77 Sunset Strip

Conducted by Sylvia Stoddard

The true genesis of the series was in three stories Roy Huggins sold as magazine novellas. "Death and the Skylark" ran in Esquire in 1952, and "Appointment with Fear" and "Now You See It" appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1956--all featuring the exploits of a private eye named Stuart Bailey. Then Huggins did an episode on Conflict featuring Stu Bailey called "Anything for Money."

"This was a man who would do anything you wanted for money," Huggins said. "[This pilot] was ahead of its time, obviously. Because it did worry them [the network], would we like a hero who would do anything for money? So, it didn't sell. But there it was and we ran it on Conflict. So I said, 'Let's do a one-hour private-eye series, 77 Sunset Strip,' and they said, 'Great. Let's come up with a pilot.' I came up with Girl on the Run. I hired Marion Hargrove to write the script. The first move that indicated to me that something was afoot was a memo from Bill Orr saying, 'Can you lengthen this screenplay so that it can be made into a 90-minute movie? Because if we don't sell it, we may want to release it as a movie.' That was his story and so I talked to Marion and said, 'Do you think there's enough here for us to write enough pages to make 90 minutes?' He said, 'Oh, I think so.' And he did."

"Then in the production reports, they started no longer referring to it as 77 Sunset Strip. It suddenly began to be referred to as Girl on the Run--á la a movie. Then they called and said 'Change the hero's name to Stuart Bailey.' And then I knew something was really afoot. Because the name of the hero in 'Anything for Money' was Stuart Bailey because it was based on my Stuart Bailey novelette that ran in the Saturday Evening Post. So now I get this instruction to change the hero's name to Stuart Bailey."

"And I said to Marion, 'They're trying to steal credit from me again. They're trying to block my royalties. $500 an episode.' But as it turned out, it was more than that. If they ever tried to make a movie out of it, they had to come to me because I owned it. I didn't know that, and they didn't know that, so if I could prove that I was the creator of 77 Sunset Strip, Warner's would never be able to make a movie based on it. And they may never do it because they may feel I can prove that I did it."

A nearly identical situation had occurred on Maverick. "The reason for all the problems about getting the credit for creating something," Huggins said, "was because J. L. Warner simply looked at Bill Orr and said, 'Bill, don't ever get yourself into a situation where we have to pay one of those writers a royalty. Because I've read the contract and if you make a mistake, we're going to owe them a royalty and that's insane.' The idea of paying an actor a royalty drove J. L. crazy because it was so different from anything he knew. You don't pay actors royalties. You buy their time and you pay them money and they go onto another job. The same for a writer. So he gave Bill Orr orders--the way Bill Orr took it I think was that if he ever got into the position where he ended up owing a royalty, he'd get fired. Although I've never heard Bill say that, I am certain, that's the only way you can analyze it. That was the situation I was in, where they would do anything and they did. "

"What they did on Maverick was even worse. On Maverick, I'd already written a pilot script. And they said 'We can't use it. You have to write one based on something we own.' And so I wrote one based on a book they owned, which had nothing to do with my story. It was phony right then. But on top of that, they actually bought a treatment I'd written for Columbia on the same subject to protect themselves."

On 77, Huggins remembers Warner's went to even greater lengths. "Now that was all they did until it was finished and they ran it as if it was a movie in a theatre in the West Indies for one week. So that was its theatrical run. Now, they didn't owe me a royalty because I had written a movie which they owned and now they had the right to make a television show out of it. And I went to the preview and we got the shock of our lives. Because this really truly rotten, immoral, disgusting kid who combed his hair was mobbed when the preview was over by these disgusting, rotten teenagers of that period. And they just mobbed him. And we were waiting for them to mob Efrem Zimbalist. No! They mobbed Edd Byrnes! And it was eye-opening. It was a shock. But also it was a message that there was something there that we had not realized. The idea of writing that kind of a character was Marion's although he's forgotten it. He doesn't remember. But it was entirely his idea, based on things he'd been reading about the younger generation that was coming up that were vile, despicable human beings. It was a book written by a psychologist who said we'd better watch out because we have bred a group of adolescents who are dangerous. And he thought, 'Well that's weird, I have to make him young, middle class, well-dressed and one of these sociopathic youngsters who are coming up into our midst.' And sure enough, they did. They made bombs and smoked this and that."

Roy Huggins remembered where they got the name 'Kookie' in a 1995 interview with Ed Robertson. "In the editing room [working on 'Girl on the Run'], I never could remember his character's name, and so I kept calling him 'the kook.' And 'the kook' became 'Now, when Kookie comes in here, let's do that.' And (associate producer) Hugh Benson got the impression that the guy's name was 'Kookie' and so when Edd Byrnes was added as a regular to the series, that became his character's name. The homicidal tendencies were gone, but not the comb."

