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

37 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!

  12. JerryC Says:

    Thanks for the great piece. I also grieve for Bob Bailey. Johnny Dollar is my favorite character on the XM Radio classics channel. I wish I could have met him.

    I agree that his daughter should write a book.

  13. Barbie Beber Says:

    Radio shows were gone by the time I was born, thank God for XM radio. No one, absolutely no one had a voice or was more believable than Bob Bailey. RIP

  14. Howard Kosrofian Says:

    Listen to old time radio everyday, look forward to Bob as johnny dollar. HE was very believable in the part.IM guessing he is someone you would really wish you could have known, I do.

  15. Mike Says:

    Appreciate the insight. Wish I knew more.

  16. Tom Heiserman Says:

    What a sad end to a wonderful actors life. I was searching the net for more information about Bob Bailey and expected to find numerous guest appearances on television shows of the 60s and 70s. How could such a pure talent have been over looked and unappreciated? We miss you Johnny Dollar!

  17. trace howard stitt Says:

    Bob bailey rocks. I also feel kind of empty when thinking of Mr. Bailey. I love the way he played Johnny dollar. He was a talented actor. The folks in hollywood … well you know how most of them are. Mr. Bailey just didn’t fit there mold. They all just turned there backs on him. The are the cats meow. ( so they think ) I think they are more like what comes out of the other end of the cat. BOB BAILEY ROCKS !

  18. James Thompson Says:

    What a shame about his last years. Did his child give any reason for not contacting him? Great voice and entertainer.

  19. Vinny & Pat Belfont Says:

    My wife and I listen to “Yours truly Johnny Dollar” starring Bob Bailey, we have listened to the other actors doing the show, but Bob brings the show to life. He had to be a great actor to do this, long before there was tv as we now know. This piece or requiem is beautifully done, thank you!

  20. Steve Wasiesky Says:

    Thank you for your tribute to the best actor on radio. I don’t need video to “watch” his programs. His acting was so real, you can’t tell that it is acting. “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar” and “Let George Do It”, and William Conrad’s Gunsmoke are the best shows on “Radio Classics”. I listen to them all the time and wish there were more. How wonderful it would have been if he had continued when the show relocated and then if it had went to TV with him in the as Johnny Dollar. I grieve too. There are more of us than you think.

  21. Jenny Says:

    I have been listening to the “Yours truly, Johnny Dollar” on Sirius and he is “Johnny Dollar”! There have been other Johnny Dollar actors, but Bob Bailey was the best! You really ‘believe’ he is Johnny while the others never give that feeling. I can certainly believe what CBS did to him. It is always the almighty dollar that is the bottom line. The show/s could have continued from California with no problem. As one of the comments above mentioned, there have numerous actors who have transitioned onto TV/Big Screen that are not ‘pretty’ boys. I do not see anything wrong with his looks. He makes me think of a boys next door type. Anyway, I am certainly enjoying his series. Thanks for a great show!

  22. Richard Mills Says:

    I would be very curious to know what actually happened. My grandfather, who worked with Bob somewhat, had eluded to the fact that he had a very serious drinking problem and that is why the studio let him go. There was a cover story that he walked and didn’t want to go to New York, but the way I heard it the drinking got the better of him and he couldn’t move. He supposedly cleaned himself up, tried to transition Johnny Dollar to TV, but by that time was a shell of his former self. The reason he was never given work again was also a result of his struggles with alcoholism. Just reporting what I heard, supposedly this is fairly common knowledge to anyone who worked radio at that time.

  23. Jim Jones Says:

    Several years ago I was listing to a CD copy of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. In the program there was a high speed Morse Code message in the plot. I taped the segment and slowed down the speed. When I read the code I found that it was a message signed by an Amateur radio call sign. I looked it up in my ham radio callbook and found the name and address of the ham that had that call sign. I wrote to the person and explained my finding his/her name and inquired to his connection to the show.
    I received a reply from the ham’s widow with a very interesting story of how her husband had a technical position with the show for many years and how much they enjoyed having Bob Bailey visit them in their home. She said she had the original tapes of the programs and was concerned as to what would happen to them after her passing.
    I have not been able to contact the lady since.

    73,
    Jim Jones, NG9E

  24. Joyce Jessen Says:

    I grieve for him every day. I wish he could have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but I think a relative is to accept on behalf of a deceased actor. :`(

    -Joyce

  25. David Dearborn Says:

    It is a tragedy that we miss this man too late. He was great and deserved so much better. He is missed.

