Feb 2, 2015

Edd Byrnes: The Ginchiest Gay Hustler

During the 1950s, lots of young musclemen found ways to earn some extra cash with their  biceps and bulges, as bodybuilders, physique models, and hustlers for the newly-organized gay community.  A few of them broke into show biz, usually as Italian sword-and-sandal studs or Western heroes.

But Edd Byrnes became famous as a kook.

Born in 1933 in New York, he began bodybuilding as a teenager, and at age 17 began posing for physique magazines and hustling for a select group of well-moneyed gay clients.  One of his clients became a mentor, taking him to the best nightspots, introducing him literature and the theater, encouraging his interest in acting.

In 1955, Edd moved to Los Angeles at the height of the juvenile delinquent craze, and got some bit parts and surly James Dean-style roles: Reform School Girls (1957), Johnny Trouble (1957), Life Begins at 17 (1958). 


In Girl on the Run (1958), he played a killer opposite detective Stuart Bailey (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.).  Zimbalist, later the poster boy for 1970s homophobia,  was so impressed with Edd's work that he suggested him for the spinoff, the swinging detective series 77 Sunset Strip (1958-64).

But not as his partner -- that would be Roger Smith (the older Patrick in Auntie Mame).  He would be comic relief: Kookie Kookson III, a parking lot attendant who spoke nearly impenetrable hipster slang and obsessively combed his greaser hairdo.

Not surprisingly, given his gay-friendly past, he eyed the two detectives with palpable homoerotic appreciation.

Kookie became a standout star, eventually joining the detective team and appearing as "himself" on other swinging detective dramas, Hawaiian Eye and Surfside Six.  

He had a brief teen idol career, with a hit single, "Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb" (1959), actually a slang-heavy dialogue between Kookie and Connie Stevens:

Kookie: I've got smog in my noggin ever since you made the scene
Connie:  You're the utmost!
Kookie: If you ever tool me out, I'm the saddest, like a brain.
Connie: The maximum utmost!

His record also contained such hits as "Kookie's Mad Pad" and "Square Dance for Round Cats."

When 77 Sunset Strip ended, Edd found himself typecast as a slang-spouting hipster.  He starred in the beach movie Beach Ball (1965) and a few Westerns, and displayed his physique as a life guard in tongue-in-cheek slasher Wicked, Wicked (1973).  He did a softcore porn, Erotic Images, in 1983 (he was heterosexual in real life).

He continued to work through the 1990s, playing killers and detectives and aging beachboys.  But in the eyes of his fans, he never stopped being Kookie, his early years as a bodybuilder and gay hustler long forgotten.