Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon 2015: Route 66

When I saw the list of MeTV shows I could write about for this blogathon, I knew I had to write about Route 66. I was compelled to cover this show for two reasons. First, since Martin Milner starred in Route 66, a piece about the show would fit nicely with the overall theme of my Adam-12 blog. Second, I actually had something to say about this show other than, "I enjoyed watching it when I was growing up".  Now, what I have to say is not a lesson on the history of the show or how it was made. I'm going to tell you about my road to becoming a Route 66 fan and my favorite episode of the series. Bear with me, it's a road with a lot of twists and turns.

My journey to becoming a Route 66 fan begins in the Winter of 2013. My husband had just finished watching every episode of every version of Star Trek Netflix had to offer, from the Original Series to Enterprise, and I was jealous. I wanted my own show to binge-watch. My problem was solved when I discovered that Netflix offered the 1960's version of Dragnet, a show that I had seen before and loved. I quickly began devouring all 98 episodes of the classic crime drama. As I neared the end of the series, I had to pace myself. I didn't want my time with Friday and Gannon to come to an end! But, it did and I was distraught. 

After a few days, I pulled myself together and resolved to move on and find another show that had also come from the Jack Webb universe. Netflix recommended either Adam-12 or Emergency!. I had never heard of this Adam-12, but since it chronologically came before Emgerency!, I would watch it next.
Well, in case you can't tell, that turned my life upside-down.

After I finished that series in the Summer of 2014, I had to have more Milner in my life! I decided that I would next tackle Route 66, the series Martin Milner starred in from 1960 to 1964. The show is about two best friends, the well-to-do Tod Stiles, played by Milner, and the not-so well-to-do Buz Murdock, played by George Maharis. They travel the country in a Corvette, left to Tod by his recently deceased father. Every week Tod and Buz found themselves in a new town, where they would help the townspeople with a problem they faced. What wasn't to love? The attractive and talented Martin Milner, driving a car, with an equally cute brunet passenger by his side; I was sure to love to this program!
This looks like a great show!
But, after I watched about 10 episodes I was not hooked the way I had been with Adam-12. I hated to admit it, but I didn't really like the show, I found it formulaic. In every episode there were some rural townspeople with a problem, that usually involved a pretty girl. Then Tod and Buz would drive into town, they would get jobs, kiss the girl, get into a fight, help solve the problem, and finally drive off into the sunset. I could never understand why the locals listened to Tod and Buz. If two twenty-something strangers started giving me input on a predicament, I don't think I'd give much credence to their advice. Even if they were in a sweet Corvette convertible and looked like Milner and Maharis.
Would you trust these two?
What was wrong with me? How could I not like Route 66? It had Martin-freakin'-Milner in it for Pete's sake! All of the reviews I read about the show were glowing. Why did I not agree? Was I not smart enough to appreciate an hour-long black and white drama? Or was everyone, particularly the women, lying to me? Did they only like the show because of Marty's good looks?  I stopped watching Route 66 and decided to spend more time outside. (Ha, ha, ha, sometimes I crack myself up.)

Then, a few weeks ago, an intelligent and discerning friend said he was watching Route 66 and found the show impressive. I knew this person had good taste and couldn't be swayed by Marty's handsome features. If he said Route 66 was worth watching, then I knew it must be true. I decided to take a second look at the show.

I started with an episode that my friend had highly recommended,"Like a Motherless Child". I liked it, I actually liked it. The story explored Buz's, and guest star Sylvia Sidney's, search for permanence and a sense of family. I liked that this episode focused on Buz's personal problem instead of a difficulty faced by the townspeople.

 I decided to continue watching with "Effigy in Snow". Which was not as good as the previous episode, but was still interesting. It was about a serial killer and, in case you can't tell, I love crime stories. It also had lots of loudly patterned sweaters, which is also a plus. 

Next, I watched "Eleven, the Hard Way" with Walter Matthau as a boastful gambler and Edward Andrews as a prudish man trying to save his town. It turns out both men are not so different, Matthau's Sam Keep and Andrews' Mr. Oliver both want to save the town and both are easily seduced by the high of winning at the craps table.

I decided to cap off my Route 66 mini-binge with "The Thin White Line". In this episode Tod drinks a beer laced with an experimental drug that causes hallucinations, psychosis, and mood swings. I had heard good things about this episode, but before my Route 66 change of heart I was worried that it would be silly. I soon discovered I had nothing to worry about, Milner plays every emotion Tod experiences perfectly and Maharis also does a fine job as Tod's worried best friend who will stop at nothing to find him. 

