Roy Huggins’ decidedly downscale Los Angeles private eye STUART BAILEY appeared in one pretty good novel, The Double Take (1946), and launched a career.
The novel was, as I said, a good one, one of those Chandleresque homages so prevalent in the forties, not quite reaching the lofty heights of Leight Bracket’s No Good from a Corpse or Howard Browne’s Paul Pine series, maybe, but definitely far above the ranks of lunkheaded pastiches that were starting to pop up everywhere. It boasted a suitably convoluted, tilt-a-whirl plot: Bailey’s hired by a wealthy advertising executive to look into his wife’s past, which eventually uncovers a couple of switched identities, some stolen loot, an angry mobster and a murder or two. There are some sharp wisecracks and a few well-etched similes that suggest Huggins was paying attention in Mr. Chandler’s classroom.
If The Double Take didn’t exactly set the world on fire, it did became a stepping stone to a long illustrious career in television for both its author and its protagonist.
The novel was brought to the big screen in the sadly now-all-but-forgotten but often quite effective 1948 film noir I Love Trouble, starring Franchot Tone as Bailey, alongside Janet Blair and a well-rounded cast of crime flick vets, including Raymond Burr in a bit part. Tone may not have made anyone forget Bogie or Dick Powell, but he grows on you, flirting with the various babes he came across, cracking wise when necessary and getting sapped from behind when needed, and Glenda Farrell (née Torchy Blane) is a real hoot as Bix, Bailey’s faithful Girl Friday. As I recall, there are some absolutely stunning location shots, including a Rockford-style car chase through the streets of Venice, and a peek through Bailey’s office window at the neon roof sign of The Broadway Hollywood department store at Hollywood & Vine. From his apartment window, the roof sign of the Knickerbocker Hotel on Ivar can be seen, all rendered in glorious black and white.
But it was a few years later, after Huggins’ burgeoning success in the TV market — he’d already created and produced Maverick and The Fugitive — that Bailey really made a splash. He was dusted off and cleaned up, given a fluency in foreign languages, a past as a government agent, a slick wardrobe, a partner and a hipper address — and played by Effrem Zimbalist Jr. The result was 77 Sunset Strip, inarguably one of the most influential TV private eye shows in history — for better and worse.
So successful, in fact, that Warner Brothers began spewing out copy cat versions such as Hawaiian Eye, Bourbon Street Beat, and Surfside Six almost immediately. Other studios were quick to follow suit, and the formula of handsome male leads, “wacky” characters who drop by and “cool” premises and locations, not to mention the now almost-ubitquious 60-minute format, can be seen in everything from Riptide to Magnum P.I. to Las Vegas.
Not that Huggins ever forgot what started it all. He reworked The Double Take for the next thirty years, using it as source material for episodes of not just 77 Sunset Strip (of course) but also Maverick, The Rockford Files (twice), Baretta, City of Angels and “probably every other series with which Huggins was associated,” according to Marcia Muller in 1001 Midnights.
- The Double Take (1946) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
Also appeared in the March 1946 issue of Mammoth Mystery, possibly in condensed form.
- “Now You see It” (May 25, 1946, The Saturday Evening Post)
- “Appointment With Fear” (September 28, 1946, The Saturday Evening Post)
- “Death and the Skylark” (December 1952, Esquire)
- 77 Sunset Strip (1959) | Buy this book
Collects all three short stories
- I LOVE TROUBLE | Buy the DVD
- (1948, Columbia Pictures Corporation/Cornell Pictures)
93 minutes, Black and White
Screenplay by Roy Huggins
Based on his novel The Double Take
Directed by S. Sylvan Simon
Starring Franchot Tone as STUART BAILEY
Also starring Robert Barrat, Janet Blair, Raymond Burr, Janis Carter, Edward Ciannelli, Donald Curtis, Glenda Farrell, Steven Geray, John Ireland, Adele Jergens, Lynn Merrick, Tom Powers, Sid Tomack
- ANYTHING FOR MONEY
(April 16, 1957)
Pilot; shown as episode of anthology series CONFLICT
Based on the short story “Death and the Skylark”
Starring Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as STU BAILEY
- GIRL ON THE RUN
(October 10, 1958)
Pilot; series started following week
Based on an unpublished story by Roy Huggins
Screenplay by Marion Hargrove
Produced by Roy Huggins
Starring Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as STU BAILEY
- 77 SUNSET STRIP
205 60-minute episodes
For a rundown on Stuart Bailey on television, check out our 77 Sunset Strip page.