Four Exotic and Hip P.I. Programs

by Guy Belleranti
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In the late 1950's and early 1960's four similar Warner Brothers private eye programs hit ABC television. All had warm weather exotic locales, handsome male leads, sexy females and featured theme music by Mack David and Jerry Livingston. In addition, all were on ABC, were one hour in length and in black and white.

The programs were 77 Sunset Strip, Bourbon Street Beat, Hawaiian Eye and Surfside 6.

77 Sunset Strip ran the longest of the four with 205 episodes being produced from 1958 through 1964. Efrem Zimbalist Jr. starred as Ivy leaguer and former undercover government agent, Stuart Bailey. Roger Smith played his P.I. partner, Jeff Spencer, also a former undercover agent (as well as a non-practicing lawyer). The two had offices at 77 Sunset Strip, a posh section of Hollywood.

Next door was Dino's, an upscale restaurant. Working here as a valet was the wise-cracking, hair-combing, rock and roll loving Gerald Lloyd "Kookie" Kookson III. Kookie was played by Edd Byrnes. He was a P.I. wanna-be, who finally did become a P.I. partner to Bailey and Spencer. Kookie provided slang expressions and comic relief. So did Louis Quinn as race track tipster Roscoe.

Jacqueline Beer played Suzanne Fabray, a beautiful switchboard operator.

From 1960 to 1961 Richard Long joined the series as P.I. Rex Randolph. Interestingly, Long's character had started out on the shortest lived of the four Warner Brothers' P.I. programs Bourbon Street Beat.

Bourbon Street Beat ran for only 1 year from 1959 to 1960. In addition to Long's Randolph, the New Orleans detective agency had ex-cop Cal Calhoun (played by Andrew Duggan), rookie P.I. Kenny Madison (played by Van Williams) and secretary Melody Lee Mercer (played by Arlene Howell).

When Bourbon Street Beat ended after 39 episodes Long's Rex Randolph moved to 77 Sunset Strip for a season, and Van William's Kenny Madison moved to Miami Beach and the series Surfside 6.

Surfside 6 ran for 2 years and 74 episodes. In addition to Van Williams, Troy Donahue and Lee Patterson also starred. Donahue was Sandy Winfield II and Patterson was Dave Thorne. Margarita Sierra was Cha Cha O'Brien, entertainer at the nearby Boom Boom Room of the Fountainbleau Hotel. Diane McBain, meanwhile, was Daphne Dutton, owner of a yacht located next to the Surfside 6 P.I.'s own houseboat office.

The fourth P.I. Warner Brothers P.I series was Hawaiian Eye. This series was centered in the tropical climes of Hawaii. The program ran for 4 years from 1959 to 1963. Robert Conrad was on the series for the full run as P.I. Tom Lopaka. Anthony Eisely was his partner, Tracy Steele, for the first three years. They ran their agency out of an office at the ritzy Hawaiian Village Hotel. Grant Williams joined the series and the agency in 1960 as Gregg MacKenzie.

Two other important Hawaiian Eye regulars were Connie Stevens and Poncie Ponce. Stevens played Cricket Blake singer at the hotel. She also ran the hotel's gift shop and did photography. Ponce was Kazuo Kim. He often assisted the agency, and drove a cab for a living. He also played the ukulele.

Troy Donahue joined the cast in the show's final season (after his Surfside 6 series had ended) playing Philip Barton, the Hawaiian Village Hotel's director of special events.

A couple interesting tidbits regarding these four P.I. programs:

In addition to Van Williams and Richard Long taking their characters from the cancelled Bourbon Street Beat to Surfside 6 and 77 Sunset Strip respectively, there were also several other one or two episode character crossovers between the series. Strip's Efrem Zimbalist Jr's' Stuart Bailey, Roger Smiths' Jeff Spencer and Edd Byrnes' Kookie Kookson all made guest appearances on Hawaiian Eye. And Eye's Robert Conrad brought Tom Lopaka to 77 Sunset Strip for a couple of episodes.

Sunset Strip's Edd Byrnes became a heartthrob and even recorded a song titled "Kookie Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb" with Hawaiian Eye's Connie Stevens. The song became a top 10 hit.

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