"So what they did was put this show on the air first," said Huggins. "And it became, in effect, the pilot, although they claimed 'Anything for Money' was the pilot. And they announced at the end of it, the reaction to Edd Byrnes had been so great, that he was being brought into the series in a different role. And that was it. And I, in the meantime, had launched Maverick and was doing most of the work on Maverick. I was writing almost all the stories, rewriting many of the scripts. I could not do 77 Sunset Strip and Maverick. And do it my way, which was doing all the work. So I told Bill, 'You've got to get somebody else to run this show, I can't do it.'"

So Huggins relinquished control of Stuart Bailey and the show. Did he regret it? "I didn't give it much thought then," Huggins said, "and I haven't since. I don't remember ever feeling that they were doing it wrong. All I know is that I was aware that they weren't doing it the way I would have done it. But I didn't feel that they were doing it wrong."

As for the creation of Jeff Spencer, Huggins gives Orr the credit. "Bill took over and I'm certain he's totally responsible for the choice," said Huggins. "The idea [of alternating stars] was discovered by me when I started doing Maverick, because in those days, the network wouldn't put on a special. You had to be on every week. Their conclusion was you can't put something else in there, you've got to get that show on the air every week. So the idea was forced upon me. I didn't think of it. I just recognized an insoluble problem when I saw one. So that's undoubtedly why Bill brought in Jeff Spencer. But he brought in a very charming young man and I think he was a good addition to the show and the show worked."

J. L.'s parsimonious ways influenced all the Warner series. The exteriors were strictly backlot and there are a dozen or more episodes which contain the standing sets with the theatre marquee which remains on the lot today. Other than the high shot of a car leaving Dino's [shot from Sunset Plaza Drive], whenever the front of the 77 office or Dino's was shown, it was on the soundstage. Most action shows did the same thing, including even Mission: Impossible. However, the budget must have eased up a bit by the third season, because some real establishing shots were used and an occasional location exterior. Knowledgeable viewers will note that the Warner music catalogue was used extensively in the background of 77. Anyone familiar with the works of the Gershwins, Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hart will not only recognize their songs (controlled by Warner Records) in every episode, but if one knows the lyrics, they will note that the tunes chosen invariably make musical comments on the scenes in which they are played. Thus, "Embraceable You" is used before and during a love scene, while "But Not for Me" punctuates a scene where the object of a character's desire is either forbidden fruit or will lead him into danger.

There is no such address as 77 Sunset Boulevard. The "Strip" begins at the 8200 block and extends to the border of Beverly Hills, the 9100 block. The building used as the location for the show (whose entrance was duplicated on the soundstage) held the offices of talent and modeling agent Mary Webb Davis. The famous aluminum awning actually had the address, 8544, on the triangular end and the top was later painted with stripes. Davis who later relocated nearby, said the producers came in and offered her $25 to shoot the exterior for the show. She took it. In the 1960-61 season, a new aerial shot was taken of it and the entrance to Dino's looking west. There is an angular black sign painted on the side of the 8544 building which bears the name of the modeling agent. The 8544 address was, until recently, the Tiffany Theatre, but the whole block and several adjacent ones are currently undergoing an extensive renovation.

Dino's Lodge (also duplicated at Warner Bros.) was a successful nightclub owned by Dean Martin next door at 8524 Sunset. In later years, it became Chez Denis and in 1998, the entire block, owned for many years by Western International Media Corp., was completely rebuilt as offices for the company whose headquarters occupied the old Playboy building one block west. Dino's was such a success, Martin's estranged partner in comedy, Jerry Lewis, opened his own club a few blocks down the Strip. It lasted only a year or so, then became a male strip club called The Classic Cat and then the site of Tower Records Video store.

The Frankie Ortega Trio, featured in many 77 Sunset Strip episodes, did not actually play at Dino's but at the Melody Room at 8852 Sunset Blvd. This nightclub space next to longtime Strip fixture the Sun-Bee Market, is currently the Viper Room, but has had many incarnations including being stage-dressed as the club London Fog (which had actually been across the street) for the Oliver Stone movie, The Doors. At the time of 77, the Strip had many posh nightclubs including the Crescendo, the Interlude, Ciro's and the Mocambo, where big-name performers played regularly before being lured to Las Vegas and bigger bucks.

The first season also reflected the Warner penny-pinching. Many of the stories are based on Warner properties, including a virtual remake of the movie, Dial M for Murder. All are shot on the backlot or on the soundstage, without even stock footage for establishing shots. For a show which could have captured the feel of L.A. in the 50s, it was a shame. But ABC only paid Warners $75,000 an episode for 77 and this tightly limited what was possible. The episodes alternated between Jeff Spencer and Stu Bailey stories and Roscoe, Suzanne and Kookie had little to do. Despite some patronizing reviews (TV Guide called it "run-of-the-eyeball private-eye stuff"--77 Sunset Strip was a hit. It tied for 6th place (with Father Knows Best) in its second season, and was 13th for its third.

