Stuart Bailey, the character around whom “77 Sunset Strip” was built, first appeared in a 1940s novel by Roy Huggins called The Double Take. Filmed from Huggins’s own adaptation, it became I Love Trouble (Columbia, 1948, directed by S. Sylvan Simon). Franchot Tone starred.
The first pilot film for the TV series was released to theaters outside the United States under the title Girl on the Run. It was not shown in the United States because Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., as Ivy League Ph.D. turned private eye Stuart Bailey, had as his co-star an actor named Edd Byrnes, who played psychopathic Mob hit man Kenneth Smiley, who spoke his own variation on beatnik speech and combed his hair with panache. Byrnes scored so well with preview audiences that Warner Bros. didn’t want to use him up as a one-shot killer. Richard L. Bare directed.
A Bailey novelette by Huggins had been adapted for television as an episode of “Conflict” on ABC in 1956. Zimbalist starred. In 1958, ABC and Warner Bros. launched “77 Sunset Strip” as TV’s first hour-long private eye show. Realizing that this would be a big load for one actor to carry, producers gave Bailey (Zimbalist) a partner, Jeff Spencer, a former government agent and non-practicing attorney. Roger Smith, a young protege of James Cagney, got the part. Jacqueline Beer played Suzanne Fabray, the French-accented switchboard operator at the title address; for comic relief there was Louis Quinn as racetrack character Roscoe. And then there was Kookie. Kenneth Smiley had been given a soul transplant and reemerged as Gerald Lloyd Kookson III, the parking lot attendant at Dino’s, the restaurant next door. Kookie was an aspiring private eye, constantly looking for ways to help Jeff or Stu.
Two things happened in the first season. Huggins’s hope for a straight private eye series close in spirit to his prose about Bailey was dashed, and Kookie became a phenomenon. There was even a hit Kookie record. Kids tried to talk like him (people still say “piling up z’s” to mean sleep). Comb sales skyrocketed. Kookie, as he might put it himself, was the ginchiest.
And the show was a big hit. That was when it became perhaps the most ripped-off formula in TV history. The fact that it was the show’s own production company and network doing the ripping was of no concern. Hawaiian Eye, Surfside Six, “Bourbon Street Beat,” “The Islanders,” and The Roaring Twenties all had the two leads, the hopeful, the clown, and the girl. And when one show bit the dust, they just threw the most popular character into another show. Richard Long as “Bourbon Street” refugee Rex Randolph did a season as an employee on “Sunset Strip.” There were frequent crossovers, as well.
Scripts were recycled from show to show, and frequently within shows. Logic and even sanity were thrown to the winds. In one episode, without explanation, Kookie turned up as a rickshaw driver in Hong Kong.
Byrnes, meantime, was sick of combing his hair for a living and walked off the show. He was brought back as yet another member of the firm, a full-fledged detective at last. He was replaced in the parking lot by Robert Logan as J. R. Hale. His gimmick was using initials which he always had to explain.
In fact, by 1963 the whole mess had become too confusing for everybody, and a new regime at Warner Bros. (headed by Jack Webb) wiped the slate clean. William Conrad (later to star as TV’s Cannon) was brought in as producer. Out went everything but the title and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. Kookie, the finger-snapping theme song, and even the building itself, were gone. “77 Sunset Strip” was now represented by Los Angeles’s atmospheric Bradbury Building, and Stuart Bailey, as he had in Huggins’s original concept, worked alone. The show left the air at the end of the 1963-1964 season.
USA / ABC – Warner / 205×60 minute episodes / Broadcast 1958-1964
Creator: Roy Huggins / Music: Mack David, Jerry Livingston
EFREM ZIMBALIST JR as Stuart Bailey
ROGER SMITH as Jeff Spencer (1958-63)
EDD BYRNES as Gerald Lloyd Kookson III (aka Kookie) (1958-63)
LOUIS QUINN as Roscoe (1958-63)
JACQUELINE BEER as Suzanne Fabray (1958-63)
BYRON KEITH as Lt Gilmore (1959-63)
RICHARD LONG as Rex Randolph (1960-61)
ROBERT LOGAN as J.R. Hale (1961-63)
JOAN STALEY as Hannah (1963-64)