2020-01-09 23:20:42 UTC
(The error may be corrected by the time you read this.)
The New York Times obit, at the bottom of this post, has some interesting (if perhaps sordid) details on Byrnes' life.
Edd Byrnes, Kookie on '77 Sunset Strip,' Dies at 87
2:15 PM PST 1/9/2020 by Duane Byrge , Mike Barnes
The New York actor was a finger-snapping, hair-combing, teen-idol sensation who parked cars on the swanky ABC detective series.
Edd Byrnes, who gained fleeting fame as Kookie, the ultra-hip, wisecracking parking attendant on the jazzy 1950s-'60s ABC detective series 77 Sunset Strip, has died. He was 87.
Byrnes, who years later played the smooth-talking Vince Fontaine, a Dick Clark-like dance contest host, in Grease (1978), died unexpectedly Wednesday of natural causes at his home in Santa Monica, his son, San Diego TV news anchor Logan Byrnes, said on Twitter.
"It is with profound sadness and grief that I share with you the passing of my father Edd Byrnes. He was an amazing man and one of my best friends," he wrote.
On 77 Sunset Strip, Kookie parked cars at Dino's Lodge, a Hollywood nightclub that was owned by Dean Martin and served as a backdrop on the show. The club was next door to the private detective agency run by the suave duo of Stuart Bailey (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) and Jeff Spencer (Roger Smith).
When he wasn't "piling up the Z's" (that would be sleeping), the finger-snapping Kookie was running a comb through his wavy ducktail, and Byrnes became one of television's first heartthrobs, in an Elvis kind of way. He elicited shrieks of delight from young female fans everywhere and parlayed that teen-idol fame into a gold record, "Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb."
Recorded with actress Connie Stevens, the song (on Warner Bros. Records) made it to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in May 1959.
At the peak of his popularity, Byrnes received more than 15,000 fan letters a week, exceeding the record that Warner Bros., the studio behind 77 Sunset Strip, had ever received for any star (yes, more than even Errol Flynn and James Cagney). The actor said he once appeared on 26 magazine covers in one week alone.
"As Kookie, I was one of the first young fellows on television, one of the first that the young could identify with," he said in 1969.
His contract prohibited Byrnes from accepting plum roles in such movies as Ocean’s Eleven, North to Alaska and Rio Bravo, and John F. Kennedy was said to have objected to having someone known as Kookie play him in the 1963 film PT 109. The role went to Cliff Robertson.
At one point, Byrnes walked off the show and retreated into a heavy drinking period. He returned in an "upgraded" role in May 1960, with Kookie now a partner in the agency and sporting a coat and tie.
After 77 Sunset Strip ended its six-season-run in 1963, Byrnes moved to Europe to star in a string of spaghetti Westerns and spy thrillers. He sporadically returned to Hollywood to capitalize on his Kookie notoriety.
In 1980, Merv Griffin signed Byrnes to host a new game show, and two half-hour pilots were filmed. NBC liked it but insisted on another host, and so Pat Sajak got the gig on Wheel of Fortune.
Edward Byrne Breitenberger was born on July 30, 1933, in New York City. After his alcoholic father died when Byrnes was 13, he took the surname of his maternal grandfather, a New York City fireman. He developed an interest in performing and after high school landed summer-stock work. At age 22, he set out for Los Angeles, arriving in September 1955, one day after James Dean died in a car crash.
Byrnes landed a number of minor parts, then was cast as a killer who compulsively combed his hair in Girl on the Run (1958), which effectively served as the pilot for 77 Sunset Strip. The actor was such a hit, producers decided to keep him around as another character, Gerald Lloyd Kookson III. His pre-Fonzie, cool-guy persona soon caught on like wildfire.
He also appeared in such films as Reform School Girl (1957), Darby's Rangers (1958), Marjorie Morningstar (1958), Life Begins at 17 (1958), Up Periscope (1959), Yellowstone Kelly (1959), Beach Ball (1965), Michael Apted's Stardust (1974) and Troop Beverly Hills (1989) and on TV shows including Cheyenne, Maverick, Honey West, Mannix, Police Woman, Charlie's Angels, Fantasy Island and Murder, She Wrote.
Byrnes was married from 1962-71 to actress Asa Maynor (she played the stewardess in the famous Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," starring William Shatner).
In his 1996 autobiography, Kookie No More, he detailed his addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Edd Byrnes, Who Combed His Way to TV Stardom, Dies at 86
He became one of television’s first teen idols as Kookie, the hair-combing, jive-talking youth on the hit series “77 Sunset Strip.”
By Margalit Fox
Jan. 9, 2020, 5:46 p.m. ET
CHICAGO, Aug. 22, 1959 — Some fainted, others sobbed with delight and still others surged toward him to gaze into his face, crowned with a crop of wavy hair.
And so went the mass love affair between Edd (Kookie) Byrnes, 26, and a throng of 18,000 cheering bobby sox fans yesterday at Midway Airport. — The Associated Press
Edd Byrnes, who became one of television’s first teen idols as Kookie — the hair-combing, jive-talking youth on the hit series “77 Sunset Strip” — but found ever after that he could not live the character down, died on Wednesday at his home in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 86.
His death was announced in a tweet by his son, Logan Byrnes. No cause was given.
Broadcast on ABC from 1958 to 1964, “77 Sunset Strip” starred Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Roger Smith as a pair of suave Los Angeles private eyes and Mr. Byrnes as the parking-lot attendant at the restaurant next door to their office.
