12 kooky facts about '77 Sunset Strip'
Dean Martin, Richard Nixon and James Bond all have ties to the hip detective series.
In 1960, Warner Bros. had cornerd the market in cool television detectives. The studio had private eyes set up in exotic, far flung locales across the country — Bourbon Street Beat in New Orleans, Surfside 6 in Miami Beach, Hawaiian Eye in Honolulu. Yet it all began in 1958 with 77 Sunset Strip.
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., son of a renowned Russian violin master, starred as Stuart Bailey, a sharp P.I. with shop set up on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. Helping Bailey in his capers was Gerald "Kookie" Kookson III, a neighboring parking lot attendant with a penchant for running a comb through his slick hair.
Thanks to Kookie, hep slang riddled the scripts. The rock 'n' roller tossed off terms like "ginchy," "smog in the noggin" and "long green." Yet 77 Sunset Strip offered more than fashion and hipster speech. The series was the creation of Roy Huggins, the novelist behind the character-driven TV classics Maverick, The Fugitive and The Rockford Files.
Let's investigate some fun facts about 77 Sunset Strip.
1. The pilot film was theatrically released for one week in the Caribbean only.
To put it bluntly, Huggins was duped. Warner purposefully released the series pilot briefly in the West Indies as the film Girl on the Run, so that the studio could claim 77 Sunset Strip was based on a movie, not the writings of Roy Huggins, as was actually the case. (The character of Stu Bailey had first appeared in his 1946 novel The Double Take.) The legal finagling worked, as the loophole allowed the studio to withhold money from the creator.
Image: Warner Bros. / cinematerial
2. Edd Byrnes went from serial killer to hipster.
Byrnes appeared in Girl on the Run, but as a far different character. He was the twisted killer Kevin Smiley in the pilot film. However, there was one connection between Byrnes' early murderer role and Kookie — both characters compulsively ran combs through their hair.
3. The show spawned a hit novelty pop song.
In 1959, Byrnes cut a novelty tune for the newly formed Warner Bros. Records. The actor teamed with Connie Stevens for "Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb," a teen pop number that would become the No. 37 song of the year.
4. The opening was filmed outside of Dean Martin's restaurant.
In the intro, we see Bailey hop into his convertible at Dino's Lodge, Kookie's workplace. The restaurant was real, a joint opened by Dean Martin at 8524 Sunset Boulevard in 1958. Don't go looking for it. A few years ago, the entire block was demolished.
5. 77 Sunset Strip is a fake address.
Sorry, all the street numbers on Sunset Boulevard have four digits.
6. Richard Nixon stopped by the set on the campaign trail.
On October 12, 1960, weeks before the election, Vice President Richard Nixon stopped by the studio to film some campaign spots. He popped in to the filming of 77 Sunset Strip, where he met with Byrnes, Zimbalist… and guest star Roger Moore (far right).
Image: AP Photo
7. Zimbalist received one of the longest fan letters of the era.
Speaking of Dean Martin… In 1959, Mrs. Robert Blinn of Hillsdale, New Jersey, learned that the Rat Pack crooner had received a 90-page letter from a fan in Australia. A loyal devotee of Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., she wrote the Sunset Strip star a 108-pages, 11,345-words letter. She told him, "I didn't want you to be second best to anyone." Here is Zimbalist laying out the letter.
Image: AP Photo
8. The series took a dramatic turn in its sixth season.
In the summer of '63, after five successful years, Warner Bros. looked to shake things up. Dragnet star Jack Webb was brought in as executive producer. The entire cast was slashed, save for Zimbalist. The tone took a darker turn into film noir territory, with Stu Bailey as loner P.I., as even the theme music was replaced. Fans were not thrilled with the change, to say the least. Cancelation quickly followed.
Image: AP Photo
9. Zimbalist played Batman's butler in five different series.
Later in his career, the actor went into voice work, bringing Bruce Wayne's loyal helper, Alfred Pennyworth, to life in a handful of animated series — Batman: The Animated Series (1992), Superman (1996), The New Batman Adventures (1997), Static Shock (2000) and Justice League (2001).
10. Zimbalist was buddies with J. Edgar Hoover.
After 77 Sunset, Zimbalist landed another hit series in The F.B.I. Bureau director J. Edgar Hoover required all actors portraying agents to undergo a background check. Zimbalist headed to headquarters to interview with Hoover and the two struck up a friendship. The TV star trained with F.B.I. agents, too. In this photo, Zimbalist checks his own finger print card with C. Lester Trotter, assistant director in charge of the F.B.I. identification division.
Image: AP Photo
11. There was an episode with no dialogue.
The pioneering action show broke new ground. "The Silent Caper" was just that — an episode without any spoken lines. Good thing the actors could let off steam singing on set. Another curious outlier of an episode is "Reserved For Mr. Bailey," which sees Zimbalist wandering a ghost town. He is the only actor in the entire episode.
Image: AP Photo/Harold Filan
12. There was nearly a revival in 1995 led by Clint Eastwood.
In 1995, the WB Network launched. The studio looked to mine its own history for fresh content. Clint Eastwood was lined up to produce a reboot with actors Jim Caviezel and Timothy Olyphant. A short pilot was filmed, yet the series never made it past the testing phase.
Image: Dell Comics / mycomicshop