Edd Byrnes (born July 30, 1933) is 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).
He was born Edward Byrne Breitenberger. He had two siblings, Vincent and Jo-Ann. When he was 13, his father died. He then dropped his last name in favor of “Byrnes” based on the name of his maternal grandfather, a fireman.
His enduring and most famous role was as Gerald Lloyd “Kookie” Kookson III, on the ABC/Warner Brothers detective series 77 Sunset Strip. He played a continually hair-combing serial killer in the pilot, Girl on the Run, but he was so popular (a national teen sensation) that the producers brought him back the following week as a regular cast member in the role of a chrome-plated hotrod-driving, hipster-talking (“Kookie-talk”) parking valet and sometime protégé private investigator. Efrem 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. So this week, we’ll just forget that in the pilot he went off to prison to be executed.
— From the pre-credit sequence for the episode “Lovely Lady, Pity Me”
Kookie’s recurring character—a different, exciting look to which teens of the day related —- the valet parking attendant who constantly combed his piled-high, greasy-styled teen hair, often in a windbreaker jacket, who worked part-time at the so-called Dean Martin’s Dino’s Lodge restaurant, next door to 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.
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.” Some say the Kookie character borrowed much from James Dean’s character in the film “Rebel Without a Cause”, and was the progenitor to Henry Winkler’s The Fonz character of the Happy Days series (switch hot rod for motorcycle; same hair, comb and a leather jacket).
Kookie’s constant onscreen tending of his ducktail haircut led to many jokes among comedians of the time, and resulted in the 1959 charted ‘rap’ style recording (13 weeks), “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 (Elvis Presley-level national attention), and Byrnes received fan mail volume that reached 15,000 letters a week, according to Picture Magazine in 1961, and rivaled most early rock recording stars in the day.
Byrnes walked off the show in the second season demanding a bigger part and bigger pay; the producers eventually agreed. He appeared as a guest star in other WB series, including Lawman and Sugarfoot, in the latter with John Russell, Rodolfo Hoyos, Jr., and Will Wright in the 1958 season-premiere episode “Ring of Sand”.
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). However he appeared in the Warner Brothers films Darby’s Rangers (1957; replacing Tab Hunter), Marjorie Morningstar (1958), Up Periscope and Yellowstone Kelly (both in 1959). He tested for the role of John F. Kennedy in PT 109 but President Kennedy preferred Cliff Robertson.
Though a popular celebrity the years of unfortunate “Kookie” typecasting led Brynes to ultimately buy out his television contract with Warner Brothers to clear his way for films—though it was accomplished too late to allow Byrnes to capitalize on feature-length cinema projects based upon his established television series fame.