As he ministered tenderly to the Thunderbird convertible driven by Mr. Zimbalist in the show, Kookie (né Gerald Lloyd Kookson III) ran his omnipresent pocket comb through his lush ducktailed pompadour, cracked his devil-may-care grin and spouted aphorisms that even at midcentury had all the gnomic obscurity of Zen koans:
“A dark seven” (a depressing week); “piling up the Z’s” (getting some sleep); “headache grapplers” (aspirin); “buzzed by germsville” (to become ill); and, most emblematically, “Baby, you’re the ginchiest!” — a phrase of the highest Kookian approbation.
Mr. Byrnes, an immediate object of desire for the show’s young female viewers, was soon receiving 15,000 fan letters a week. At public appearances he was pelted with combs. With Connie Stevens, he recorded a single, “Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb,” which sold more than a million copies and reached No. 4 on the Billboard chart, despite the fact that by his own cheerful admission he could not sing.
Mr. Byrnes was an entirely self-taught actor — and originally hired to appear in only a single episode of the show. By his own account, his life began with a turbulent, impoverished childhood followed by a stint as a male prostitute; peaked with fame, riches and a roster of celebrity friends; and ebbed amid alcoholism and drug addiction before culminating in sobriety and steady, if relatively low-profile, television work.
Edward Byrne Breitenberger was born in New York City on July 30, 1933, and reared in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, then a rough-and-tumble, down-at-the-heels ancestor of today’s gentrified Upper East Side neighborhood.
His father, Augustus Breitenberger — alcoholic, verbally abusive, usually unemployed and often absent — was, Mr. Byrnes wrote in his memoir, “‘Kookie’ No More” (1996, with Marshall Terrill), the black sheep of a distinguished family: Augustus’s father was a noted civil engineer who had helped build the city’s subway system.
From boyhood on, Ed — he would add the extra “d,” with its double dollop of cool, circa “77 Sunset Strip” — held a series of jobs to support his mother, brother and sister: shining shoes, delivering ice, coal and newspapers and operating a drill press.
When Ed was 13, his father was found dead from a head wound of uncertain origin — the death may have been a homicide, Mr. Byrnes wrote — leaving Ed as the head of the family. His only escape, he later said, was the movies, and he dreamed of becoming a star.
At 15, he dropped out of school, and at 17, his build honed by gymnastics, he began working as a photographer’s model. A photographer for whom he posed “set us up on dates with older, rich men,” Mr. Byrnes wrote, drawing him into hustling.
“It was a strange world I had been introduced to,” his memoir continued. “Art, wealth, sadism, limousines, sex for money, theater and fine restaurants.”
He kept watching movies, making a meticulous study of actors’ techniques. He gained valuable, if unorthodox, dramatic experience by helping a friend from the neighborhood, a New York police detective, interrogate suspects, playing bad cop to his friend’s good cop. His role, he wrote, consisted largely of whacking suspects over the head with the Manhattan Yellow Pages.
Around this time, desiring a professional name and wanting to disavow his father, he began calling himself Edward Byrnes.
The young Mr. Byrnes parlayed his N.Y.P.D. training into roles in summer stock. In 1955, he drove to Hollywood in search of stardom.
He landed bit parts in television shows like “Wire Service,” “Cheyenne” and “Maverick,” and, eventually, larger parts in movies, including “Reform School Girl” (1957), “Life Begins at 17” (1958), “Darby’s Rangers” (1958) and “Marjorie Morningstar” (1958).
In 1958 he was cast in “Girl on the Run,” a movie that became the de facto pilot for “77 Sunset Strip.” That film, which starred Mr. Zimbalist as a detective, was meant to be a one-off; Mr. Byrnes’s character was a murderous psychopath who, in a bit of business he came up with on the set, keeps running a comb through his hair.
In test screenings, Mr. Byrnes engendered such a frenzy among the women in the audience that the film soon became a series and his character — resuscitated, one assumes, after a spin in the electric chair — was reborn as Kookie. (In later episodes Kookie has graduated from parking cars to playing junior detective.)
Although Mr. Byrnes appeared elsewhere in other roles, he found it hard to slip Kookie’s yoke. He reprised the character on several shows of the early ’60s, including “Hawaiian Eye” and “Surfside 6,” as well as in “Kookie & Co.,” a 1964 movie for West German television.
By the time “77 Sunset Strip” wound down, Mr. Byrnes wrote, he had become mired in drugs, alcohol and depression — first amid the pressures of fame, later amid the reality of being unable to land more significant roles. He hit bottom in 1982, eventually attaining sobriety with the aid of a 12-step program.
Mr. Byrnes’s marriage to Asa Maynor, whom he wed in 1962, ended in divorce. Their son, Logan, is a news anchor at KUSI in San Diego. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.
His other television credits include “The Love Boat,” “Fantasy Island,” “Simon & Simon” and “Murder, She Wrote.” His film roles include Vince Fontaine, the oleaginous host of a TV dance-party show, in “Grease” (1978).
If Mr. Byrnes’s later career did not accord him the stardom of which he had once dreamed, he was, by his own account, content. There was one topic, though, on which he would seldom consent to be interviewed.
The subject was hair care. “I won’t talk about it,” he told The Washington Post in 1998, “unless someone’s paying me.”
© 2020 The New York Times Company