R.I.P. Edd Byrnes, the hip Kookie of 77 Sunset Strip
Image: The Everett Collection
The most prominent early use of the term "hipster" was on 77 Sunset Strip, the cool detective series set in Los Angeles. Each week, viewers heard singers belt the following lyrics in the brassy theme tune: "You'll meet the highbrow and the hipster."
The "hipster" of the theme song was Gerald Lloyd "Kookie" Kookson III, the parking attendant with an obsession with combing his hair. Edd Byrnes portrayed Kookie, and built his fame upon the character, releasing hit pop songs — like "Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)" — and making appearances all over television. In 1959, "Kookie" turned up in a Coke Time variety show special with Pat Boone and another important hipster of the era, Maynard G. Krebs.
Thanks to Kookie, hep slang riddled the scripts. The rock 'n' roller tossed off terms like "ginchy," "smog in the noggin" and "long green." Yet 77 Sunset Strip offered more than fashion and hipster speech. The series was the creation of Roy Huggins, the novelist behind the character-driven TV classics Maverick, The Fugitive and The Rockford Files.
Warner Bros. purposefully released the series pilot briefly in the West Indies as the film Girl on the Run, so that the studio could claim 77 Sunset Strip was based on a movie.
Byrnes appeared in Girl on the Run, but as a far different character. He was the twisted killer Kevin Smiley in the pilot film. However, there was one connection between Byrnes' early murderer role and Kookie — both characters compulsively ran combs through their hair.
In 1959, Byrnes cut a novelty tune for the newly formed Warner Bros. Records. The actor teamed with Connie Stevens for "Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb," a teen pop number that would become the No. 37 song of the year.
Byrnes claimed he once appeared on 26 magazine covers in one week alone.
In 1980, when Merv Griffin was creating a new game show to be called Wheel of Fortune, he cast Byrnes as the host in the test pilot. The network asked for another host, and thus Pat Sajak's career began.
Elsewhere, Byrnes appeared on episodes of Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, and Charlie's Angels — pulling off the Aaron Spelling trifecta.
The New York City–born actor died on Wednesday, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 87.