Edd Byrnes, Kookie in 77 Sunset Strip, dies

Edd Byrnes, front, in a TV Guide cover featuring the cast of 77 Sunset Strip

Edd Byrnes, whose hip parking lot attendant in 77 Sunset Strip became enormously popular, has died.

The death was announced on Twitter by his son, Logan Byrnes, a San Diego TV news anchor.

The tweet attached a press release that said Edd Byrnes died on Wednesday of natural causes. That press released gave his age as 87, but other sources, including a  New York Times obituary, listed it as 86.

77 Sunset Strip (1958-64), an ABC series produced by Warner Bros., featured Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Roger Smith as smooth Los Angeles private detectives. It had a snappy title song and would spawn similar private eye series, including Hawaiian Eye and Bourbon Street Beat.

Edd Byrnes appeared in the pilot episode of 77 Sunset Strip, Girl on the Run, as a villain.

But following an audience preview, kids navigated toward Byrnes, who had played “a cold-blooded killer, a no-good from way back. He didn’t have one redeeming feature,” Roy Huggins, the series creator, said in a 1998 interview for the Archive of American Television.

As a result, Byrnes was brought back as the hair-combing Kookie, who parked cars at the restaurant next door to the private agency featured in the show.

The private eyes, former OSS agent Stuart Bailey (Zimbalist) and Jeff Spencer (Smith), soon pressed Kookie into service helping them on various cases. Eventually, Kookie was promoted to a detective at the agency.

Meanwhile, the Kookie role provided Byrnes the opportunity to record songs such as Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb.

Eventually, Kookie’s popularity waned. In the final season of 77 Sunset Strip,  the format was drastically changed. All the the cast fired except for Zimbalist and Stu Bailey became a lone-wolf private eye.

Byrnes continued on, appearing many television series as well as the movie Grease. His IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 85 acting credits through 1999.

Happy 92nd birthday, Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. celebrates his 92nd birthday on Nov. 30. A lot of today’s television viewers either don’t remember EZ Jr. at all or, maybe, notice he supplied the voice of Alfred the Butler in some well-made Batman cartoons. But he held two starring roles on prime-time television in the U.S. almost continuously from 1958 to 1974.

Sample one is from his first television series, 77 Sunset Strip, where he played former OSS agent turned private investigator Stuart Bailey. For much of the series, Bailey was the rock of an agency that employed (either directly or indirectly) a number of colorful characters. Here, in a clip from the second episode, Bailey banters with Kookie (Edd Byrnes), the parking lot attendant next door who’d eventually become a full-time member of the firm:

From 1965 until 1974, EZ Jr. was Inspector Lewis Erskine on The FBI, the Quinn Martin-produced show where Zimbalist sometimes hunted Soviet and Soviet bloc spies. That long-running show also enjoyed a special relationship with Ford Motor Co., which sponsored the series and supplied the many vehicles used for filming. Here’s an original titles sequence from the second season where the Ford logo is incorporated in the main titles. Not only that, but you can view a 1967 Ford commercial. Warning: the sound and video is a bit distorted but it’s a great time capsule.

One reason we like EZ Jr. is, well, he comes across as an adult. We’re now in an age where people act immature well into middle age (see any recent movie with 44-year-old Adam Sandler). EZ Jr. came to age in an era when people were expected to grow up fast. Most Zimbalist performances are subtle but it’s wrong to say he’s sleepwalking through roles. Subtle is something we wouldn’t mind seeing more of these days.