Biography All Music Guide
All Music Guide:
To an earlier generation of television viewers, Edd Byrnes was more readily recognized and affectionately known as Kookie. The moniker stems from the nickname of a character he played, the hip Gerald Lloyd Kookson III, who was featured prominently on 77 Sunset Strip. The ABC network launched the detective series in 1958, and it ran through 1964. Byrnes capitalized on the program's success by releasing "Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb." The title of the 1959 single refers to the fictional character's frequent habit of combing his pompadour. The release from Warner Brothers Records also featured singer Connie Stevens. The duet made it into the Top Five on U.S. charts. Byrnes went on to sing "Like I Love You," a duet that paired him with Joanie Sommers, a young singer who would later gain recognition with "Johnny Get Angry" in 1962. Byrnes put out a few more singles, but when they did not fare well, he concentrated on his acting career.
Byrnes, a New York native, blew into Hollywood on September 30, 1955, the same day that a speeding James Dean was killed in his silver Porsche Spyder 550. The tragedy left an opening at Warner Brothers, and the studio gave Byrnes a contract. His first role was on Cheyenne, a Western television series. Byrnes next made appearances in a few movies, including Marjorie Morningstar in 1958, before he landed the role of carhop Kookie in 77 Sunset Strip. The role brought him fame, fans, and 15,000 pieces of mail weekly. Onscreen he worked with Roger Smith and Efrem Zimbalist Jr., while offscreen he rubbed elbows with such megastars as Frank Sinatra, Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Sammy Davis Jr. This period of his life, however, wasn't all parties and glamour. Jack Warner refused to raise his pay while keeping him tethered to the television show and turning down Byrnes' requests to do more movies. In retaliation, Byrnes stayed away from the set. He also started drinking heavily and dabbling in drugs. Later in life he admitted to suffering from alcoholism. By the time Warner relented in 1963, Byrnes discovered that his film offers were slim pickings.
The actor, whose real name is Edward Byrne Breitenberger, married Asa Maynor in 1962. The couple divorced in 1971. They had one child, Logan. Throughout the following two decades, he appeared in a few movies, including European-filmed Westerns. The actor went on to play Vince Fontaine in Grease in 1978, but missed out on a chance to host the popular game show Wheel of Fortune, possibly due to his bout with alcoholism. His former wife helped him kick the vice in 1982, lending her support when he went into a recovery program. Sober since that time, Byrnes went on to appear on the Cunard line's Queen Elizabeth II. In 1996 he published Edd Byrnes: Kookie No More, an autobiography.