I can’t say this for certain, but I do not believe I ever saw the pilot/opening episode of 77 Sunset Strip until earlier today. Titled “Girl on the Run,” it first aired on ABC-TV on October 10, 1958. The screenwriter was Marion Hargrove (who’d go on to script episodes of several James Garner series, as well as I Spy, The Name of the Game, and The Magician). However, the principal driver behind “Girl on the Run” was writer-producer Roy Huggins, whose private-eye creation, Stuart Bailey--introduced in Huggins’ 1946 novel, The Double Take--served as the protagonist in “Girl on the Run” (played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) and was carried over into the series.
As Paul Green explains in his recently released biography, Roy Huggins: Creator of Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, the Fugitive
and The Rockford Files (McFarland & Company), in 1958 the Warner Bros. TV studio commissioned a pilot from Huggins for a gumshoe series he proposed titling 77 Sunset Boulevard. So pleased were Warner execs with the results, “Girl on the Run,” that they asked him to expand it beyond its 60-minute length. This gave the studio the option of releasing “Girl on the Run” as a theatrical feature; it eventually showed for a single week in a West Indies theater before introducing ABC’s retitled 77 Sunset Strip. (You will see a promotional poster for that film on the left. Note its “Not Suitable for Children” warning.)
Huggins was concerned that such a release represented part of a Warner Bros. scheme to cut him out of any royalties for the future small-screen series, by claiming that 77 Sunset Strip had been inspired by the film, rather than Huggins’ own literary efforts. Warner Bros. “was also planning another move to enforce [its] ownership of Huggins’ creation,” Green explains. “His third novel, Lovely Lady, Pity Me , was bought by Warner Bros. and a script written [for
77 Sunset Strip] that included Stuart Bailey even though there was no private eye in the original novel.” It seems Huggins’ fears were justified; the studio ultimately refused to pay him royalties for his creation, and he took the studio to legal arbitration over the matter. After Huggins lost, he bowed out of the weekly series 77 Sunset Strip. But the show went on--through six seasons, in fact, the last one being a noirish departure from its predecessors.
Not long ago, I happened across an abundance of 77 Sunset Strip episodes on YouTube (watch them now--while you can!), and the 71-minute version of “Girl on the Run” was among that trove. I’ll let you watch the show for yourself, below, but will offer this synopsis of the plot from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb): “A private investigator is hired to find and protect a singer who witnessed the murder of a union official and is being stalked by the killer. What he doesn’t know is that he has actually been hired by the killer himself.” Just wait until you see which subsequent 77 Sunset Strip cast member plays the vicious, hair-obsessed shooter, Kevin Smiley!
See Part I of “Girl on the Run” above. For the rest, click here.