'77 Sunset Strip' has its roots in an underrated 1948 noir movie
The character Stu Bailey first appeared in the hard-boiled detective flick 'I Love Trouble.'
Image: The Everett Collection
We often forget how much of classic television began as reboots and adaptations. Perry Mason was based on Erle Stanley Gardner's series of popular detective novels. Wagon Train spun out of the big screen adventure Wagon Master. Gunsmoke was first born in radio. Lost in Space sprouted from a comic book called Space Family Robinson. M*A*S*H was a movie… and so on. Those are the more obvious examples.
Some cult series have even deeper roots. The hip, jazzy detective series 77 Sunset Strip was the brainchild of Roy Huggins, one of the sharpest writers in television history. Huggins crafted quick-witted characters in twisty plots in gems like Maverick, The Fugitive and The Rockford Files. 77 Sunset Strip, on the other hand, traces back to Huggins' earliest work.
In 1946, Huggins published his debut novel, The Double Take. It was a hard-boiled detective tale heavily indebted to the master Raymond Chandler. Seedy characters bumped about in the underbelly of Los Angeles, getting tangled up in blackmail schemes and femme fatales. A dark comedic bent shot through Huggins' purposefully spare prose, in clever lines like, "A desk that was as bare as a mannequin's mind."
In other words, it was juicy fruit primed to be pulped into a noir film, in the heyday of the genre. No wonder that Columbia Pictures snatched up the rights. The book was adapted into a tough little diamond of a noir movie, 1948's I Love Trouble. The main character of the novel and the film was a dick named Stuart Bailey. And here is where a light bulb will pop on above the heads of 77 Sunset Strip fans.
Stu Bailey was the lead role in 77 Sunset Strip, as brilliantly portrayed by Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. A decade earlier, Franchot Tone pioneered the role. Tone's take on the character — and the film in general, for that matter — was a darker affair than the zippy television series. For starters, there was no "Kookie" character in I Love Trouble. Instead, you had rising stars like Raymond Burr popping up in tiny roles. The film bears little resemblance to the television series, frankly, aside from the main character.
Though, undoubtedly, fans of detective fiction will eat up both. I Love Trouble can be hard to track down these days, but the novel The Double Take is readily available and highly recommended to all fans of 77 Sunset Strip.