Friday, June 4, 2010

Forgotten Books: 77 Sunset Strip by Roy Huggins

When Gary Dobbs asked me to contribute something to his spectacular TV Cops Weekend (now playing at THE TAINTED ARCHIVE), it was a no-brainer. I chose a piece about the origins of my favorite old detective show, "77 Sunset Strip".  That post, dealing mainly with Roy Huggins’ novel The Double Take, will appear sometime this weekend (I’ll let you know when it's up).

Meanwhile, Here are some thoughts on the slim paperback called 77 Sunset Strip, which purports to be a novel but isn’t. It happened like this: Shortly after Huggins’ private detective Stuart Bailey made his debut in The Double Take (1946), two Stu Bailey novelettes were published in The Saturday Evening Post. A third followed in 1952 in Esquire.

Several years later, when Warner Brothers wanted a detective show for their line-up, Huggins brought Bailey out of retirement and spruced him up for TV. It must have seemed a swell idea, then, to collect those three novelettes and disguise them as “an original suspense novel” to capitalize on the popularity of the show.

Well, it was a swell idea. Here’s how it worked: Huggins started with a couple of pages of new material, locating Bailey’s office at the TV address, and mentioning Dean Martin’s nightclub Dino’s, which was right next door. Then he plugged in the Esquire story, originally called “Death and the Skylark”.

Bailey is hired to take a jaunt on a private schooner. His client, owner of the Skylark, believes he’ll be murdered, and wants Bailey to catch the killer - either the wife or her lover, the first mate. Also on board is the victim’s appealing daughter Betty Callister.

After putting that case to bed, Bailey returns to his office with Betty Callister in tow, planning to take her to dinner. But he finds a telegraph waiting, summoning him to the second case, originally called “Appointment with Fear.” This one begins as a locked room mystery - with Bailey waking up to find himself accused of the murder - then grows into something more complex.

Clearing himself at last, Bailey returns, arranging to meet Betty at his office and resume that dinner date. No such luck. The phone rings, and Bailey is off on “Now You See It”, a sort of combination locked room and drawing room mystery. Bailey has scarcely arrived at the new client’s home when the lights go out, the client is stabbed to death, and the weapon disappears. It’s another tough case, but Bailey wins through and returns to his office, receiving a call from the unnaturally patient Betty Callister, now waiting for him next door at Dino’s. As he hustles out of the office the phone rings again - and this time he ignores it.

77 Sunset Strip is a good, fast read. Bailey is an engaging narrator, and Huggins keeps things interesting. He could have taken the TV tie-in a step farther, at least giving walk-on rolls to Bailey’s TV partner Jeff Spencer (Roger Smith) and parking attendant pal Kookie (Ed Byrnes), but chose not to. What surprised me most was the change of style from that used in The Double Take.

The Double Take, as you’ll recall from earlier Forgotten Books reviews (see below), is a virtual clone of a Philip Marlowe novel. Huggins did an amazing job on it, coining fresh new similes and metaphors at a rate of about one per page - every one of them worthy of Mr. Chandler.

These novelettes are more streamlined. Huggins does deliver a few Chandleresque lines, but only two or three per story. My guess is that he simply found them too much work to produce, and now felt comfortable enough in his own style to do without.

The cover art for this paperback is the work of Mr. Robert McGinnis.

The color illustrations above, by George Englert, are from the Stu Bailey story "Appointment With Fear" in The Saturday Evening Post, September 28, 1946.

For fine reviews of The Double Take, I refer you to J. Kingston Pierce and Richard Robinson

Find links to more of this week's Forgotten Books at pattinase (I think).

TOMORROW: A Compete Episode of 77 SUNSET STRIP


Randy Johnson said...

I have that book. Enjoyed it as well.

pattinase (abbott) said...

great post, thanks!

George said...

Loved the TV series. I wonder if the episodes would hold up today. I suspect Kookie would get on my nerves.

Evan Lewis said...

We'll find out tomorrow, George. I'll be posting a complete episode of the series from YouTube.

Loren Eaton said...

I love it when authors produce books from linked short works. I guess, the short story and novella have always been my preferred forms.

Richard Robinson said...

Thanks for the nod, Evan. I liked Double Take a lot and this one too. Of course the show was fun, though I always forund the Kookie characters silly and unnecessary, but he was there for "chick appeal".

Paul Bishop said...

Thanks for the insight. I used to have a copy of this, but can't seem to lay my hands on it. I'll have to keep looking. And the Big TV Cops weekend over at The Tainted Archive should be great . . .

Evan Lewis said...

Gary's already going full steam on those TV Cops. Reckon I'd best get over there before I fall too far behind.

Unknown said...

One gushing reader doesn't make up the majority but I am certainly gripped by a gripping tale of secrecy yet again, this is a dangerous duel of nerve and wits with a secretive enemy all across the world in Deliver Us From Evil by David Baldacci.

Max Allan Collins said...

Huggins used these stories as the basis for many an episode of his various TV shows -- he used THE DOUBLE TAKE over and over again. It was on MAVERICK once.

Several of the 77 SUNSET STRIP stories are used on CITY OF ANGELS, which is appropriate, because CITY OF ANGELS is more directly based on the Stuart Bailey novel/stories than 77 SUNSET STRIP. Lt. Quint of CITY OF ANGELS appears in DOUBLE TAKE, as does Marcia, the switchboard operator, for instance, though she's called Hazel I believe.

Evan Lewis said...

Cool stuff, Max! Now I want to see that Maverick episode. And it would be great to see City of Angels on DVD.