Monday, September 7, 2015

The Late Great Martin Milner

Martin Milner, on the right
with Route 66 co-star George Maharis

Martin Milner, best known for starring as Tod Stiles on Route 66 and as Pete Malloy on Adam-12, died yesterday evening, September 6 2015, at the age of 83.

Martin Milner was born in Detroit, Michigan on December 31 1931. His father, Sam Gordon Milner, was a film distributor for Universal International and Eagle­-Lion Films. His mother, Mildred E. "Jerre" Milner (née  Martin), was a dancer. The family moved a good deal when Martin Milner was young. It was when he was 9 years old and the family was living in Seattle, Washington that he became involved in acting in local plays. Mr. Milner was 14 years old when his family settled in Hollywood. He studied with an acting coach and later got an agent.

Martin Milner was only 14 when he made his film debut in Life with Father (1947), playing the second oldest son of Clarence and Vinnie Day (played by William Powell and Irene Dunne). Over the next few years he appeared in the films The Wreck of the Hesperus (1948), The Green Promise (1949), Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), Halls of Montezuma (1950), Louisa (1950), and Our Very Own (1950). He made his television debut in an episode of The Lone Ranger in 1950. It was while he was shooting Halls of Montezuma that he met and became friends with Jack Webb, with whom he would work quite a few times in his career.

In the early Fifties Martin Milner was a regular on the television sitcom The Stu Erwin Show. He also made several guest appearances on Jack Webb's show Dragnet. He guest starred on the anthology show The Bigelow Theatre. He also appeared in such films as Operation Pacific (1951), The Captive City (1952), Belles on Their Toes (1952), My Wife's Best Friend (1952), Battle Zone (1952), and Springfield Rifle (1952). In 1952 Martin Milner began two years in the United States Army. In the Army he was assigned to Special Services at Fort Ord in California. He directed training films, and performed in a touring show unit as well as acted as the unit's master of ceremonies. While still in the Army he did voice work for the radio version of Dragnet while on three day passes.While in the Army he also befriended fellow actor David Janssen (future star of Richard Diamond and The Fugitive) and Clint Eastwood. According to legend, it was Messrs. Milner and Janssen who persuaded Clint Eastwood to try acting as a career.

The latter part of the Fifties would see Martin Milner play some of his best known roles. He appeared as James Earp in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957). In Sweet Smell of Success (1957) he played up and coming jazz guitarist Steve Dallas. In Compulsion (1958) he played Sid Brooks, the law school student who uncovers the murder committed by fellow law students Artie Strauss and Judd Steiner (played by Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell). He also appeared in such films as Last of the Comanches (1953), Dial M for Murder (1954), The Long Grey Line (1955), Mister Roberts (1955), Pete Kelly's Blues (1955), Francis in the Navy (1955), The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (1960), 13 Ghosts (1960), and Sex Kittens Go to College (1960). 

It was in 1960 that Martin Milner was cast as Tod Stiles in the television show Route 66. The television show centred on two young men who travelled about the United States in a Chevrolet Corvette. Initially the two young travellers were Yale educated Tod Stiles and street educated Buz Murdock (played by George Maharis). Later, after George Maharis left the series, they were Tod and Vietnam veteran Linc Case (played by Glenn Corbett). The show was created by Herbert B. Leonard and Stirling Silliphant, who had earlier developed the critically acclaimed semi-anthology Naked City. Route 66 was unique among TV shows of the time in that it was shot on location throughout the United States, with two episodes shot in Canada. The show was critically acclaimed and developed a cult following that it maintains to this day. It ran from 1960 to 1964.

In the mid to late Fifties Martin Milner had a recurring role on The Life of Riley. He guest starred on such shows as Science Fiction Theatre, Wagon Train, Matinee Theatre, Rawhide, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, Playhouse 90, The Millionaire, and The Twilight Zone.

In addition to his continuing role on Route 66, in the Sixties Martin Milner guest starred on such shows as The DuPont Show of the Week, Slatterly's People, Kraft Suspense Theatre, Gidget, Laredo, The Virginian, Run for Your Life, and Dragnet. It would be Dragnet that would lead to Mr. Milner's next regular role on a TV show, that of Pete Malloy on Adam-12. Adam-12 was spun off from Dragnet, with Pete Malloy and his partner Jim Reed (played by Kent McCord) first appearing in episodes of Dragnet. Adam-12 followed Pete Malloy and Jim Reed, two officers of the Los Angeles Police Department, as they worked their beat in the city. The show proved very popular, running from 1968 to 1975 and is still seen in reruns to this day. In the Sixties Martin Milner appeared in the films Zebra in the Kitchen (1965), Ski Fever (1966), Valley of the Dolls (1967), and Three Guns for Texas (1968). He appeared on Broadway in The Ninety Day Mistress.

In the Seventies Martin Milner appeared as Pete Malloy on the shows The D.A. and Emergency!. He starred in the short lived series Swiss Family Robinson. He guest starred on Columbo, becoming the show's first murder victim in its very first episode. He played a mystery writer whose writing partner (played by Jack Cassidy) kills him when he decides to end the partnership. He also guest starred on Police Story and The Littlest Hobo, and appeared in the mini-series Black Beauty, The Seekers, and The Last Convertible.

In the Eighties Martin Milner guest starred on Fantasy Island, Masquerade, Airwolf, and MacGyver. In the Nineties Mr. Milner had a recurring role on the family drama Life Goes On, playing book store owner Harris Cassidy. He reprised his role of Pete Malloy, now a captain in the Los Angeles Police Department, in the short lived sequel/spinoff series The New Adam-12. He also guest starred in the shows MacGyver; RoboCop; Murder, She Wrote; and Diagnosis Murder.

After retiring from acting Martin Milner hosted a radio show devoted to fishing, Let's Talk Hook-up, on XTRA 690.

There can be no doubt that Martin Milner was a good actor. The two roles for which he is best known, Tod Stiles of Route 66 and Pete Malloy of Adam-12, were both very similar: strait-laced, clean cut gentlemen who nonetheless had an eye for the ladies. Both Tod and Pete were sensitive to others, but could be tough when needed. While Tod Stiles and Pete Malloy were both very similar, Martin Milner was capable of playing vastly different roles. Harris on Life Goes On was very different from either Tod or Pete. An unabashed socialist, he had long hair and was as idealistic as Tod and Pete were practical. As Harris Cassidy, Martin Milner easily gave one of the best performances on the show. Martin Milner could even play villains when he was called upon to do so, and he could play them quite well. In the Virginian episode "Trail to Ashley Mountain" Mr. Milner played Case, a double dealing telegraph operator.

While he could easily play villains, in real life Martin Milner was in many ways quite like Tod Stiles and Pete Malloy. In fact, despite the fact that he had starred in several successful movies and two hit TV shows, Mr. Milner once said, "I was never a celebrity - just a working actor." His treatment of his fans demonstrates his attitude that he was simply an ordinary guy. Everyone I know who had the opportunity to meet Martin Milner had only glowing words to say of him. Quite simply, he was one of the nicest people one could ever meet. Indeed, he was even married to the same woman, Judy Milner, for 58 years--a remarkable feat in Hollywood. Ultimately Martin Milner was not simply a talented actor. He was truly a nice person and a fine gentleman.

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