By the second year, the show opened out a bit more, involving the secondary characters more in the investigations, including Edd Byrnes's Kookie, who had become a teen heartthrob, even recording a hit record with Connie Stevens, "Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb." Roger Smith's singing and guitar-playing abilities were used several times and he began to write one or two scripts a season, including one of the most famous, "The Silent Caper," which contains normal sound effects but doesn't have one word of dialogue. Amazingly, it's one of the most suspenseful episodes of the show.

The show also moved out from conventional private eye stories and into the glamorous world in which it was set. From then on, there would be more stories about the rich and famous, including one about a western film star ("The Celluloid Cowboy"), southern California's proximity to Mexico and Central American (the two-part "Return to San Dede" and "Hot Tamale Caper"). Palm Springs and the upsurge in desert beauty spas was used for "The Desert Spa Caper," and local L.A. basin areas highlighted in "The Laurel Canyon Caper," "The Valley Caper," "Reunion at Balboa," "Pasadena Caper" and "Condor's Lair," a thinly-veiled reference to Errol Flynn's famous house, Falcon's Lair.

A typical Hollywood child star is featured in "Publicity Brat" and episodes "The Starlet," "Wolf! Cried the Blonde," "Falling Stars," "Never to Have Loved," "The Widescreen Caper" and "Six Superior Skirts" had Hollywood's "industry town" settings. "The Duncan Shrine" is a gentle parody of the Woman in Black who traditionally visited Rudolph Valentino's grave. Other aspects of the entertainment industry are featured in "The Hamlet Caper" and "Open and Close in One," both about actors. Even the Southern California traffic reporter helicopters trigger the story in "The Eyes of Love." One of the ultimate Hollywood events, The Santa Claus Lane Parade, which takes place every year on Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, is the setting for "Bullets for Santa." Bel Air, the enclave of stars and film moguls, is the setting for both "The Bel Air Hermit" and "The Lady Has the Answers."

Edd Byrnes, in his biography, calls what happened to him "Kookiemania." He received more fan mail than anyone on the series--including thousands of combs. Wherever he went in public, he was mobbed. His popularity was noted by the front office, but Byrnes says the Warner top brass wouldn't let him out of the studio's control to take lucrative movie offers which started to pour in. Byrnes was pleased, though, when an early episode of 77's second season featured his character in a larger role than before. He was being paid $500 a week and felt his popularity warranted a raise and asked for one. When repeated requests were turned down, he refused to report to work for five months. Eventually, he did get some concessions including a slight pay increase and he was taken out of the parking lot and made an associate of Bailey & Spencer. This allowed the other stars to do episodes where they weren't always working solo as before, but had the help of another member of the firm.

The series had both light and dark episodes. The darkest is probably "Downbeat," when Stu Bailey loses his license, moves out of Bailey & Spencer, and takes to the bottle, believing there is no way to clear his name. Jack Warner's aversion to drinking [see Wm. T. Orr interview] is apparent in this episode when James Garner appears as himself to deliver a lecture to Stu on the evils of alcohol. Then there are the fun episodes, such as "Six Superior Skirts" where the plot is incidental to a parade of beautiful girls and plenty of music by the regular Frankie Ortega Trio as well as the Mary Kaye Trio, with Kookie providing a spoken counterpoint to their song about falling in love.

Another theme visited often in the show is the Cold War. Given both Stu Bailey and Jeff Spencer's backstory as government agents, it made sense to get them involved in some assignments which took them to Berlin or off somewhere chasing communists or East Germans. Stu goes to East Germany in "The Iron Curtain Caper" and "Escape to Freedom" and is accused of passing secret government secrets to the enemy in "Downbeat." He helps clear an Air Force officer of treason in "Genesis of Treason" and protects a UN peace negotiator in "The Fanatics," does similar duty in "The Diplomatic Caper" and Jeff gets caught up in the theft of some radioactive material in "The Double Death of Benny Markham," fearing the bomb-making chemical will fall into enemy hands. Chasing down old Nazi records is Stu's assignment in "The Antwerp Caper" while Jeff traps a foreign agent at a missile base in "The Space Caper" and temporarily re-ups in "The Navy Caper."

When a 5-month-long Writers Guild strike began on January 16, 1960, Warner Bros. came up with a unique solution which pleased the studio and network if not the writers. They kept all shows in production, pillaging each show's scripts for ones which could be converted to another show with simple character name changes. One production secretary there at the time remembers seeing a Maverick script with the character names simply crossed out and those of Tom Lopaka and Tracy Steele written in by hand and, voila! a script for Hawaiian Eye, without so much as a line of dialogue changed. These teleplays, which appeared on all Warner's shows during the last months of the strike, are always credited to "W. Hermanos" (Spanish for W. Brothers) with "story by" the original script's author. But this time, Warner's wasn't trying to do it on the cheap, just do it. Bill Orr remembered that the writers loved it--being paid twice for the same script--but it had to be done secretly. "Under the table? It was done under a mountain," says Orr. "I had a guy who would go out with a bag. He was a story editor later, and he would take his bag out with the money and hand it out to whoever had written something for us."

