Tuesday, March 12, 2019


Here’s something I didn’t know existed until earlier today….evidently, some time around 1980 actor Edd “Kookie” Byrnes, of 77 SUNSET STRIP, won three million dollars on a slot machine in a Vegas casino, and the whole experience developed into a nightmare for him, sounding like something from a B-movie or a crime TV show in which Byrnes himself could have appeared.

I’m not sure if this yarn actually happened, or if it is one of those fictional memoirs like Chuck Barris’s CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND, but it plays well, and Byrnes is a natural storyteller. Of course, if the story is really true, it’s wild enough to be incredibly entertaining, but it does take a good storyteller to make it come alive, and a charismatic actor to get us believing in the character and rooting for him. Byrnes has those qualities, so that as he’s dropping his career highlights into conversations or mentioning his sexual prowess in passing or talking about being mobbed by teenage girls and the amount of fan mail he once received, he does it with such a self-deprecating charm that you want to pat him on the back, congratulate him on his success, and tell him he truly deserves to be a star. THAT is quite an accomplishment.

The format of MY CASINO CAPER is a dramatized audiobook, running about 75 minutes. The frame narrative has Byrnes telling the story to his friend Alan Young (yes, the real Alan Young, of MR. ED and THE TIME MACHINE fame, who sounds great here and still retains his quick wit and boyish charm, and even re-enacts Byrnes’ favorite scene from THE TIME MACHINE for him, in character with a Scottish accent!), and then we are swept away into a well-produced dramatization of the whole affair, acted out for us with sound effects, etc.

Out of the blue, Byrnes gets a phone call from an old girlfriend he’d dated a decade or two previous, and she suggests the two of them go to Las Vegas for the weekend. He gladly accepts, and while there, she tells him about a particular machine (he’s not much of a gambler himself) that has a potential mega-payout but only when you bet more than the minimum, and he might want to try it. While she plays another machine, he does give it a shot, and he wins the big jackpot of $3 million ($1.8 million after taxes). Rather than be happy for his good luck and perhaps taking advantage of his generosity while he’s in a good mood, she immediately demands half….and then a threatening thug-like figure (well-played by Michael Callan) starts making demands, and claims that he’d rigged the machine with an insider partner and had just gone to the bathroom when Byrnes took over "his” machine, and thus the money is his and he wants it all. He threatens and intimidates Byrnes in a number of ways. Byrnes along the way turns to two actor friends—David Hedison (THE FLY, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA) and Henry Silva (Rat Pack member and star of many great Italian crime films, the ultimate tough guy)—to play ‘roles’ (one a police detective, the other a mobster) to scare off Callan’s character. There’s another mysterious woman who appears out of the blue—or is it really out of the blue? Various other complications get in the way, and before you know it, the 75 minutes are over, and you’ve had an exciting and fun roller-coaster ride…and realize again what an entertaining and talented man Edd Byrnes is.

There are enough show-biz anecdotes to satisfy the lover of vintage films and TV. Want to know about the making of Roger Corman’s 1964 Yugoslavian war film THE SECRET INVASION, in which Byrnes co-starred with Silva? Here’s your chance to learn. Wonder what it was like on the Warner Brothers lot during the shooting of 77 SUNSET STRIP? Get some choice morsels on that here. Of course, with each passing year, the number of people impressed by name-dropping anecdotes involving Connie Stevens goes down, but if you do still care, as I do, you can get a few vicarious encounters with Ms. Stevens here.

Alas, Byrnes does not mention the classic 1973 slasher film WICKED, WICKED which was released by MGM and was shot by Richard L. Bare (Green Acres) in a split-screen technique (and thus was not able to get into TV circulation back in the day, so it’s not that well known….I managed to catch it on 50 cent night at the Lakeridge Theater in Wheat Ridge, Colorado,, and loved seeing Byrnes again), but there’s only so much time here, and if TOO MUCH time had been spent with anecdotes about his films and TV appearances, the excitement of the plot would get interrupted and it would come off as more of an ego-boosting memoir than an exciting “caper,” as the title promises Fortunately, the audiobook gets the mix just right between show-biz and mystery plot. All the celebrities who appear as guests—Alan Young, David Hedison, Henry Silva—come across as excellent actors but also as fun people you’d like to have a beer with.

The best news of all is that this audiobook, though only a few years old, is presently available for FREE on You Tube, posted by its producer just three months ago. Just search for “My Casino Caper - Audio-Book with Movie Stars,” pour yourself a cup of coffee, and settle back and be entertained by the great Edd Kookie Byrnes. And after that, make a point to search for his three Italian westerns from the 67-68 period, all of which are first-rate and he is great in them. Oh, 77 SUNSET STRIP  IS presently playing on ME-TV in the middle of the night, and I catch an episode or two a month, still finding ones I never saw initially, and Byrnes can be happy in the knowledge that even though he is surrounded by great talent on the show (Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Roger Smith, Connie Stevens, etc.), it’s HIS segment that many of us most look forward to, still, after all these years.

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