Jewish World Review April 27, 2001 / 5 Iyar, 5761
You didn't nickel-and-dime Johnny Dollar
I DON'T WATCH any of the so-called reality shows
on television. It's not that I have anything against
the concept; it's just that I can't understand the
Survivors conniving to kick each other off an
island; people chained together in some sort of
attempt at only-the-strong-survive; housemates under 24-hour camera
surveillance, voting on who will be evicted. . . .
Other commentators may question the morality behind the shows. I can't even
get that far. I'm confused about the rules and the story lines.
Actually, there are very few TV shows or movies whose meandering plots I
am able to follow. For my entertainment, I play old tapes of a radio series
that was broadcast in the 1940s and early 1950s, just before the arrival of
television. Its plot line was perfect for those of us with little ability to
understand complex story developments.
The series, starring Edmund O'Brien, was called "Yours Truly, Johnny
And its brilliant plot device was. . . .
Well, allow me to let you listen to a few excerpts. Cue the announcer:
"Wrigley's Spearmint chewing gum, the refreshing, delicious treat that gives
you chewing enjoyment, brings you Edmund O'Brien in another adventure of
the man with the action-packed expense account. . . . America's fabulous
freelance insurance investigator. . . . Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar."
Now, you may be thinking that an insurance investigator is an unlikely hero
for a national radio show. But keep in mind, Johnny Dollar was not just an
insurance investigator -- he was a fabulous insurance investigator. And he
was not just a fabulous insurance investigator -- he was a fabulous freelance
The key, though, lay in the other description of Dollar: "the man with the
action-packed expense account."
That was what tied every episode together -- Johnny Dollar's expense
account. Each episode would begin with the same phrase, spoken by
Edmund O'Brien, with dramatic symphonic strings and horns in the
"Expense account submitted by special investigator Johnny Dollar."
And then, as he listed his expense-account items throughout the show, the
story would unfold, along with his expenses. An example from one episode:
"The following is an account of my expenditures during investigation of the
London matter. (Strings and horns swell.) Expense account item 1 -- $1.75,
cab fare to Commonwealth Hotel."
(More horns and strings, and then the voice of a character who is talking to
"I'll give you the background as briefly as I can, Dollar. We allowed the entry
of some narcotics from India into Seattle. . . ."
And, later, in O'Brien-portraying-Dollar's tough-guy voice: "Expense account
item 2 -- $675, passage to England on the S.S. Morristown. Before
boarding, I received a few more bits of instruction by phone from T-Man
Nelson. . . ."
You see why the old radio show was so easy to understand? From the same
episode, Dollar's voice, sardonic and jaded: "Expense account item 3 -- $8,
bar bill. I met Lorraine Miller in a small bar on B Deck as we left New York
Harbor. She struck me as being young, all right, but susceptible only when
she wanted to be. She had a face that didn't need much makeup, and auburn
hair that didn't need much messing with. Her hazel eyes were wide-spaced
and seemingly candid -- but they didn't tell me whether or not she knew who
I really was."
After all the tangents of the plot were tied together at the conclusion of each
episode, the hero would end it by adding up his expenses. In the case of the
episode just described, the words, bitten off one-by-one, were: "Expense
account total, $1,580.20. Yours truly, Johnny Dollar."
(Strings and horns.)
Now, I ask you -- is that a great way to tell a story, or what? Who needs
tribal councils or people chained together, when you have the man with the
action-packed expense account?
If some television producer would resurrect the concept, he might be
surprised by how many millions of us would watch. At last, what we have
been searching the channels for -- something we can understand.
Yours truly, Johnny
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
04/25/01: White House strategy never sounded like this
04/24/01: 3 new rules to give colleges self-respect
04/18/01: Our highways just became a little duller
04/18/01: It's a jungle out there for dot-com stores
04/16/01: McVeigh's victims weren't permitted any last words
04/13/01: The foolproof cure for a Royal headache
04/11/01: Key to success? Keep your eye upon the hole
04/10/01: An ugly game you're destined never to win
04/06/01: Who do you really think you work for?
