This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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BOOK REVIEW - The “Who is Johnny Dollar?” Matter
by John C. Abbott
Bear Manor Media (2010)
Reviewed by Joe Webb
(From Radio Recall, April 2010)
The three volume set of The 'Who Is Johnny Dollar?' Matter by John C. Abbott was recently released by Bear Manor Media. The books can only be described as stunning; there is no other word for them. I'm not aware of a more exhaustive work done for one series. Very often publishers and/or writers budget for time and money and put a limit on the amount of information that will end up in book form. But it's hard to imagine that anyone could have anything left to write about Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar after this set.
I am a fan of the Bob Bailey run. I don't have much interest in the shows prior to his taking the role. Only by listening to the shows did I get an appreciation for Bob Readick and Mandel Kramer's portrayals. How many of us really listen to all the shows that we have? Abbott did, for this series-- and every plot line down to the details of the expense account items and their amounts is here.
There are three volumes in this remarkable set:
1: The Russell, O'Brien, and Lund years
448 pages, $ 26.95
2: The Bailey years
612 pages, $ 32.95
3: Readick & Kramer years
240 pages, $ 19.95
The number of shows each actor played the role (and hence the number of pages) is the reason why each volume has such a different cost. I strongly urge you not to “cheap out” and get only the one with the actors you prefer.
Volume 1 has some delightful sections about the series, including Dollar's biography (assembled from tidbits from show dialogue), his personal life, various hazards that he has encountered (he's been shot 13 times, and Abbott quips about the superstitious among us not to worry about it being 13 because there are still missing programs that would adjust the number), and how to estimate Johnny's income.
A pleasant surprise is what he calls “The Final Chapter Matter,” where he speculates about an episode, complete with dialogue and expense account, where Johnny retires. I won't spoil the ending.
Abbott then summarizes background about the cases, actors, producers, and writers, as well as the recurring characters. Abbott listened to each available show, and augmented his research with reading of scripts of shows for which no recordings exist from the KNX collection in the Thousand Oaks library, as well as other research efforts. Like all researchers, I'm sure he feels that there are still things left to do, but I still consider it all stunning and wish I had the devotion to do the same for some of my favorite series.
Volume 2 is devoted solely to Bailey's shows, and is the thickest of the volumes. Volume 3 has room for more surprises. Abbott summarizes the audition programs, and even summarizes the expense accounts by insurance company and by actor!
Also in volume 3, Abbott briefly discusses who was the best Johnny Dollar. We all know it's Bailey, and most of us would choose Mandel Kramer as second. Surprisingly, Abbott selects Charles Russell, and lists his somewhat compelling reasons.
I admit I was concerned about buying all three volumes at once, considering the cost. I can only say I'm anxious to dig into the series all over again with these books in hand.
The books can be ordered through Amazon using the links on the Bear Manor Media page
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John C. Abbott is a native Washingtonian who grew up in Arlington and attended UM after a stint in the USAF. Most of his career has been writing procedural manuals for computer systems and he is currently a business analyst for a defense contractor. Although he loved Ed Walker on the radio, going back to the “Joy Boys” days, he did not start collecting OTR until 1999. Recovering from an ankle injury got him addicted to “The Big Broadcast,”particularly Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. and he now has every audio copy of that series. His next book will be on railroad sites photographed by O. Winston Link.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Joe Webb started collecting shows in 1972, when as a 16 year old, despite the protests of his parents, he stayed up until midnight on weekends to hear The Shadow rebroadcasts on New York City's Jazz station, WRVR-FM. He served on the Friends of OTR Convention committee until 1985, published Collector's Corner with Bob Burnham, 1979-1985, and was a dealer under the name "Nostalgia Warehouse." After leaving the hobby in 1986, he realized the error of his ways in 2003 and returned to find the hobby thriving, benefiting from digital audio. He's active in the Old Time Radio Researchers, many online forums, is always searching for more Casey, Crime Photographer shows, and is obsessed with the endless quest of building the ultimate collection of Suspense.