77 SUNSET STRIP “Girl on the Run” ABC, 10 October 1958 (Season 1, Episode 1). Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Stuart Bailey). Guest Cast: Erin O’Brien, Shepperd Strudwick, Edward Byrnes, Barton MacLane, Ray Teal. Screenplay by Marion Hargrove, based on a story by Roy Huggins. Director: Richard L. Bare.

   There none of the trappings you usually think about whenever you think of 77 Sunset Strip, the series, in this the very first episode, the flashy sights of Hollywood, the joint practice of two or more PI’s working out of the same office, the car jockey who was always combing his hair and giving with the jive. It is generally accepted as fact that this, the pilot, was filmed and shown theatrically (somewhere in the Caribbean) before the series started with one nefarious purpose in mind. To swindle credit from writer Roy Huggins by claiming that the series was based on the film, not on any of his books or stories.

   As a ploy, it worked. Roy Huggins lost his suit and left the series, and never worked for Warners again. (I’m not absolutely certain about that last statement; Hollywood in many ways is much like politics, or so I’m told.)

   In any case, PI Stu Bailey is on his own in this one, with no connection with Hollywood, and Sunset Strip in particular. He’s hired by a client to find his missing fiancée, but what he doesn’t know, but we the viewer do, is that the girl in question is a witness to a shooting who went on the run when she quickly learns that as a police witness, her life is in immediate danger.

   It doesn’t take Bailey long to learn that he’s been taken, but not before the killer (well, of course that’s who Bailey’s client is) has hired a gun man (Edd Byrnes) to follow him and kill the girl. It is up to Bailey to foil the plot, along with the help of both a friendly cop and and an equally helpful union leader.

   Edd Byrnes proved so popular as the killer for hire that the producers wiped the first episode completely out of continuity and wrote Byrnes in as teen favorite “Kookie” Kookson, parking attendant and wannabe PI working next door to the office on the Strip that Bailey quickly found himself sharing with Jeff Spencer (Roger Smith) for most of the rest of the series.

   Looking back today, based on this first episode, it is not easy to see what the fuss was all about, except for Byrnes’ eye catching performance. As PI stories go, there is nothing especially new about “Girl on the Run.” With Stu Bailey as a lone wolf PI who finds himself falling in love with the girl he is helping, he’s just one of hundreds just like him.

   I can also only wish that as an established PI (note how impeccably dressed he always is), he’d have done his job right and checked a little more into the background of the guy who hired him. But of course if he had, there’d not have been much of a story at all, would there?