#122 - Edd "Kookie" Byrnes
It's Hosting, Hooray Drinking Responsibly! Wheeeee!
Wheel of Fortune (Pilot: 1974)
Text by: Robert Seidelman
In short, this pilot was a complete mess. The intro to the show was 4 minutes long, and the theme to the show was an instrumental version from the movie song, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. While it may be a classic, to me it's an annoying pile of 50s and 60s cheese. The Wheel and the Puzzle Board were really ugly looking and the entire setup looked like there was no care about the show. Merv aptly said that the pilot was just wrong from his original idea. The only good thing about that pilot was the host, Chuck Woolery. However, Merv would try again one year later with a reimagined set, board, bigger wheel and prizes neatly laid out on one end of the set instead of all over the place. Not present would be Chuck Woolery, but instead former "77 Sunset Strip" star and pretty face Edd "Kookie" Byrnes.
I'll say this now. The pilot was great and was the Wheel of Fortune that we all know and love....Save for Edd. From second one when he came out, you could tell by the look in his eyes and his body movement something was really wrong. It was an immediate corpsing. But we'll wait a bit for the punch line. He'd bring in Susan Stafford and she'd introduce the contestants and everything. After the introductions, it will end up getting much, much worse.
He apparently didn't take the proceedings all to seriously especially when the big puzzleboard was whisked out and he went "Wheee" I guess the sight of the massive board brought him some delight. I should point out right now that this was the 2nd pilot for Wheel of Fortune that he did, so seeing that massive set piece coming in, shouldn't make him go "Wheee!" Also of note, his interaction with the contestants wasn't that good at all. It seemed faked and forced. It also reminded me much of his acting as Vinnie Fontaine in "Grease", faked and forced. Later on when the top dollar value on the Wheel was $500, he did a sarcastic "Woooo" with the ever popular jazz hands. Basically, he said and showed to America that the amount didn't impress him at all. He's supposed to be thrilled about the game to give the perception to the viewer to watch every day. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
Also notable is his major lack of mathematical skills. During round 1, he said that the total amount of money on the wheel is $4,335. However, the total amount is actually $4,325. With the last 2 digits on each amount on the wheel being 25, 50, 75 and 00, it's impossible to get a 35 out of it, by simple addition or subtraction. Another example of this is when a contestant spun $225 and got 3 L's in the puzzle he said it was $775 instead of $675. I mean, this is simple math. I'm pretty sure that even Dick Clark could have figured out the math on Wheel of Fortune.
One other major thing that I should mention is that during the shopping section, with an admittedly cool scrolling of the prizes and the dollar amounts on the side that should have carried over to the actual show, he had this pension to tell contestants what to buy. I mean, the contestants were given a couple run throughs before the pilot was shot, they knew what was going on and what prizes they wanted to buy. They didn't need Edd to prod them into wanting that Brass Bed. I could make the obvious mid-70s Double Entendre about it, but it was just tacky of Edd to prod the contestant.
The biggest offense to his hosting, and he admitted this himself in his biography, was that he committed one of the biggest sins in any form of entertainment and that was being inebriated while doing the show. Not only does that show a lack of care, but it's unprofessional in the highest order. No wonder he didn't last after the two pilots when the show was sold to NBC. I mean, Alex Trebek may have acted a little tipsy during the last episode of High Rollers, but there's a major difference between acting a bit drunk and being super professional in a finale, rather than someone who didn't take his job professionally and actually being hammered. If I ever needed just one reason to throw anybody on this website, it's that. I could have dealt with the Wheee's and the jazz hands and the lack of math skills if he were sober, but since he decided that 2-3 martinis before a network pilot was a great idea rather than taking the job seriously, he cements his status as a terrible host. After the pilots were shot and sold to NBC, Merv gave Edd Byrnes the boot and, well you know what happens next.
He sends for the man. And he sure does.
He brings back Chuck Woolery to host the show. Chuck would prove with this version of the show that he was meant to host this show, with great chemistry with the contestants and Susan and above all, being able to do basic math. He would continue to host the show for the next 6 years before stepping down because of a contract dispute between himself and Merv. The rest as you can say, is history. Edd would continue to act with roles in "Grease" and various other stage and screen productions, but his hosting on the two Wheel of Fortune pilots are legend and thankfully footage was found to prove all the rumors true.
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