Question: Was there a television show called Route 66? If so, when was it on and who starred in it? — Gloria F., Rehobeth, Md.
Televisionary: That there was, Gloria, and a popular theme song, penned by famed composer and arranger Nelson Riddle, went along with it.
The series, which starred George Maharis (The Most Deadly Game) and Martin Milner (Adam-12) for most of its four-year run on CBS, revolved around the adventures of two road warriors — Tod Stiles (Milner) and Buz Murdock (Maharis) — as they wandered around the country, with no particular place to go, in Tod's Corvette convertible. Two guys, a car, and a succession of guest stars: sounds like an easy show to shoot, no? Well, no.In a play for realism, Route 66's producers ran a traveling show that shot around the country. In its first 10 months on the air, the show's crew saw the sights in 11 states, shot in 36 different towns and put more than 19,000 miles on the odometers of their three equipment trucks. At that pace, even Milner, a TV vet who'd been acting since he was a teen, began to worry about the damage all that time away from home was doing to his family-man status. "It's beginning to scare me," he told TV Guide in 1961. "Our next-door neighbor's little girl was bragging about her father the other day and [my daughter] Amy said defensively, 'I have a Daddy too.' Thing like that gets to you."
"It's a whole world series," producer Herbert Leonard agreed, joking that even after putting in 5,000 miles a week on airplanes and coordinating his permanent road crew of 35, who traveled for as long as seven weeks at a stretch, he still could say he knew his own children... just not that well. And that wasn't the hard part. "Every state you go into, you've got to deal with unemployment insurance, compensation, casualty insurance, states taxes," he said. "We have to negotiate for every 'set,' whether it's somebody's house or the town square in Cordova... Most people are delighted to let us use their home because it's a big kick to them to see it later on TV. But we pay 'em anyway, we insure everything in the place and more often than not we leave it neater and cleaner than when we went in."However, if that's got you thinking all that road work was the producer's biggest headache, guess again. Here's a two-word hint for you: rising star. You see, Maharis was proud of his brooding, Brando-esque good looks and his tough-guy background — he grew up struggling to stay out of street gangs in Astoria, N.Y., and did an 18-month stint in the Marines before getting into singing and then acting — and he didn't let anyone or anything get in the way of his live-life-with-gusto approach. Like the time the show was shooting in Grants Pass, Ore., and the actor, as a goof, waltzed into a bank and announced his intention to stick up the joint before showing his empty hands and waiting for the employees and customers to appreciate the gag.
Of course, the ad exec who walked in with him wasn't laughing so hard. "He pulls a crazy stunt like this and he's lucky he isn't killed," the man complained to a reporter. "The show hadn't been on the air yet. Nobody knew him. He looks like a hood — I mean, look at him. I was with him, but not for long. I never ran so fast in my life. I figured the place would be full of flying bullets. They'd shoot first and identify the dead actor later."
Add to that the fact that Maharis bragged about never learning lines and having no discipline as an actor — yet accounted for a rabid following among hordes of teenage girls, their older sisters and their moms — and you've got a recipe for behind-the-scenes angst. The situation came to a head when Maharis came down with a nasty bout of hepatitis, then returned to work — and a major disagreement with producers over how much time on the set was good for his health. He accused them of putting the show ahead of his recovery, they accused him of goldbricking, and Milner ended up shooting episodes where he traveled solo.
By the time all the shots were fired — in court and via press coverage, where Maharis upbraided his bosses and even labeled the laid-back Milner "a snob" and someone "lacking in the human qualities" — Maharis was off the series. His replacement, Glenn Corbett, came on board in 1963 as Vietnam vet Linc Case, but the show was gone by the following fall.
For his part, Milner, who would later jump to the aforementioned hit Adam-12 while Maharis failed to land another successful show, was typically stoic. "Maharis and I got along fine," he said, "until I found out he didn't like me."
It's worth noting that the Route 66 property was revived briefly by NBC for a month in 1993, with James Wilder (Melrose Place, Models, Inc.) and Dan Cortese (Melrose Place, Veronica's Closet) in the 'vette. However, it's only worth noting because the great Warren Zevon handled the musical duties on the show.