By Andy Piascik
Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar was one of the most popular radio shows during the 12 years it aired. The show was about the adventures of Hartford insurance investigator Johnny Dollar. While “insurance investigator” does not sound like the most glamorous of occupations, the show’s writers managed to come up with stories week after week full of danger, romance, intrigue, and sight-seeing in sometimes exotic locales. For much of its run, it also featured closing theme music considered among the best of the old-time radio shows.
Early Years of Hartford’s Johnny Dollar
Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar first aired on February 18, 1949, with Charles Russell in the role of Dollar. Russell played the part for about a year, followed by movie star Edmond O’Brien and then John Lund. Each episode began with a phone call and, because Dollar was a freelancer, the call could be from any number of insurance executives around the country. Since Dollar was the best in the business, executives often called on him for especially difficult cases or in instances where other investigators had failed.
Dollar usually headed out of town immediately after the opening phone call. Given Hartford’s long-time status as the “insurance capitol of the world,” many of the companies that hired him resided there, though the show provided few details about Dollar’s life in Hartford and only occasionally did an episode take place in Connecticut. Usually, Dollar had to go to some faraway place, sometimes outside the United States. He then headed to Bradley Airport, which had just been converted from military to commercial use when the show went on the air. Other assignments took him to New York City and other points closer to home in which case he traveled to Hartford’s Union Station and caught the next departing train belonging to the New York, New Haven and Hartford railroad line.
One of the episodes that did take place in Hartford concerned arson at the Hartford Alliance Loan Company (also presumably fictitious) and was titled “The Hartford Alliance Matter.” Like movie stars of the time, radio stars frequently made publicity junkets. None of the actors who played Dollar is known to have paid such a visit to Hartford or any other place in Connecticut, however, and the city of Hartford does not appear to have marked the connection between the city and the long-running show in any official way.
The original run of the 30-minute show ended in September, 1954. CBS Radio revived it in 1955 and it was then that the show entered its golden years. That was because CBS hired Bob Bailey, a veteran radio actor, to play Dollar. Initially, the revived version aired each weeknight for 15 minutes before reverting back to the once weekly, 30-minute format in 1956.
Ending the Golden Age of Radio
Bailey left in 1960 and the show lasted two more years with Robert Readick and Mandel Kramer each playing Dollar for a year. The final episode aired on September 30, 1962, followed by an episode of Suspense. They were the last two remaining shows of their kind still on the air and that date is often considered the final night of the golden age of radio. Two attempts at a television version of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, with Dollar similarly based in Hartford, failed.
Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar is widely regarded by old-time radio enthusiasts as one of radio’s best shows. It remains popular today and can often be heard regularly on shows dedicated to old-time radio as well as online. Thanks to the show, it can always be said that Connecticut has a direct connection to the final night of the “Golden Age of Radio.”
Bridgeport native Andy Piascik is an award-winning author who has written for numerous publications and websites over the last four decades and is the author of several books. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.