Volume 8, Issue 77  |  September 26, 2023SubscribeAdvertise

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You Must Remember This: Fenton Earnshaw, producer of 77 Sunset Strip


Those of a certain age will recall a TV series, 77 Sunset Strip. It featured a couple of private detectives whose office was on the Strip, but is probably best remembered for the character of Kookie, played by Edd Byrnes, who spent most of his time combing his hair, as I recollect. I was nosing around in my father’s old files and discovered that the program was produced by someone who had lived here during his youth and had a career which was much more exciting than any television script.

My father knew Fenton Earnshaw because they were both living in Balboa in the early years, but they were not close because, according to my father, Earnshaw was from the Point (the Wedge area) and my father was from Main Street. All these many years later it is hard to know just what the division actually was, but since Main Street was the area for gambling houses and bootleg liquor I will assume that it was viewed with a certain unease by those living several blocks away and uninvolved in such activities. Despite this social divide that worked against any friendship, the two men had several notable meetings.

The first occurred in 1941, when Earnshaw bounded into my father’s law office and invited him to join the militia that was going to “protect the coast in case there’s war with Japan.” Since my father was going into the Navy he declined. He went off to serve in the Pacific and thought no more about Earnshaw and his militia activities until he was stationed on Guam. He was at his desk, tending to various press matters, when who should stroll in but Earnshaw.  No, the militia hadn’t made it across the ocean. Rather, he was now part of the regular military and had been on an assignment that sounded like something John Buchan might have come up with. Weather information was crucial for the amphibious operations in the Pacific, and this was well before all the satellites and such that keep us current. The weather of concern came from Siberia, so the U.S. asked Russia, our ally, to provide us with weather information. Russia was not at war with Japan and didn’t want to be, having all it could handle with Hitler, so the Russians refused to provide weather reports for fear of provoking the Japanese. On to Plan B, which was to provide someone with a long-range radio transmitter and send him to the north China/Manchuria/Mongolia/Siberia area – an area rife with Japanese troops, Chinese warlords and bandits of various ethnicities – so he could send the all-important weather reports. Earnshaw was our man in Siberia, and he somehow managed to send out regular weather reports while evading the various groups trying to kill, maim and/or rob him. He was in Guam briefly before going off to his next assignment which was to sail a submarine into the Sea of Japan, take control of a Japanese merchant ship, interrogate the crew about conditions in Japan, then hustle back to the sub, out of enemy waters and make a report.

Somehow surviving all that, after the war Earnshaw decided to follow in his father’s footsteps, his father being a Hollywood scriptwriter who had made his mark with a radio show, Chandu the Magician. Earnshaw moved to Hollywood to pursue his new profession. In every writing workshop, every book on writing, one of the first precepts is “Write what you know,” so there he was in Hollywood working on a story about a robber, and he realized he didn’t really know much about that sort of thing. To remedy this shortcoming and give himself the necessary insight, he staged an actual robbery. Unlike his war adventures, this time he got caught and nobody was listening to his explanation. He needed an attorney, so he called my father who managed to convince the judge of the rationale behind the escapade, and with his war record, Earnshaw served a short jail sentence instead of a stint in the pen. That was the last contact the two men had.

Earnshaw went on to a solid career in Hollywood, producing and/or writing several TV series and movies in addition to his big hit, 77 Sunset Strip, although none of them touched on any of his own real-life adventures. At a certain point, he decided to retire and live off his residuals. He moved to Newport Beach, but this time in New South Wales, not California.


Nancy Gardner, former Mayor of Newport Beach, long-time resident and daughter of Judge Robert Gardner, is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.

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