Who was Edd Byrnes?
Edd Byrnes was an American actor, best known for his recurring role of ‘Kookie’ in the TV series `77 Sunset Strip.’ He had a tough childhood, as he lost his father to drug abuse. He resembled actor Tab Hunter, who unknowingly led Edd to fame when he refused a role in the movie ‘Darby’s Rangers.’ The role went to Edd Byrnes instead. He signed a long-term contract with ‘Warner Brothers’ but had to terminate the same later, as he found himself being stereotyped for his role ‘Kookie.’ He stepped out and started taking up diverse roles in various war, detective, and western movies, where his acting skills were appreciated. He also acted in TV serials and made guest appearances in the latter part of his career. He was ranked at number five on the ‘TV Guide’ list of ‘TV’s 25 Greatest Teen Idols’ and won the ‘Best Male TV Star’ award at the 1963 ‘Bravo Otto Awards.’ He married Asa Maynor, but this marriage ended in divorce due to his heavy drinking habits and drug abuse. Later, he managed to overcome his drug addiction and wrote his autobiography, ‘Kookie No More.’
Childhood & Early Life
Edd Byrnes was born on July 30, 1933, in New York City, US. Initially, he was named Edward Byrne Breitenberger. His father died due to excessive consumption of alcohol when he was 13 years old. Edward dropped his last name after his father’s death and added ‘Byrnes’ to his name, following his maternal grandfather, Edward Byrne, who was a fireman.
He was raised with his two siblings, Vincent and Jo-Ann. His mother had to toil to make ends meet. He always wanted to become an actor but did not get the opportunity to enter the entertainment industry till he was in his twenties. During his early years, he worked as an ambulance driver and took up jobs like roofing and selling flowers to help sustain his family. He was also regular at the gym and concentrated on building a good physique. It is said that he lost his job as a taxi driver because he was caught doing push-ups during a break.
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He started his acting career with a non-paying job at a theater company in Connecticut, known as the ‘Litchfield Community Playhouse,’ in 1956. He also tried his luck with ‘Broadway,’ but did not make any headway in the beginning. This did not deter him from auditioning for TV, and as a result, he managed to get minor roles in the TV drama serials ‘Crossroads,’ ‘Wire Service,’ and ‘Navy Log.’
In 1957, he decided to move to Hollywood. Soon, he was offered a role in the stage production of the Robert Anderson play ‘Tea and Sympathy.’ His acting skills were being recognized, and he was soon offered the support role of ‘Elliott’ in the ‘Warner Brothers’ film ‘Johnny Trouble.’
This was followed by his guest appearance in the ‘Warner Brothers’ western TV serial ‘Cheyenne.’ His brilliant performance earned him a long-term contract with ‘Warner Brothers.’
He began his contract with ‘Warner Brothers,’ doing a comic role in the World War II drama ‘The Deep Six,’ directed by Rudolph Mate in 1958. He went on to appear in several of their TV serials, such as ‘The Gale Storm Show: Oh! Susanna’ and ‘Colt .45.’
He got a golden opportunity when actor Tab Hunter refused a role in the movie ‘Darby’s Rangers.’ The role was offered to him in 1958. The exposure gave him a chance to act alongside seasoned actors such as James Garner, Jack Warden, and Stuart Whitman. His performance was rated to as good, if not better than that of the star he replaced.
He was cast in the detective TV show ‘Girl on the Run’ that gained enough popularity to become a regular serial, titled ‘77 Sunset Strip.’ He played the recurring role of ‘Kookie’ that won the hearts of his fans. Byrnes’s spectacular performance turned him into a teen sensation and boosted his ratings in the industry.
Unfortunately, because of restrictions imposed on him due to his contract with ‘Warner Brothers,’ he lost out on many roles that were offered to him. He also had an issue regarding the amount he was being paid and the kind of roles ‘Warner Brothers’ was offering him, due to which he finally terminated his contract and began acting in full-length cinema.
In August 1963, he paid ‘Warner Brothers’ to terminate his contract and appeared in the TV serials ‘Kraft Suspense Theatre,’ ‘Burke’s Law,’ and ‘The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.’ He also acted in the war movie ‘The Secret Invasion’ (1964).
He wanted to drop the stereotypical image of ‘Kookie’ from his ‘Warner Brother’ days. This made him take up various diverse roles both in TV serials and on the big screen, such as the horror movie ‘Wicked Wicked’ and the westerns ‘Any Gun Can Play,’ ‘Renegade Riders,’ and ‘Red Blood, Yellow Gold.’ He also hosted the pilot of the game show ‘Wheel of Fortune’ and made guest appearances in TV serials such as ‘Police Story,’ and ‘Sword of Justice.’ He also featured in the TV movie ‘Telethon.’
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His role in the musical romantic-comedy ‘Grease,’ in 1978, earned him the lead role in the series ‘$weepstake$.’ He continued to appear in a number of movies and serials till he finally retired from the screen in 1999. His last performance before retirement was in ‘Rattle and Roll: An American Love Story.’
Edd Byrnes appeared in a number of noteworthy films, such as ‘Johnny Trouble’ (1957), ‘Darby’s Rangers’ (1958), ‘Girl on the Run’ (1958), ‘The Secret Invasion’ (1964), ‘Red Blood, Yellow Gold’ (1967), ‘Wicked Wicked’ (1973), ‘Mankillers’ (1987), and ‘Troop Beverly Hills’ (1989).
He acquired immense fame as ‘Kookie’ in the serial ‘77 Sunset Strip’ and made several guest appearances in various TV shows.
He wrote his autobiography, ‘Kookie No More,’ which released in 1996.
Awards & Achievements
He ranked at number five on the ‘TV Guide’ list of ‘TV’s 25 Greatest Teen Idols,’ released in January 2005.
He was nominated for the award of the ‘Best Male TV Star’ at the ‘Bravo Otto’ awards on four occasions. He won the award in 1963.
Family & Personal Life
He married his long-time girlfriend, Asa Maynor, in 1962. However, the marriage ended in divorce in 1971 due to his drinking and drug abuse issues. He never got married again. Eventually, he gave up drugs by 1982, with the help of his old friend Troy Donahue. Edd and Asa had a son, Logan Byrnes, who later became a newsreader on ‘Fox 11 News.’
Edd Byrnes died on January 8, 2020, at his Santa Monica, California, home.
He was often compared to his contemporary film actor Tab Hunter, who is considered as one of the most popular Hollywood stars of the 50s and 60s.
He changed his screen name from ‘Edward’ to ‘Edd,’ as he felt ‘Edward’ was too formal and there were already too many ‘Eddies’ in the industry.
He recorded a hit number, ‘Kookie, Kookie—Lend Me Your Comb,’ with singer and actor Connie Stevens.