Requiem for Bob Bailey


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Requiem for Bob Bailey

By Mike Ray

Who grieves for Bob Bailey?

It’s been 20 years now since Bob Bailey quietly passed away at a convalescent hospital in Lancaster California. Even though the death rate is still one per person, and is something that we will all have to face, it’s always a sad time when we hear of the passing of a loved one, a close friend, or even someone we never met.

Are we truly diminished by the passing of an individual? In the case of Bob Bailey, the answer for so many us would be yes. For despite the fact that he lived 70 years, Bailey’s life was incomplete, at least the last 23 years seem to be.

When the word came down in October 1960 from CBS in New York that the entire production of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar was to relocate to New York by the end of the year, it would spell the end of Bob’s career. Many in the crew, in fact most, were unwilling to re-locate to the big apple, and this included the star of the show.

Bob was (and remains for most of us as “the”) Johnny Dollar for a little over 5 years. Before that, he was George Valentine for just over 9 years in the detective show, Let George Do It. Bob was heard on a number of shows on radio during his career, but it was as Johnny Dollar that Bob really shined. He made the character his own. He played Dollar with all the passion, sensitivity, and realism that was seldom heard by anybody else in any other character. As Harry Bartell recently stated, “Bob was a stylish, very professional actor whose voice fit perfectly into the two characters by which he is best known.”

Born June 13, 1913 in Toledo, Ohio, Bob got his start in show business when he made his first appearance on stage at 18 months. His radio career began in 1925 when he and his father had parts together in a local radio show. Bob played in several Chicago area radio shows before signing a contract with 20th Century Fox and relocating to California. Bob had bit parts in several movies and had two very prominent roles with Laurel and Hardy; in Jitterbugs and Dancing Masters.

All that seems so long ago now. His last show, heard on November 27, 1960 “The Empty Threat Matter” would conclude a 35 year radio carrier. With the departure of Johnny Dollar to New York (Suspense left for New York as well) radio drama in Hollywood was dead. The last remaining show, Gunsmoke would end in 1961. What was left for Bob? Not much. He did some writing, and appeared in the last scene of Bird Man from Alcatraz. It’s a horrible appearance, his face is barely seen, but there is no mistaking the voice. The producer could have given him a better part.

There is the disturbing story of how Bob was invited to New York to do a screen test for the TV version of Johnny Dollar (which never went to production). When the producers saw what Bob looked like, they refused to give him the promised screen test. Bob was not the most handsome of men, but was not unpleasant to look at in the least. Dejected, and without gainful employment, the next few years in Bob’s life are a mystery to us. As his daughter Mrs. Roberta Goodwin put it, “I lost contact with my father. For many years, I had no idea where he was.”

So where did he go? What did he do? How did he survive? No one seems to know. He just drifted. This incredibly gifted actor, and writer, was left to drift into nothingness. Bob needed a patron. Not necessarily someone giving him money, but rather making sure that at least he was given bit parts in Hollywood just to keep him afloat. Did these producers (they all knew who Bob Bailey was) ignore him on purpose or was there some aspect of Bob’s life that repelled them? Who knows?

Those wonderful folks who knew and loved Bob are not talking out of respect for their friendship. Listening to radio interviews with the people who worked closely with him, Jack Johnstone, Virginia Gregg, Harry Bartell and others, you become uncomfortable when you hear how incredibly guarded they are when the topic of Bob Bailey comes up. They dance around him making sure that don’t talk about any aspect of him as a person. … And so the mystery of his last 23 years continues. I guess it always will.

Why should we care? I mean after all he did leave a wonderful treasury of work, and we can be thankful to God that such a brilliant radio actor lived. But for me, there is no resolution. What bothers me most is that Bob’s career was suddenly and completely cut short. That’s wrong! Many Old Time Radio fans came to view Bob, with his incredible range of emotion as an “everyman.” His acting and his humanity (spirit, if you will) had transcended the radio waves and touched all our hearts. Knowing that some aspects of his life were tragic and that his last 23 years were troublesome bother me greatly.

I like to listen to those stories that our Sperdvac friends tell of their visits with Bob at the convalescent hospital. They tell of this white haired little man who lies in his bed hearing about how there are countless thousands of fans all over the world who adore his work. It reminds me of the fact that that is a soul who God made that has brought all of us joy beyond anything we could put into words.

So the question still remains.

Who grieves for Bob Bailey?

I do.

I guess I always will.

Copyright 2004 by Mike Ray

11 Responses to “Requiem for Bob Bailey”

  1. Duke Says:

    Very moving comments and insight. Any ideas were his resting place is?
    Yet another unsolved mystery.

  2. Doug Bryan Says:

    A well written piece on this man. I wonder why he didnt head to New York for the final years of the show. His voice, emotion, authority was perfect for the role. He sounds like he was lost, after the media died. I wish his daughter would write of book about him. I dont think there was a better radio show produced then Johnny Dollar, featuring Bob Bailey. He will be remembered by those who recognize talent.

  3. Sonia Says:

    In the last few years, I’ve been listening to Radio Classics on CDs and you are absolutely right , no one comes close to the acting of Bob Bailey . Without visual ,just listening to the nuances of his voice ~the sighs, pauses and tones, he brought to life a full characterization of a man who has seen it all. I often wondered why I hadn’t seen him in movies and just thought he died in the 1960’s . that wouldve been sad enough but the fact that he was unappreciated after the show ended is somehow even sadder.
    As an example, Jack Webb wasn’t handsome and yet he successfully transitioned from radio to television as did countless others . Bob Bailey was interesting looking , someone who looks like “everyman” not Hollywood gorgeous .There had to have been another reason ..whatever it was , we all missed out on having his career continue

  4. Billy Says:

    Wonderful.

  5. upkerry11 Says:

    I too was curious about his last years. glad to hear someone visited him and told him how much he was appreciated. Is there a link to any people who had conversations with him? Anything published on the internet? I’d love to hear their accounts of the viits they paid him. thanks!

  6. M.griffin Says:

    Very well written. Bob bailey is one of the top 5 voice actors of the 20th century. How he could NOT get work from the likes of CBS, or other networks, is beyond me. Voice actors like Mr. bailey, paul freese, and robert conrad were in very high demand, looks ment very little, when you had a great voice. Look at the works of mel blanc! I salute bob bailey, and have all his stuff. God bless him.
    M. Griffin

  7. bosephus1963 Says:

    Fantastic article. I also feel a deep sense of appreciation for Bob Bailey’s tremendous talents, and a great sense of loss for the way they were ignored for so many years. He is truly missed!

  8. Ish-Paul Says:

    I recently got into listening to the shows my dad use to when i was a kid and go to love bob bailey and his work. My dad and i “watched” the radio and Bob bailey was a strong visual actor.
    I am sad and disturbed by the your story of how he was grounded down by the industry and so-called colleagues.
    So to the question which still remains, “who grieves for Bob Bailey”…
    I Do Now thanks to you.

  9. upkerry11 Says:

    Hi I wondered the same thing. Is there any interviews (such as the ones you mentioned) that I coul dhear? thank you. Bill

  10. robb1110 Says:

    I do too!!!

  11. Dixie Burge Says:

    I grieve for Bob Bailey also, as I have come to “know” him by his work in “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar” and “Let George Do It”, from listening to satellite radio’s “Radio Classics” station. He is my favorite of the actors who portrayed Dollar, though I’m not sure why. I can’t seem to put my finger on it, but I am glad to see that I am not, by any means, the only one who ever felt this way. So there must be something to it. All I can say is, The girl knows how to pick ‘em!

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