Friday, October 10, 2008

“You Meet the Highbrow and the Hipster”

Continuing my recent observance of TV crime drama anniversaries (see here, here, and here), let me note that today marks 50 years since the debut of ABC’s 77 Sunset Strip, heralded as the first hour-long private-eye show to be broadcast on American television. That 1958-1964 series was cooked up by Roy Huggins--who would later give us The Fugitive, The Rockford Files, and Baretta--and featured Stuart Bailey (played on the show by Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), a Chandleresque character in Los Angeles who’d appeared in one novel (1946’s The Double Take, later made into the 1948 film I Love Trouble), as well as several short stories by Huggins. Also integral to the series was P.I. Jeff Spencer (Roger Smith), a trained attorney and, like Bailey, a former U.S. government agent.

“They worked out of swank digs at 77 Sunset Strip, next door to Dino’s Restaurant, where French secretary Suzanne [Fabray, played by Jacqueline Beer] handled the phones,” explains Kevin Burton Smith in The Thrilling Detective Web Site. “Hanging around for comic relief were racetrack tout Roscoe [Louis Quinn], and hair-combing, Dino parking lot attendant and beatnik P.I. wanna-be Kookie [Edd Byrnes]. Comb sales soared. So much for Huggins’ hopes for a straight P.I. series. Hard-boiled drama was out and gimmicks were in.” So, too, was humor, often of the self-deprecating sort.

Explains Wikipedia:
Many of the episodes were named “capers.” The catchy theme song, written by the accomplished team of Mack David and Jerry Livingston, typified the show’s breezy, jazzed atmosphere. The song became the centerpiece of an album of the show’s music in Warren Barker-led orchestrations, which was released in 1959.

The Edd Byrnes character Kookie became a cultural phenomenon, with his slang expressions such as “ginchy” and “piling up Zs” (sleeping). When Kookie helped the detectives on a case by singing a song, Edd Byrnes began a singing career with “Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb” (based on his frequent combing of his hair). When his demands for more money were not met, Byrnes left the show, but he came back as a full-fledged partner in the detective firm in May 1960; in 1961, Robert Logan became the new parking lot attendant, J.R. Hale, who usually spoke in abbreviations. In 1960, Richard Long moved from the recently canceled detective series Bourbon Street Beat with his role of Rex Randolph, but he left the program in 1962. ...

In 1963, as the show’s popularity waned, the entire cast except for Zimbalist was let go. Jack Webb was brought in as executive producer and William Conrad as director. The character of Stuart Bailey became a globe-hopping investigator, with lavish international sets. The show was canceled at the end of the year.
Before it went off the air, though, 77 Sunset Strip served as a magnet for young Hollywood talent. Actors and actresses who appeared on the show at one time or another included William Shatner, Dyan Cannon, Marlo Thomas, James Garner, DeForest Kelley, Mary Tyler Moore, and Elizabeth Montgomery. Its success also led to the creation of several other network programs that bore a distinct stylistic similarity, including Hawaiian Eye, Surfside Six, and the aforementioned Bourbon Street Beat. Which is certainly cause for Smith to call 77 Sunset Strip “one of the most influential private eye shows in history.”

READ MORE: In a mini-celebration of this series, blogger Evan Lewis posted the following pieces in Davy Crockett’s Almanack: “Forgotten Books: 77 Sunset Strip, by Roy Huggins” and “77 Sunset Stuff”; “77 Sunset Strip Reunion from America--1985” (YouTube).


Paul Bishop said...


Anonymous said...

I have to add the oddity that a much later Huggins series (co-created with Cannell) was also based on the Stu Bailey source material: "City of Angels" with Wayne Rogers, often dismissed as a "Chinatown" knock-off. The set-up is right out of THE DOUBLE TAKE, right down to the shared receptionist and Lt. Quint of the cops. Also, as on the last season of "Strip," the Bailey character (re-christened Jake Axminster)works out of the Bradbury Building.

I have often cited "City of Angels" as my favorite PI series, recently rivalled by the late and much lamented "Veronica Mars."

Chris O'Grady said...

I never watched the TV show 77 SUNSET STRIP and I've been kicking myself ever since. After reading Huggins's novel THE DOUBLE TAKE, when I heard he'd switched to writing for television, I got disgusted at him for "deserting" writing fiction for working in "the boob tube." Shows how wrong a chap can be.