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Jack Johnstone; Long Career in Radio Drama

December 02, 1991|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jack Johnstone, whose career in radio reached from the simplistic broadcasts of "Buck Rogers in the Twenty-Fifth Century" during the 1930s, to the sardonic sophistication of "Yours Truly Johnny Dollar," the last of the big-time network melodramas in the 1950s, is dead.

His daughter, Bonnie, said Sunday that her father was 85 when he died on Nov. 16 in Santa Barbara of cancer.

Johnstone, who wrote, produced, directed and occasionally acted in or narrated hundreds of shows of the "medium of the mind" over three decades, was known as an innovator who brought film stars to radio.

When he first began hiring them for such shows as "Hollywood Star Playhouse" or "Hollywood Startime" in the 1940s, he could offer such stars as Barbara Stanwyck and James Stewart $5,000 or more per week.

But with the advent of TV, he told The Times in 1952, the pay was down to $1,000 a week, a minute portion of what they could earn in pictures.

In addition to adapting such comic-strip story lines as "The Adventures of Superman" to the airwaves, Johnstone participated in some of radio's most inventive programs.

He was one of the producers and/or directors of "The CBS Radio Workshop," which dramatized the works of Ray Bradbury and "interviewed" William Shakespeare. He brought Stewart to radio in "The Six Shooter," directed and narrated "Somebody Knows," in which listeners were offered a $5,000 reward if they could help find an actual murder suspect, and became a director of "The Prudential Family Hour," when it evolved from a musical to a dramatic series in the late 1940s.

"Johnny Dollar," the "insurance investigator with the action-packed expense account," went off the air on Sept. 30, 1962, marking what proved to be the end of the major network programs. Rather than venture into television, Johnstone retired.

In addition to his daughter, Bonnie, he is survived by a second daughter, Tony.

Donations in his name are asked to the Santa Barbara Chapter of Recordings for the Blind.

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