I bring this up? Well, I have gotten very interested in Old Time Radio programs thanks to Greg Bell's Old time radio channel on SiriusXM #82. I have also discovered that many of these are freely available thanks to The Old Time Radio section on the Internet Archive.

So in your living room - or your kitchen if you are lucky - you had a radio and your entertainment may have come courtesy of actors and actresses like Don Ameche, Jack Webb, Lucille Ball, William Conrad, John Dehner, Virginia Gregg, Marsha Hunt, Eve Arden...and many, many others. These are some of the biggest names of the Golden Age of Radio....just to name a few. But one name really has me excited - that of Bob Bailey. He would have turned 100 today.

Bob Bailey was one of the most accomplished radio actors of his day. Born in Toledo, Ohio on June 13, 1913, he would gain fame in California as a regular on two huge radio programs, Let George Do it (a mystery series) and Your Truly, Johnny Dollar (one of the most popular programs of all time. In fact, the first time I heard about Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, I thought it was hilarious. Johnny Dollar was a...wait for insurance investigator with an "action-packed" expense account. And while they made a big deal about him padding his expenses for a case, it actually was a nice frame for the story. Each episode had him reading off the expenses as he retells the story of the particular "Matter" that he solved. And while a number of people played him - Bob Bailey was the best.

Stewart Wright wrote: "Bob Bailey, generally thought of as the most popular of the Johnny Dollars, brought a new interpretation to the character – tough, but not hard-boiled; streetwise, but not overly cynical, Bailey's Dollar was smart and gritty when he had to be. But Bailey's Johnny Dollar was also human. His character would get emotionally involved in a number of his cases. He had a streak of impatience, and would occasionally not fully listen to a witness and rush off on a tangent before realizing his mistake."

And from Radio Spirits's CD set featuring Johnny Dollar marathons staring Bob Bailey: "America's Fabulous Freelance Insurance Investigator had little patience for liars, and liked nothing better than females, fishing, and a free hand with an expense account. Bob Bailey's Johnny Dollar was skeptical without being cynical, sympathetic without being a sucker, and had a way of delivering a sarcastic remark with more sincerity than most detectives delivered straight talk." NOTE: I still cannot figure out what is wrong with this sentence...but it has some good bits.

Anyway, I have been a big fan of Bob Bailey for a few years as I have been listening to Old Time Radio. Sadly, his career was cut short when he did not travel with the show to New York. Troubles with alcohol cut short his career and he acted very sparingly after leaving Johnny Dollar in November 1960. I always felt that maybe someone was sending him a message in one of the five part serials that aired first from January 16th to 20th, 1956 (and recorded on January 8th). It was the Ricardo Amerigo Matter and it featured Johnny trying to recover a missing insured master violin and see its owner who was missing. They talked about what a masterful violinist Amerigo was and how his career was ruined by booze. I always wondered if this was a message to Bob Bailey...

Here are the five parts of the Ricardo Amerigo Matter (from the Internet Archive):

Links worth following:
And while he had a brief career outside of radio, here is him on screen with Laurel and Hardy in their 1943 Film Jitterbugs.

I am sure that Bob Bailey did not have any idea what joy he has provided....but I hope he did. Happy Birthday Johnny Dollar.

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