Monday, September 07, 2015

Milner Ends His Final Shift

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This is not the sort of news I wanted to spread on Labor Day, but it’s been announced that actor Martin Milner, who starred with George Maharis in television’s Route 66 (1960-1964), and with Kent McCord in the police drama Adam-12 (1968-1975), has died at age 83.

Variety recalls that the Detroit-born Milner “began acting in movies while a teen, after his father got him an agent, first appearing in the 1947 classic Life with Father. The film starred William Powell and Irene Dunne, and thus Milner, along with his co-star Elizabeth Taylor, bridged the generations in Hollywood between the golden age and contemporary era.” The red-haired, boyish-faced Milner was subsequently tapped in 1960 to co-star in Route 66, replacing another actor, Robert Morris, who had died after playing Maharis’ equally restless friend in a “backdoor” pilot for that CBS series (which showed as an episode of Naked City). He stuck with the role of affable Tod Stiles through four seasons of the Stirling Silliphant-scripted, hour-long program, wheeling a Corvette convertible around the expansive United States, while Maharis--who played Buz Murdock--left during the third season, to be replaced by Glenn Corbett. Route 66 ensured that Milner would have a long career on the small screen.

Milner’s next big break came in 1968, when he was cast as veteran Los Angeles police officer Pete Molloy in NBC-TV’s Adam-12, another show in which he had to spend many hours in a car, this time a black-and-white police cruiser designated 1-Adam-12. McCord played his rookie partner, Officer Jim Reed. “The innovative series,” writes Variety’s Carmel Dagan, “had a more realistic quality than previous cop shows: The partners, on which the show narrowly focused, would patrol with no idea what they would encounter through the course of the day, and viewers got to witness the highs and lows in their lives.” Charlie Beck, the current chief of the L.A. Police Department, tells the Web site TMZ that “Milner’s depiction of a professional and tough yet compassionate cop led to thousands of men and women applying to become LAPD officers, including me.”*

In the season immediately after Adam-12 left the airwaves, Milner returned to television in ABC’s The Swiss Family Robinson (1975–1976), an Irwin Allen-produced adventure series that, like the 1960 Walt Disney film of the same name, took its inspiration from Johann David Wyss’ 1812 shipwreck novel, The Swiss Family Robinson. (You can watch the program’s main title sequence here.) Unfortunately, the ABC family drama--which also starred a 12-year-old Helen Hunt as another shipwreck survivor--lasted only 20 episodes. It marked Milner’s last lead in a TV series. Yet he racked up an impressive résumé of roles in teleflicks such as Hurricane (1974), Flood! (1976), and The Seekers (1979), plus guest appearances on series that included Police Story, Fantasy Island, Murder, She Wrote, and Diagnosis: Murder. Milner re-teamed with Kent McCord in the 1989 TV cop film Nashville Beat (which you can watch in its entirety here), and as I’ve mentioned before, he holds the dubious distinction of having been the first murder victim in the regular run of Peter Falk’s Columbo, portraying a successful mystery novelist in the September 15, 1971, episode, “Murder by the Book.” (It was his jealous co-author, played by Jack Cassidy, who did him in.)

Variety explains that “After [Milner] stopped acting, he co-hosted a radio show in Southern California, ‘Let’s Talk Hook-Up,’ about freshwater and saltwater fishing, for a number of years.” The L.A. Times says he died this last Sunday, September 5, at his home in Carlsbad, California, following “a long illness.”

* Route 66 was also the series that David Morrell, the creator of troubled Vietnam vet John Rambo and the author most recently of Inspector of the Dead, says convinced him to become a writer.

FOLLOW-UP: The blog Down These Mean Streets, devoted to old-time radio detective shows, observes that “Before [Martin Milner] played a police officer on Jack Webb’s Adam-12, he appeared opposite Webb in Dragnet on radio and television. In 1952, Milner did a four-week stint as Officer Bill Lockwood, temporary partner to Sgt. Joe Friday.” In Milner’s memory, that blog has posted the Dragnet broadcasts in which he appeared. You should find links to them all here.

FOLLOW-UP II: Bill Koenig, managing editor of The Spy Command, added this note to a Facebook post I wrote about Martin Milner’s demise: “Route 66 actually helped Milner get the Adam-12 job. Kent McCord was cast first. They needed an actor who could stop a police car precisely on the camera marks. Milner, with all that Route 66 experience, could do that easily while being a good actor.”

READ MORE:MeTV Summer of Classic TV Blogathon: Route 66 (1960-1964)”; “In 1992, Martin Milner Reflected on Adam-12, Route 66,” by Susan King (Los Angeles Times); “Appreciation: Martin Milner’s Less-Is-More Style Drove Route 66, Adam-12,” by Robert Lloyd (Los Angeles Times); “The Late Great Martin Milner,” by Terence Towles Canote (A Shroud of Thoughts).

1 comment:

Ed Gorman said...

Milner also played a small but pivotal role in the great noir "The Sweet Smell of Success" as the boy friend the Walter Winchell-like gossip columnist is trying to destroy--the boy friend of the beautiful young woman her brother, the gossip columnist, has disturbing designs on himself.