Of all the Route 66's I've seen, this one is my favorite. Actually, it's little wonder that this is my favorite Route 66. It's not hard to draw parallels between "The Thin White Line" and the Adam-12 episode "The Search". In both Milner's character is lost and in distress while his partner desperately searches the city to find him.

So, without further ado; I bring you my electronic rendering, through words and pictures, of "The Thin White Line".

This episode is set in Philadelphia, which is not on the Mother Road. But, that is not atypical of the series. Tod and Buz visit many places that are not on the actual Route 66.

Route 66 did all of it's filming in the actual locations where the episodes were set. So, those are actual Philly streets you see, not the Universal backlot. Part of the fun of the series is seeing what America actually looked liked from 1960 to 1964.

I went to college in Philadelphia, maybe I'll recognize some of the locations.

Our story starts at a party in a hotel suite.
Tod is having a good time with his date.

Buz is having a good time with his date.

This guy is not having a good time.
This big oaf bumps into both Tod and Buz on the dance floor.
The guy watching from the door is Harold, he is hosting the party in his father's hotel suite. The big oaf is Duke, who showed up to the party without an invitation. He then proceeded to steal Harold's girl and insult Harold by telling him, "Get me a beer, boy." 
Harold's getting the beer for Duke. But, that's not all he's going to give Duke. He and his friend, Ray, are going to spike Duke's drink with an experimental drug. Although it's never stated in the episode, I think these two are students and they got the drug from the university they attend.
Harold is hesitant about putting the drug in the beer, but Ray convinces him that it will do no permanent harm to Duke. Ray himself as participated in the drug trials and knows that Duke will start yawning, then go "ape for while". When it wears off, "he won't know what hit him". Ray pours the white powder into the beer and Harold takes it out to Duke on a tray.
But, Duke refuses the drink! Tod then seizes the opportunity to quench his thirst and swipes the beer. He quickly downs the entire glass.
That didn't go as planned.
Shortly thereafter Tod is sitting on the couch yawning.
His date wants him to "dance those yawns away". They are on the dance floor for a matter of seconds when Duke bumps into Tod again.
The listless Tod is knocked to the ground by the careless Duke. Tod returns to the couch for a nap while his date is summoned to the kitchen by Harold and Ray.

In the kitchen, Harold and Ray ask Tod's date if he is a stable individual.
"He's a very nice guy, a dreamboat, and a gentleman."
Tod's date reminds me of another petite brunette with large eyes, Judy Milner, Martin's wife of 58 years.
(This picture of Mr. and Mrs. Milner is from the Martin Milner Private Collection page on Facebook.)
Ray then spies Tod sleeping on the couch. Thinking this will be the extent of the drug's effect on Tod, a relieved Harold and Ray begin acting as if nothing has  happened.
But then, Tod suddenly awakes with a start.
He sees Duke dancing nearby.
He punches him, then throws him across the room.
Buz tries to intervene, but Tod pushes him out of the way, too.
Like a scared rabbit, Tod backs out of the hotel room and away from the shocked party guests.

He climbs over the balcony, drops down two stories, and begins running away from the hotel.
Buz fights his way through the crowd and chases after his friend. He can't keep up with Tod and he loses him. Tod runs away from hotel and into the night.

Dr. Anderson, who has been running the drug trials, is now at the hotel suite. He can't believe the "idiotic and dangerous" prank Harold and Ray have pulled. He calls the police and reports that Tod is in an "induced psychotic state and potentially dangerous to himself and others".
Buz provides a description of Tod, "6' 1", 185 pounds, light brownish hair, green eyes, and loaded with freckles".
That sounds about right.
Shortly after the dispatch on Tod goes out to the Philadelphia PD, Officer Romero in car 22 arrives at the hotel to question Dr. Anderson about the drug and the effects it will have on Tod. 
Tod will experience intense drowsiness (this has already taken place), then confusion and helplessness, next a euphoric and unpredictable stage, followed by paranoia and terror. Finally, the doctor predicts that Tod will fall into a deep depression accompanied by suicidal thoughts.
An angry, impatient, and concerned Buz will join Officer Romero as he searches for Tod.  Dr. Anderson will also ride with them so he can administer the antidote.
Out in the darkened city, Tod wanders the streets in a stupor; oblivious to his surroundings.
He almost gets hit by this van, which reminded me of another van.
Not only did the Route 66 production crew travel across the country to film the show, but Marty's entire family traveled with him to almost every location. For a time, Marty, Judy, and their children went from state to state in this Chevrolet Greenbrier Sportswagon.
(This picture is also from the Martin Milner Private Collection page on Facebook, which has lots of great personal photos Martin took while filming Route 66.)
Tod moves along a sidewalk and comes across a shop with a display of mirrors in the window.
He looks alarmed at his own reflection.
And with good cause, he's hallucinating that his reflection is laughing at him.
He flees from the shop window down an alley where he knocks over some rubbish. A man comes out on a fire escape, shouts at Tod and shines a flashlight in his eyes. He takes off and runs erratically through the city streets.

