Lost Music: Kookie's Mad Pad (Ed Byrnes)

Remembering Forgotten Songs

Ed "Kookie" Byrnes - Kookie's Mad Pad

 

 

"Edward Byrne Breitenberger (July 30, 1932 – January 8, 2020), known professionally as Edd Byrnes, was an American actor, best known for his starring role in the television series 77 Sunset Strip. 

He also was featured in the 1978 film Grease as television teen-dance show host Vince Fontaine, and was a charting recording artist with Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb) (with Connie Stevens).

Byrnes was cast in Girl on the Run, a pilot for a detective show starring Efrem Zimbalist Jr. Byrnes played contract killer Kenneth Smiley, who continually combed his hair – Byrnes said this was an idea of his which the director liked and kept in. 

The show aired in October 1958 and was so popular Warners decided to turn it into a TV series: 77 Sunset Strip.[4] Byrnes' character became an immediate national teen sensation, prompting the producers to make Byrnes a regular cast member. They transformed Kookie from a hitman into a parking valet at Dino's Lodge who helped as a private investigator. Zimbalist Jr. explained the situation to the audience: 'We previewed this show, and because Edd Byrnes was such a hit, we decided that Kookie and his comb had to be in our series.'

Kookie's recurring character—a different, exciting look that teens of the day related to—was the valet-parking attendant who constantly combed his piled-high, greasy-styled teen hair, often in a windbreaker jacket, and who worked part-time at the so-called Dean Martin's Dino's Lodge restaurant, next door to a private-investigator agency at 77 Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. Kookie frequently acted as an unlicensed, protégé detective who helped the private eyes (Zimbalist and Roger Smith) on their cases, based upon the word heard from Kookie's street informants. Kookie called everybody Dad (as in Sure thing . . . Dad) and was television's homage to the Jack Kerouac style of cult-hipster of the late 1950s.

The show became the most popular one in the country. To the thrill of teen viewers, Kookie spoke a jive-talk code to everyone, whether you understood him or not, and Kookie knew, better than others, "the word on the street." Although the Kookie character was at least several years older than Jim Stark, James Dean's character in the film Rebel Without a Cause, Byrnes exuded a similar sense of cool. Kookie was also the progenitor of Henry Winkler's The Fonz character of the Happy Days series (switch hot rod for motorcycle; same hair and comb). By April 1959, Byrnes was among the most popular young actors in the country.

Kookie's constant onscreen tending of his ducktail haircut led to many jokes among comedians of the time, and it resulted in the 1959-charted (13 weeks) 'rap' style recording, Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb), recorded with actress and recording artist Connie Stevens, and which reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. It sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA. The song also appeared on the Edd Byrnes album, entitled (what else) Kookie. He and Stevens appeared together on ABC's The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom. During the run of 77 Sunset Strip, Byrnes, as the Kookie character, was a popular celebrity, and Byrnes received fan-mail that reached 15,000 letters a week, according to Picture Magazine in 1961; this rivalled most early rock recording-stars of the day.

Byrnes walked off the set of 77 Sunset Strip in the second season, demanding a bigger part and higher pay. In November 1959, Warners put him on suspension. They eventually offered $750 a week but he refused. In April 1960, they came to terms and Byrnes went back to work.

Owing to restrictions in his Warner Brothers television contract, Byrnes was forced to turn down film roles in Ocean's Eleven (1960); Rio Bravo (1959); North to Alaska (1960) and The Longest Day (1962). 

Although Byrnes was a popular celebrity, typecasting led him to ultimately buy out his television contract with Warner Brothers to clear his way for films—but it was too late for Byrnes to capitalize on feature-length cinema projects based upon his established television-series fame." (Wikipedia)


 


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