Sunday, January 12, 2020

Edd Byrnes Passes On

Edd Byrnes, who played Gerald "Kookie" Kookson III on the classic TV show 77 Sunset Strip, died on January 8 2020 at the age of 87.

Edd Byrnes was born Edward Byrne Breitenberger on July 30 1932 in New York City. His father died when he was 13 and he took the name of his grandfather, a New York City firefighter. He eventually took an interest in acting and following his graduation from high school he worked in summer stock. He moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting.

Mr. Byrnes made his television debut on an episode of Crossroads. He guest starred on Wire Service, Navy Log, The Adventures of Jim Bowie, Telephone Time, and Cheyenne. He also appeared in movies, making his film debut in Fear Strikes Out in 1957. It would be his role as a murderer in Girl on the Run (1958), a feature film that effectively served as the pilot for 77 Sunset Strip, that led to him being cast as Kookie. Kookie turned out to be the breakout character on 77 Sunset Strip. At the height of the show's popularity, he received over 15,000 fan letters a week, more than any other star at Warner Bros. The character's popularity led to Edd Byrnes recording the novelty song "Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)" with Connie Stevens. It peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959. Edd Byrnes would have frequent disagreements with Warner Bros., and during the second season actually walked off 77 Sunset Strip. He eventually returned to the show and remained with it until the sixth season, when the show underwent a format change and the entire cast except for Efrem Zimbalist Jr. was fired and the show.

In the late Fifties Edd Byrnes also guest starred on the shows Colt .45, The Gale Storm Show, Sugarfoot, Maverick (possibly as an ancestor of Kookie in one of the three episodes in which he appeared), Lawman, Surfside 6 (as Kookie), and Hawaiian Eye (as Kookie). He also appeared in the movies Reform School Girl (1957), Johnny Trouble (1957), The Deep Six (1958), Darby's Rangers (1958), Marjorie Morningstar (1958), Life Begins at 17 (1958), Up Periscope (1959), and Yellowstone Kelly (1959).

Edd Byrnes continued to appear as Kookie on 77 Sunset Strip into the early Sixties. He also guest starred on the TV shows The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Kraft Suspense Theatre, Burke's Law, Mister Roberts, Honey West, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, Mannix, and Love, American Style. He appeared in the movies The Secret Invasion (1964), Beach Ball (1965), 7 winchester per un massacro (1967), Vado... l'ammazzo e torno (1967), and Professionisti per un massacro (1967).

In the Seventies Edd Byrnes was a regular on the short-lived TV series $weepstake$. He guest starred on Adam-12, Alias Smith and Jones, The Pathfinders, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, The ABC Afternoon Playbreak, Faraday and Company, Marcus Welby M.D., Thriller, Police Story, Police Woman, Sword of Justice, California Fever, CHiPs, B.J. and the Bear, and House Calls. He appeared in the movies Wicked, Wicked (1973), Stardust (1974), and Grease (1978).

In the Eighties Mr. Byrnes guest starred on Charlie's Angels, Fantasy Island, Quincy M.E., The Master, Crazy Like a Fox, Simon & Simon, Throb, Rags to Riches, and Mr. Belvedere. He appeared in the movies Erotic Images (1983), Back to the Beach (1987), Mankillers (1987), Party Line (1988), and  Troop Beverly Hills (1989).

In the Nineties he guest starred on the shows Empty Nest, Married with Children; Burke's Law; Kung Fu: The Legend Continues; Murder, She Wrote; and Unhappily Ever After. He appeared in the TV movie Shake, Rattle and Roll: An American Love Story.

I think there can be no doubt that Edd Byrnes will always be remembered as Kookie on 77 Sunset Strip. With Kookie, he created an instantly memorable character, a parking attendant known for his hip language and running a comb through his hair. It is little wonder that Kookie was at the centre of one of television's earliest fads, following Walt Disney's "Davy Crockett" but preceding The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Of course, Mr. Byrnes made numerous guest appearances on other television shows, from a convicted bank robber on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour to a lecherous stockbroker on Murder, She Wrote. Edd Byrnes will always be remembered as Kookie, but he played numerous other roles as well.

1 comment:

Caftan Woman said...

My mom was a 77 Sunset Strip fan when I was quite young and I actually began catching up with the show recently, and have been enjoying it immensely. Rest well, Mr. Byrnes.