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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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The 1955 Auditions For the Role of Johnny Dollar
by Stewart Wright, ©2013
(From Radio Recall, August 2013)

A Small Mystery:

Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar is a favorite series of many Old-Time Radio fans. Much has been written aoout the series, including an excellent three volume set of books, "The Who is Johnny Dollar Matter!" by MWOTRC member John C. Abbott. However, there are still some small mysteries surrounding the series. During a March, 2013 research trip, with the assistance of an archivist, I uncovered CBS internal documents about the return of the series to the air in October, 1955. These documents were a revelation and helped me to solve one of those small mysteries: how the 1955 lead actor selection process was conducted.

On September 19, 1954 the John Lund run of the series ended with the broadcast of "The Upjohn Matter." For more than a year Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar was absent from the CBS radio lineup. Some fans wondered if the series would ever return.

We jump to late Summer, 1955. In an attempt to increase listenership, CBS Radio executives planned to revive a once popular programming format: the five-night-a-week 15-minute show. Each nightly installment would have an intriguing ending that would encourage listeners to tune in for each of the following installments until the current story line was resolved. Several previous CBS series were considered for resurrection including Rocky Jordan and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

The Search for a "New" Johnny Dollar

The decision was made to bring back "The man with the action-packed expense account" to the CBS airwaves. An audition show with Gerald Mohr as Dollar was produced in late August, 1955. It was announced in at least one trade publication that Mohr would be the new Johnny Dollar. However, Mohr was either too busy with work in television and motion pictures to accept the role or CBS executives decided to look elsewhere for the lead for the revived series. Time was getting short. CBS planned to bring back Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar in its Fall 1955 lineup. A lead actor had to be found quickly. Most Old-Time Radio fans assume that Bob Bailey was the natural and only other alternative. That assumption is incorrect! CBS executives weren't sure who would play the role of Johnny Dollar.

A traditional method was used to find the "new" Johnny Dollar: the Casting Call. The word was put out that CBS was casting the lead role for Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. More than a dozen actors were initially considered and scheduled for auditions in mid-September, 1955. Each actor would have 20 minutes to pitch themselves to director Jack Johnstone and pertorm a five-page audition script with Lillian Buyeff. Most of the actors who auditioned had impressive radio credentials. Several had lead role experience in detective-type series, such as Paul Dubev (Jeff Regan, Investigator and The Adventures of Frank Race), Larry Thor (Broadway Is My Beat) , Jack Moyles (A Man Named Jordan, O'Hara, and Rocky Jordan), and Bob Bailey (Let George Do It). Other actors such as Tony Barrett, Vic Perrin, Barney Phillips, Hy Averback, and Frank Gerstle had solid radio experience.

The Winner Is:

Bob Bailey won the role. Less than two weeks later, on September 25th, he was taping the first five-part Johnny Dollar episode, "The Macormack Matter." The series returned to the CBS airwaves on Monday, October 03, 1955. Bailey would play Johnny Dollar for the remainder of the series' origination from Hollywood, a period of over five years.

A Surprising Candidate:

There was at least one surprise on the audition list. This actor had virtually no radio experience and was scratched from the list prior to his audition. He would later go on to fame on television as The Rifleman. Yes, Chuck Connors was considered for the role of Johnny Dollar.

Thank You:

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Klaudia Englund of the Special Collections Department at the Grant A. Brimhall Library for bringing many Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar related CBS documents to my attention.