04/05/01: Two torturers of children back in prison
04/03/01: Welcome home -- especially if you didn't go
03/29/01: 'Why wouldn't she believe she can get out?'
03/27/01: Judge Weinke, child torturer to meet again
03/22/01: What they did to her at her own front door
03/21/01: "I'm not proud to say that I witnessed this"
03/19/01: "WHY WEREN'T YOU HIS FRIENDS?"
03/13/01: When will there be zero tolerance for bullying?
03/09/01: She wouldn't dance with another ... well, yes, she would
03/06/01: Our lasting legacy will turn out to be a four-letter word
03/01/01: The things we've won, and those we've thrown away
02/27/01: Civilians on subs: A civics lesson that's well worth keeping
02/23/01: Well, he did sing: 'This time you gave me a mountain ...'
02/21/01: The world's insanity can fit into a parking space
02/16/01: The words and ideas in this column are unauthorized
02/13/01: He has a family now: 'He just wants to be a boy'
02/12/01: Child torturer grad is walking free -- and using an alias
02/09/01: They didn't even know how to find the children
02/08/01: 'The little boy's face had been burned with cigarettes'
02/07/01: Child-protection chief in grad case ousted
01/30/01: There is something wrong when we begin to assume that all death penalty cases are flawed
01/29/01: Sometimes a police story begins with a poem
01/24/01: It's a dog-eat-dog world -- unless you're the only dog
01/23/01: Can we be civil and bombproof at the same time?
01/19/01: First came Saints, next came Sinners, then came Bronson
01/18/01: Of Saints and Sinners, and the nearness of faraway dreams
01/15/01: Does anyone care that Germany owns the Jeep?
01/11/01: The day that America heard the locks click shut
12/28/00: The talk of 2000? It's right there in your hand
12/27/00: There actually is a lesson for us in all of this
12/26/00: 'You weren't supposed to love me; that wasn't the program'
12/21/00: The words from this election year that may echo the longest
12/19/00: The most impressive things are the ones strategists can't shape
12/14/00: There is a word for what the country is going through
12/13/00: Courtroom moments that never make the front page
12/07/00: Does Justice Scalia really believe Americans can't take the truth?
12/07/00: Al Gore slept here -- and there goes the neighborhood
12/06/00: In the midst of all the noise, the truth will be heard
12/05/00: If you think the election has been weird up until now ...
11/30/00: If two men applying for a job were treated like this ...
11/29/00: Will all of this turn people away from politics? Dream on
11/28/00: Send Bush and Gore to their rooms -- bring in the pros
11/23/00: Three little words-- and two strange weeks in Florida
11/22/00: Did you hear the one about the farmer's daughter in Florida?
11/21/00: The shocking saga of the incredible shrinking men
11/15/00: The glorious mess that has come our way
11/09/00: How do you cross the line when the line has vanished?
11/08/00: The wave of the future
11/06/00: The crime that hides behind a wall of silence
11/02/00: If you have been asking yourself what you can do ...
11/01/00: 'He will never know what it is like to ride a bicycle'
10/31/00: 'It makes you feel that you are absolutely powerless'
10/30/00: THE KILLER LEARNS 'ANGER MANAGEMENT' AND IS FREED
10/26/00: `I'm not going to go up there and yell and scream'
10/25/00: With prosecutors silent, the other killer is released
10/24/00: The boy's killer: 'I've served my time, and I'm out'
10/23/00: Blaming the boy for bringing on his own killing
10/20/00: The child's killer is released -- to care for other children
10/19/00: Words that the judge would not allow to be spoken
10/18/00: A courthouse game in which the boy was not included
10/17/00: The killers get 7 to 25 years ... with a wink
10/13/00: While the killers maneuver, the boy goes unburied
10/13/00: The killers demand a concession -- and they get it
10/12/00: The prosecutors decide it doesn't qualify as murder
10/11/00: 'He wouldn't eat his eggs, and we put him to bed'
10/10/00: The autopsy leaves no questions: 'It was a homicide'
10/06/00: 'Had they shot him in the head, he would have suffered less'
10/05/00: 'I remember the moment that I first saw the human bite marks'
10/04/00: They killed a 3-year-old boy -- and they are free
09/29/00: This just in, sort of: How the news can make you calm
09/27/00: Like being with old
friends in places you
09/21/00: If the Olympics banished television . . .
