Connie Stevens v Connie Francis
The recent death of super-suave actor Efrem Zimbalist, Jnr brought to mind the cult TV series 77 Sunset Strip, which ran from 1958-1964.
It was an offbeat, light-hearted story of two private detectives, one of whom was played by Mr Zimbalist, Junior, and a wannabe PI who worked as a parking attendant for the neighbouring club, played by Edd Byrnes.
This character was called Kookie, and he was the craziest, hippest thing to be seen on our TV sets – not that the bar was set very high in 1959. Kookie was a rock’n’roll-loving, hotrod-driving, wisecracking combination of Jack Kerouac, James Dean and The Fonz.
He spoke in indecipherable hipster-ese and his schtik was his quiff and his comb. Boys who were too young to feel embarrassed copied his trademark gesture of constantly combing his pouffed duck-tail and boys who were old enough got a crush on Connie Stevens, who recorded with Edd a song called ‘Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb’.
The actress and singer Connie Stevens was born in 1938. She appeared in only a few episodes of the Strip but the song cemented her association with Kookie and momentarily endowed her with a hipness to which she never laid claim.
Performing the song with Edd, she portrays a primly dressed, formally coiffed foil to Kookie’s cool character. She wants him to stop combing his hair and kiss her and in the end he gives in, telling her, ‘Baby, you’re the ginchiest.’
Connie wasn’t ‘ginchy’, though, and Kookie’s brand of jive talk didn’t gel even with the most aspirational of wannabe Beats. Connie makes a brave attempt to dig his scene and responds to his references to ‘smog in his noggin’ and ‘grabbing wheels’ and ‘talking about cuckoo deals’ with: ‘You’re the maximum utmost.’ No, it didn’t translate well.
However, the world represented by Connie and Kookie had an edgy, if sanitised, charm. There wasn’t much edge in another song recorded in 1959 by another Connie, Connie Francis, who, like her namesake, was also born in 1938.
The couple are at a record hop and he leaves her to go and get a soda pop. Such innocence. When he comes back half an hour later, his shirt collar bears traces of lipstick which are not NOT HER COLOUR. Proof enough. Bye bye, bet your bottom dollar, you and I are through, she tells him. So a mild teenage romance bites the dust.
And yet Connie Francis’ song resonates. It’s a short, angry cry of hurt and anger. It’s like the beginning of a pulp fiction novel. There’s the direct accusation, which he tries to wriggle out of it. This lipstick mark? Why, it’s yours, darling!
Huh, how stupid does he think she is? This girl knows her lipstick shades. She wears baby pink, the colour of youth and innocence. His collar is smeared with red, the same red that adorns the mouth of her so-called best friend, Mary Jane. Mary-Jane’s messy red lipstick is the mark of the scarlet woman, the one who has betrayed her.
This is the stuff of film and crime noir. At another time, in another context, a gun and a corpse would be involved.
So in the end, a high-school song trumps a slice of street life. Ginchy.