Stu Bailey and Jeff Spencer were the wisecracking, womanizing private detective heroes of this Warner Brothers drama.Stu Bailey and Jeff Spencer were the wisecracking, womanizing private detective heroes of this Warner Brothers drama.Stu Bailey and Jeff Spencer were the wisecracking, womanizing private detective heroes of this Warner Brothers drama.
Whether 77 SUNSET STRIP was the best all-around private-eye series on television might be debatable, but what can't be debated is the hipness the series delivered to its loyal fans once a week. The formula wasn't rocket science: a damsel in distress who turned out to be fashioning grand larceny, a ten-cents-a-dance ballroom where a maniac slipped beautiful girls a mickey, a run-a-way beauty with a millionaire grandpa.
Effrem Zimbalist, Jr. (Stuart Baily) and Roger Smith (Jeff Spencer) were the two suave PI's who ran the Sunset Strip detective agency. Zimbalist was the more cerebral of the pair; Smith was the unabashed playboy who never saw a pair of shapely legs he didn't like. Then, to top it off, Ed "Kookie" Byrnes stunned Warner Brothers executives when he became a teen sensation as the hip parking lot attendant who combed his locks and called everybody "Daddy-O." When Byrnes recorded KOOKIE, LEND ME YOUR COMB with Connie Stevens, his place among teen-heart-throbs was cinched. In fact, his fame catapulted the ratings so dramatically, he was finally promoted to private investigator with his own office. There was the sexy French receptionist Suzzanne (Jackqueline Beer) and Roscoe (Louis Quinn), the part-time gopher and race track addict who supplied comic relief. And if all this wasn't enough, just across the parking lot there was swinging Dino's-- Dean Martin's real life watering hole where the Frankie Ortega jazz trio pounded out tunes like "I Get A Kick Out Of You."
Sadly, in the final years of the series, Roger Smith developed brain disease and was replaced by Richard Long. SUNSET STRIP was never the same after that. Moreover, it didn't seem right to see a suddenly mature "Kookie" sitting at a desk in a three-piece suit replaced by Robert Logan who was now parking the cars. The show went off the air in 1964 after seven seasons.
While many of the episodes are available on tape and DVD, it is hard to understand why 77 SUNSET STRIP is not shown more often on nostalgic television. For it's fan base remains solid and it is one of the most watchable of the older detective shows. PETER GUNN, RICHARD DIAMOND, and BOURBON STREET BEAT may have been solid competitors, but if you place them side by side, it's not really a contest. Has any other show ever compared to the cool temperatures of 77 SUNSET STRIP? As Kookie would say: "It's really the ginchiest..."
Trivia: It is rather remarkable to consider the impressive pantheon of Warner Brothers successful television series in the 1950's: MAVERICK, CHEYENNE, SUGARFOOT, HAWAIIAN EYE, SURFSIDE SIX, BOURBON STREET BEAT, COLT 45, LARAMIE--all had strong ratings in the 1950's and early 1960's....Moreover, it has often been said that when it came to the movies, WARNER BROTHERS owned the detective genre (Cagney, Bogart, Robinson); and MGM owned fantasy (Astaire, Kelly, Garland). Apparently, this was also true of television where WARNER BROTHERS invested heavily in westerns and detective shows....After Roger Smith developed a brain disorder and left the show, he later developed MLS! But he appears to be doing well today. He married actress Ann Margaret many years ago and when he retired from acting, managed her career...Effrem Zimbalist, Jr. went on to play Inspector Erskine in THE F.B.I. series in the early 1970's...Jacqueline Beer, who played the sexy 77 SUNSET STRIP office receptionist, was Miss France, 1954, and married explorer Thor Hyerdahl...As for Kookie (Ed Byrnes): his late '50's recording of KOOKIE, LEND ME YOUR COMB with Connie Stevens resulted in some 15,000 fan letters a week to Warner Bros....During the height of the series, Byrnes had a serious studio contract dispute with Warner Bros. who refused to allow the actor to do outside films such as Rio Bravo with John Wayne. But the dispute was settled and Byrnes re-appeared in the series as an investigator, not a parking lot attendant. Ratings, however, nosedived and it wasn't long before the series tanked....Byrnes also had a rather severe bout with drug addiction which he describes in an autobiography...Dino's nightclub, just across the parking lot from 77 SUNSET STRIP, was very real and was owned by Dean Martin for years...But there was never really a marquee reading 77 SUNSET STRIP in the way the series portrayed: the interior shots were all filmed at WARNER BROTHERS. In fact, if you pass by 8524 Sunset Blvd. today and look in front of the doorway of the building there now, you'll see a plaque stating that it was once the site for 77 SUNSET STRIP, filmed from 1958--1964....
- May 8, 2005