With so many series in production on the lot, Orr decided to do "crossover" episodes, where the characters from one show would appear briefly in another Warners series. Thus, the team from Hawaiian Eye, for instance, would fly over or call to enlist the help of Bailey & Spencer. This continued for several years until sponsors objected. The ad rates for the shows were not all the same, and sponsors paying higher rates for one show objected when its stars appeared on another series where commercial time was cheaper. But while it lasted, it connected all the Warner shows in the minds of viewers and undoubtedly resulted in viewers sampling another Warner show they perhaps hadn't watched before.

The third season was business as usual, with the characters settling in for real. Richard Long was added after his own show, Bourbon Street Beat, failed. He continued to play his character from that show, Rex Randolph, from New Orleans. It's fortunate he was brought in, because Edd Byrnes, tired of all the acclaim and so little screen time or money, asked for more of both and ended up on strike himself for five months. The show became a little more flexible, veering from its earlier strict switching off of characters now that it had Long as another detective. There were also episodes featuring Jacqueline Beer's character Suzanne Fabray, and Louis Quinn's Roscoe.

As with Maverick, once 77 was a hit, more prominent actors clamored to appear on the show. Ida Lupino directed several and among the guest stars through the years were Adam West and Neil Hamilton (Batman), Ruta Lee, Jay North (Dennis the Menace), Buddy Ebsen, Donna Douglas, Ellen Corby (The Beverly Hillbillies), Pernell Roberts (Bonanza), Louise Fletcher, Mary Tyler Moore, Linda Darnell, John Beradino (General Hospital), Tuesday Weld, Jacques Bergerac, Marie Windsor, Bea Benaderet, Fay Wray, Billie Burke, Pamela Britton (My Favorite Martian), Marilyn Maxwell, John van Dreelen, Sherry Jackson, Chad Everett, Dawn Wells, Cloris Leachman, William Windom, Dyan Cannon, Natalie Schafer, Jim Backus, John Astin, Sammy Davis Jr., Paul Winchell, Elinor Donahue, Malachi Throne, Werner Klemperer, Bernie Kopell, Robert Vaughn, Elizabeth Montgomery, and silent star Francis X. Bushman. The unique five-part sixth season opener, "5" features nearly every star on the Warner lot at the time in cameo roles.

But it was the Warner players who appeared in episode after episode of not only 77, but all the other Warner shows, who were the solid backbone of these shows. Actors such as Robert Colbert, Kaye Elhardt, Carol Ohmart, Julie Adams, Dolores Donlon, Joe De Santis, Patricia Crowley, Rodolfo Hoyos, Mike Road, Ray Danton, Patric Knowles, Ric Roman, Victor Buono, Kurt Kreuger, Jay Novello, Kathleen Freeman and J. Edward McKinley. These actors' chameleon-like ability to play totally different types of characters made them constantly employable.

Byrnes and Warner finally settled their dispute and he returned in the fourth season as a junior partner of the firm and Robert Logan was added as the new Dino's parking attendant. But the show's fans didn't appreciate the fact that their cool, jive-talking Kookie now wore a suit and tie and never took his comb out of his jacket pocket. He was just too "square" for the show's younger set and they stopped watching.

By the end of the fourth season, it was time for some drastic action. Jack Webb was brought in to helm the show and it began its fifth season with a new concept. Stu Bailey was the only character left--back as Roy Huggins had originally created him. His office was now in the Victorian-era Bradbury building in downtown Los Angeles and his cases took him all over the world. It was still called 77 Sunset Strip, but it couldn't have been further away. The season did start strongly, though, with a fascinating five-part mini-series featuring a guest cast of stellar players from the Warner Bros. roster.

But the magic was gone and by the end of the 1962-63 season, so was the series.

In 1994, there was talk about a reunion of the 77ers. Edd Byrnes joked that Zimbalist would insist on a script as good as Hamlet, but that they should do it and just have fun and earn some money. It never happened. Instead, Warner Bros. decided on a remake of the television series itself, and filmed two pilots, in 1995 and 1996, both of which were never aired. In the first, there is a woman character named Spencer Bailey, but otherwise, no reference is made to the original characters of the series--only the address.

Season 1 1958-1959 Season 2 1959-1960 Season 3 1960-1961
Season 4 1961-1962 Season 5 1962-1963

classic tv books



tv episode guides