09/19/00: As summer ends, have the executives learned any lessons?
09/14/00: The new stardom that doesn't require paying any dues
09/12/00: Leave a light on for us children of the pioneers
09/09/00: River banks? How to turn water into an endless cash flow
09/06/00:Oh, give me a home, where the megabytes roam . . .
09/01/00: If this works, it can literally change young lives
08/30/00: From inside all those screen porches, one more cheer
08/24/00: Who will make your life better by August of 2004?
08/24/00: Four men running -- Why do we have to throw out two?
08/16/00:The certain way to measure the Lieberman factor
08/10/00: Can a library be a library without books?
08/08/00: Can't they spare eight nights every four years?
08/04/00: Cheney, Abe Lincoln and Ricky Martin -- do they add up?
08/02/00: Convention aside, you might want to tune in
07/27/00: How to make a killing
07/25/00: 'If we didn't do it, no one else would'
07/24/00: The executioners who walk among us
07/20/00: On Main Street, signs of the times tell two stories
07/18/00: Have the choices changed, or have we?
07/14/00: Gable, Hepburn, Zanuck--you wouldn't find them at HOJO's
07/13/00: The Great Lie about political conventions
07/06/00: If this is victory, what would defeat feel like?
06/29/00: A bright moon and a missing person on Orange Ave.
06/26/00: They're not singing our song
06/22/00: The name game
06/07/00: It's like knocking on a revolving door
06/06/00: Steven who? A close encounter of mistaken identity
06/02/00: Of summer days, summer nights and pebbles in a jar
05/31/00: The best laughter, the truest voices, will never fade
05/25/00: Of distant visions, close views, and Bobby Knight
05/24/00: 'The luckiest thing that ever happened to me'
05/23/00: 'It's funny how you remember the little things'
05/22/00: 'The whisper of a generation saying goodbye to its children'
05/19/00: The place to find life is not a keyboard
05/18/00: A problem of suds but no duds
05/17/00: Are those lazy, hazy dot-com days fading?
05/16/00: The truest things in life require not a single word
05/15/00: 'Evidently he didn't like the way she dusted the house'
05/12/00: Why news executives are hoping this 'woman' is a hit
05/11/00: Ted Koppel, Hitler, Mellencamp . . . and words of love
05/10/00: Maybe it's time for the right people to hear our cheers
05/09/00: The lesson that they always learn late
05/05/00: 'Excuse me, but there seems to be something in my water'
05/05/00: When your first dream turns out to be your best dream
05/04/00: Even baseball couldn't make light of this superstition
05/03/00: The ringmaster who looks back from your mirror
05/02/00: There they go, just a-yappin' down the street . . .
05/01/00: You must remember this (Unless you don't)
04/24/00: Now that casino ads are allowed to tell the truth . . .
04/13/00: The man in the seat across the airplane aisle
04/11/00: A star is born, but do you know where it's @?
04/06/00: Through the eyes of Norman Rockwell
03/21/00: 10 good reasons to avoid making this list
03/21/00: 'I tell myself that they've gone on vacation'
03/21/00: Monday Night Football memories
03/02/00: This report card deserves an 'A' in every subject
02/29/00: What really happened on New Year's eve
02/23/00: Of paste pots, Denver sandwiches and finding Dr. Sam
02/17/00: What would you like to stay exactly the same?
02/04/00: Politics: When did the stagehands step onto the stage?
