Shrug

October 14, 2015

Byrnes

It’s been another one of those summers, just like pretty much every summer now, one of those summers in which by the middle of June I can just barely meet deadlines for paid work and can’t think about doing any research for fun or even soliciting more paid work, in which it’s still swampy in mid-October and my list of things to do once the weather is bearable has become so overstuffed that even the crisp relief of autumn has an early pall over it.  A summer in which Laugh-In‘s Judy Carne dies and the obituaries make her autobiography sound frank and compelling, so that I go downstairs at the library where I work and find that someone else has had the same idea and checked out the only copy.  A summer in which I notice that the next shelf over is amply stocked with copies of Edd Byrnes’s 1996 autobiography, “Kookie” No More, and I figure: Ah, what the hell.  Why not?

For much of the general public, skimming the turgid prose of victory-lapping celebrities might be as pleasurable as abdominal surgery, but in my line of work, if that’s what you want to call it, it’s an inoffensive pastime that occasionally yields useful facts or avenues of inquiry.  (Sample trivia: Steve Trilling, the yes-man whose name adorned a million memos that I read during my college days as a page in the USC Warner Bros. Archives, committed suicide in 1964, immediately after Jack Warner fired him.)  Even though he is refreshingly forthright and unapologetic about his gay-for-pay days before Warner Bros. made him a TV star, Edd Byrnes comes across in his pages as precisely the same sort of glib and uncomplicated personality that he projected during his salad days of playing Kookie, the hep-talking, self-absorbed parking lot attendant who was the flash-in-the-pan sensation of 77 Sunset Strip.  This is, after all, a guy who spent the last half of his career mostly playing game show hosts (and who very nearly became one himself, before he drank the chance away).  You can practically hear Byrnes addressing his ghostwriter: “How much do I need to dish to sell this thing?  More?  Okay, whatever.”  Which would be fine if Byrnes had been intimate with any artists of a higher caliber than Natalie and RJ, or if he had chalked up even a handful of nuanced performances before his career slid into dinner theater.  But in these departments Byrnes, alas, falls short, even relative to, for instance, Tab Hunter (whose own book, Tab Hunter Confidential, which I also read this summer, is nearly as bland, but whose talent as an actor remains underappreciated, at least).

Ordinarily I wouldn’t go out of my way to beat up on a minor celebrity’s ghostwritten memoir, especially one that’s twenty years old, even one that ends in an addict’s proselytizing embrace of religion as a substitute addiction (spoiler: rather touchingly, the man who dragged Byrnes into AA was fellow Warners contract oaf Troy Donahue, although Byrnes seems oblivious, or perhaps resistant, to the humorous aspect of this support system of has-beens), even one that peddles tales of womanizing suffused with a casual, condescending sexism.  But then Byrnes rouses himself from the mediocrity that encircles this whole endeavor – that is, the book as well as the career it enshrines – to make a hilarious, wholly unexpected last-page plunge into jaw-dropping stupidity.  An aside of stupidity that I not only don’t feel particularly guilty about mocking but one that also served, for this ungrateful reader, as kind of collapse-into-hysterical-laughter coup-de-grace for this whole wheel-spinning season of migraine-addled unproductivity.  Permit me my epiphanies where I find them, okay?

Anyhow: Right across from the first page of his index (“Burghoff, Gary, 188”; “Calhoun, Rory, 195”), Byrnes helpfully offers a “recommended reading” list, a bibliography consisting of nine books.  Eight of them are non-fiction – self-help tomes like Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions and The Dynamic Laws of Prosperity, by Catherine Ponder.  The ninth book, though, is Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and unlike the other eight Byrnes helpfully annotates it with a parenthetical –

No, wait, I have to interrupt myself here and swear on a stack of flop sweat-soaked AA pamphlets that I am not making this up.  Really.

Okay, are you ready?  Edd Byrnes thinks you (or maybe just half of you, I guess) should read:

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (an excellent money book for women)

There.  Now you never have to read Edd Byrnes’s “Kookie” No More, because I have done it for you.  You’re welcome.

And we’ll get back to the serious work soon, I hope.

4 Responses to “Shrug”

  1. Adam Tawfik Says:

    Hi Stephen, it’s too bad that deadlines are such a grind because it really deters a lot of quality in-depth work that people like you do. I’m so glad for this blog because it focuses on neglected topics.

    Thanks for the heads up on Edd Byrnes’ autobiography. I can’t remember where I read (maybe an interview with Diane McBain) that stated that Byrnes was an asshole in real life. Even if they’re not well written, I usually enjoy reading celebrity autobiographies for the behind the scenes of the movies/TV shows they worked on and the dirt on some of their colleagues.

    Occasionally, I’ve had to put one down, like Martha Hyer’s which mostly focused on her finding God after going into debt due to her extravagant spending; or Mercedes McCambridge’s which was trying way too hard to be literary and symbolic.


  2. Re: Atlas Shrugged: impressively reductive! Too bad he didn’t detail its practical applications.

  3. Mark Murphy Says:

    When I was a little kid I was too young to watch “77 Sunset Strip,” but I do remember that a local TV station had a contest in which the winner (I’m presuming a female) could have “Coffee with Kookie.” The great man was apparently passing through town.

    I don’t know who won or how the occasion went. (And having seen episodes of “Sunset” — and Mr. Byrnes’ acting style — as an adult, I can’t help thinking that second prize was “Two Coffees with Kookie.”)


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