Friday, August 01, 2014

No. 1 on the “77” Hit Parade

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 [1949], 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.


RJR said...

Some months ago I was watching Sunset Strip and Hawaiian Eye reruns on Youtube when they were suddenly taken down over copyright infringements. Now they're both back! Although the Hawaiian Eye are from seasonse 3 & 4. Thanks for the heads up!


Ronald Tierney said...

I may have this wrong, but if Huggins was screwed over on 77 Sunset Strip, then he was cheated out of credit/money for Hawaiian Eye, Surfside 6 and Bourbon Street Beat, all modeled, I think, on 77 Sunset Strip,and all of which I watched religiously. Open to correction here.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

There are some sources (including Wikipedia) that list Roy Huggins as the creator of Hawaiian Eye, but it seems he had next to nothing to do with that 77 Sunset Strip wannabe. This quote comes from The Thrilling Detective Web Site:

"Although the show was basically 77 Sunset Strip (with Hawaiian shirts), which in turn was based on Roy Huggins' Stuart Bailey character, Huggins never actually wrote an episode of Hawaiian Eye. The only credit he had was for 'Dead Ringer,' during the [19]59-60 season. But it was actually an old Maverick script, 'The Jeweled Gun,' that was recycled during a writer's strike, and 'rewritten' for Hawaiian Eye by another writer. And Warner Brothers took the position that since it was a remake of a previously aired script, no additional payment for additional uses of the script were due the writer credited on the original TV film."

Huggins had taken great offense at Warner Bros.' efforts to deny him royalties; he's quoted in Green's biography as saying that after 77 Sunset Strip, "I would never again produce a pilot for Warner Bros."

To the best of my knowledge, Huggins had no connection with either Bourbon Street Beat or Surfside 6, though both of those shows also followed a formula similar to that of 77 Sunset Strip.


Steve Maurer said...

After Warners released successful movie versions of Huggins' Maverick and Fugitive, why didn't they go ahead with a movie version of 77 Sunset Strip?