  26. Bob Skinner Says:

    This is the saddest thing I’ve ever read. I make it a point to listen to Johnny Dollar every week on Radio Classics and I’ve collected most of the Bailey Dollar sets from Radio Spirits. There was nobody else like him and his radio work is superb. He didn’t deserve to be shunted aside like that. I wanted to be in radio, myself, and grew up too late to get into the kind of network radio that Bailey personified. This is really a tragic story.

  27. Linda Sklar Says:

    There is no information regarding his personal life. He married…when and to whom? His children? I recently fell in love with Johnny Dollar through old time radio. I want to know more about his person aside from his body of work.

  28. Donna Streeter Says:

    A simply wonderful,talented “one of a kind” actor who left the spotlight much too soon. Thank God for recordings so we can continue to enjoy his talent!

  29. Glenda Campbell Says:

    Is Mr. Bailey’s daughter still living? I would love to tell her how I enjoy her father’s work. To me, he is a very handsome man, and should have never felt he wasn’t good enough to be in television. He was a brilliant radio star, and his shine was put out too soon. I’m at least glad he was able to overcome his alcoholism toward the end of his life and help others – how lucky they were to have this man close and near to hear his wonderful voice encouraging them through their own fight with their demons. Yes, Johnny Dollar, I too grieve for you and would have loved to known you.

    • allwhethergirl Says:

      I was wondering that, too, about his daughter!! Wikipedia and imDB don’t even have a spouse or children listed for him…

      I sure do love his voice! And I looked up his pictures and honestly he was super handsome too, to me!!! I don’t understand why he got left behind by the entertainment industry… But I was happy to read of his friends at the care home at the end of his life!!!

      So we both grieve for Mr. Bailey.

  30. Bruce McLaughlin Says:

    That is truly a ministry. I hope it will be solved someday. If radio drama was all through and television didn’t want him, I wonder why he didn’t do voiceover work. Very strange indeed.

  31. willie x gluck Says:

    There is a radio interview with his daughter that I believe is available on archive.org

  32. Mick Says:

    I listen to his shows on serious Xm every day he was a great talent, plus I’m from toledo Ohio also

  33. allwhethergirl Says:

    Mike I am crying as I write this. Its been a dozen years since you wrote this piece but I thank you so much for writing it.

    I only recently became aware of Mr. Bailey through the Sirius classic radio channel. Today after listening to another wonderful episode of Johnny Dollar I decided to look online and find out what I could about Mr. Bailey as I also enjoy him so much in all his other parts and shows.

    When I went online I could not believe how little information was available about such a huge and talented star!!! Basically it was as you said, he was rousted out of radio & then there is no information except that he passed away when I was ten years old.

    Having worked in care facilities and in home care for seniors for many years, your stories of the people at his last home in California cheered my heart but also broke it. For I will not in this lifetime have a chance to tell Mr. Bailey how much his work means to me. It tears me up to think of him having spent so many years off in the hinterlands of what we may only speculate must have been trying, lonely times. And here I was, just partaking in his stories unaware… I mean of course this is the case with many stars, singers, writers, and artists of all kinds. Nonetheless it hurts the same to see how it happens. I certainly and absolutely agree with you about patrons and wish that system of supporting artists had never gone out of fashion in western culture.

    At any rate I felt moved to tell you that I indeed grieve for Bob Bailey. I will try to share his work with others. Thank you for your words about him.

  34. Charles Schultz Says:

    I just love his Johnny Dollar, even have a crush on him. In real life Bob Bailey was very good looking in today’s more natural standards of handsomeness.

    I see him in my mind’s eye when I listen to the radio and wish he were still with us.

  35. Barbara Tysz Says:

    Thank you ever so much for your article/writing about Bob Bailey.
    Yes, I am also one of the ones who absolutely adored him and thought of Johnny Dollar as a living breathing wonderful, gracious, and handsome (yes handsome) man. I also would like to know more about his life – his wife, daughter. Thank you again – much appreciated.

  36. Dixie Burge Says:

    A few days ago, Turner Classic Movies showed a 1958 movie called The Lineup starring Eli Wallach and Robert Keith. In one early scene on a dock, the Wallach character was talking to a man named Staples about some drugs that was going to be smuggled off a ship inside a little girl’s doll. I started, sat up straight and listened closely to the voice of the actor playing Staples. I was sure it was Bob Bailey’s voice! After the scene was over, I did a quick Google search for the movie, and sure enough, Bailey played that character! I had vaguely heard of the movie before, but I didn’t know he was featured in it. Why I didn’t immediately recognize his face, I’m not sure, unless it’s because he was wearing a hat similar to the one in the picture at the top of this article. I wasn’t that interested in the movie until I heard his voice, but then I continued watching to see if he was in it any more, but alas! That was his only scene!

    Wasn’t there also a classic radio show called The Lineup?

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