Friday, August 16, 2019

Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar

The wonderful thing about radio dramas, which are having a renaissance on channels like Sirius XM's Radio Classics, is that you get to imagine the faces. This applies even in cases where the roles were played by famous actors or actors would became household names when they reprised the same roles on TV. Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar which played from l949-62, starred celebrities like Dick Powell (of Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theatre fame) and Edmond O’Brien, but the series’s main character, an insurance investigator known simply as “Dollar,” took on a life of his own, due to the magical way that radio allows the mind to fill in the blanks. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore. Radio has had a renaissance with Podcasts like S-Town and Serial made by the This American Life people, but a program about an insurance investigator? It’s almost as original as one about a P.I. who wears a scuba tank. If you recall, Sea Hunt was on radio before it came to TV. Every series has its credo and with Yours Truly, it’s the expense account, whose items become a narrative device in and of themselves. You learn what Dollar has done through his expenditures i.e. taxi fare, dinner for two and hotel in say New Orleans where he’s gone to investigate a claim. Most people think of insurance as dull. It’s like the career in plastics recommended to Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. But it can make for interesting scams, particularly when life insurance is involved. You always know Dollar is on the scene by the show’s haunting musical theme which would have been as indelible as Dragnet's (dumdumdumdum) if Johnny had ever made it to the Golden Age of TV.

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