02/01/00: An awesome idea to make you sound better
01/26/00: Y3K already? We haven't yet recovered from Y2K
01/21/00: Watching the pot that always boils
01/19/00:The story behind the men on the museum steps
01/13/00: Here's to the students who never hear a cheer
01/11/00: The oh-so-sweet sound of modems in the morning
01/04/00: The person in your mirror just got wiser
12/31/99: A lesson -- and a memory -- to last a millennium
12/29/99: Racing the clock, even when it's running backwards
12/13/99: The right to bear coffee
12/08/99: From teen idol to ink-stained wretch: Can you Dig it?
12/02/99: Human 'search engines'
11/30/99: Here's looking at you -- now hand over the cash
11/23/99: Who'll say 'I'm sorry' to the other Decatur students?
11/18/99: "From bad things, good can come"
11/16/99: The man who didn't know the meaning of 'whatever'
11/12/99: Is this progress? We have made the weekend obsolete
11/09/99: Today he would probably be called Kyle Kramden
11/04/99: And you thought the IRS was heartless
11/02/99: When it's free, what will the real price be?
10/29/99: The tissue-thin decisions that define who we are
10/26/99: One way to cut road rage down to size
10/22/99: Asking all the right questions takes a special pitch
10/18/99: The signs are talking to you; Are you listening?
10/12/99: Even Capone would be disgusted
10/08/99: Don't ever look your neighborhood bear in the eye
10/06/99: Land of the free and marketplace of the brave
10/04/99: German warplanes in
09/30/99: While you fret, something is sneaking up on you
09/28/99: In these busy times, why not bring back a certain buzz?
09/24/99: The storms whose paths no one can track
09/21/99: Who's minding the store? Oh . . . never mind
09/17/99:Here's another place where you can't smoke
09/14/99: As certainly as `lovely Rita' follows `when I'm 64' . . .
09/09/99: Why is patience no longer a virtue?
09/07/99: Once upon a time, in an airport close to you . . .
09/03/99: The answers? They are right in front of us
09/01/99: Up the creek with a paddle--and cussing up a storm
08/30/99: $1 Million Question: How'd we get to be so stup-d?
08/27/99: Fun and games at Camp Umbilical Cord
08/25/99: How life has been changed by the woodpecker effect
08/23/99: If you don't like this story, blame the robot who wrote it
08/20/99: A four-letter word that has helped both Bob and Rhonda
08/18/99: They have picked the wrong country
08/16/99: From paperboy to stalker--how the news has changed
08/12/99: Why wasn't anyone watching his brothers?
08/10/99: Come to think of it, stars seldom are the retiring type
08/05/99: The national gaper's block is always jammed
07/29/99: 'Can you imagine the gift you gave me?'
07/27/99: A view to a kill -- but is this really necessary?
07/23/99: Some cream and sugar with your turbulence?
07/21/99: When your name is JFK jr., how do you choose to use it?
07/19/99: The real world is declared not real enough
07/15/99: The real victims of cruel and unusual punishment
07/13/99: A 21st Century idea for schools: log off and learn
07/09/99: Are life's sweetest mysteries still around the bend?
07/07/99: Of great minds, cream cheese and Freddy Cannon
07/02/99: The perfect spokesman for the American way
06/30/99: 'He's 9 years old . . . he trusts people'
06/28/99: A $581 million jackpot in the courthouse casino
06/25/99: A nighttime walk to a House that feels like a cage
06/23/99: At least give men credit for being more morose
06/18/99: On Father's Day, a few words about mothers
06/16/99: If work is a dance, how's
your partner doing?
06/14/99: Should a dictionary ever tell you to keep quiet?
06/10/99: A story of Sex, the SuperBowl and your wife
06/07/99: Take a guess where "California Sun" is from
06/03/99: Of summer days, summer nights and pebbles in a jar
06/01/99: Putting your money where their mouths are
05/27/99: Pressed between wooden covers, the summer of her life
05/25/99:The lingering song of a certain summer
05/24/99:We could all use a return to the Buddy system
05/20/99: Now, this is enough to make James Bond double-0 depressed
05/17/99: It's midnight -- do you know where your parents are?
05/13/99: And now even saying "thank you" creates a problem
05/11/99: The answer was standing at the front door
©1999, Tribune Media Services