Exhausted, he collapses in a doorway.
The sound of his own heartbeat suddenly becomes deafening.
His pulse becomes fainter, only to be replaced by a loud ticking.
He tries to silence the noise by smashing his watch against the building.
But that does not work. Tod is in the doorway of a clock shop, with a variety of timepieces displayed in the window. 
The maddening cacophony of the clocks spurs him to flee.

Tod then spots a hot dog vendor and asks him for water.
The vendor tells him, "Water, you want water? Pray for rain."
He grabs the vendor and shouts, "The world's full of wise guys! Guys that push and shove on the dance floor!"
Not wishing to enrage him any further, the vendor gives Tod the water. He quickly drinks it, then asks for more. 
He takes the second cup and dumps it over his head. He runs away laughing like a lunatic.
After Tod leaves his stand, the hot dog vendor calls the police. When Buz arrives with Officer Romero and Dr. Anderson he asks the vendor what Tod looked like.
"He looked like a kook, that's what he looked like."
He goes on to claim that Tod looked like a "psycho, a killer".
"With that guy loose, there ain't nobody safe in their beds tonight."
Meanwhile, a deliriously happy Tod has come busting through the door of John's Chancellor Room.
Tod wants to shake the hand of his new friend, Joe the bartender.
Yes, that is "Grandpa" Al Lewis! This episode just got better!
Joe, however, does not want to shake Tod's hand. He doesn't like the way he slammed the door when he came in. When his friendship is not reciprocated, Tod's mood turns dark.
"The Earth turns. I just offered you the bright side of friendship, there's also the dark side. Choose!"
 After staring each other down for several tense seconds, Joe decides to offer Tod his hand in friendship. Tod then orders a beer with a martini chaser. He makes a lengthy and poetic toast to friendship in rapid fire cadence and orders another beer, this time with a manhattan chaser. Tod's mood quickly changes from happy to confrontational when he catches Joe staring at him.
He also flirts with the piano player, Red.
Who, ummm, how can I put this? Doesn't look like your typical Route 66 girl, the likes of which include Julie Newmar, Joey Heatherton, and Barbara Eden.
An old lady, who looks like she is part of a Salvation Army band, enters the bar asking for charity donations. Joe tries to chase her out and Tod makes a solemn toast to "Lady Charity".
"He who bestows his goods upon the poor shall gains much and ten times more."
Joe wants her gone, she is a con-artist who goes by the moniker Tambourine Maggie. This infuriates Tod, so Joe lets her stay. Tod then makes a compassionate speech and convinces all of the bar patrons to contribute to Maggie's cause. Before she leaves, Maggie promises that all of the money will go to charity.
Red shows her appreciation to Tod for bringing "life and love to this crummy joint". She and Tod will leave the bar together.
Once again, Officer Romero and company are one step behind Tod. They arrive at the bar after Tod has left with Red.
Joe doesn't like cops and doesn't want to help Officer Romero. He thinks Tod "ain't no psycho".  In fact, he praises Tod for having "more brains, more moxie, and more hutzpah than any other guy who's bellied up to this plank". Officer Romero and Dr. Anderson leave without getting any information out of Joe.
But, Buz is not going to leave without Red's address. He locks the door after Romero and Anderson leave, hops over the bar, and brandishes Joe's behind-the-bar bat. He persuades Joe to give up the address.

At Red's apartment, she and Tod are having a good time. Drinking, laughing, rolling around on the floor kissing, throwing their champagne glasses into the fire. In the midst of all this, Tod starts shivering with cold.
"It's like the angel of death just flew between me and the life-giving sun."
Red leaves the room to get more champagne and Tod tries to warm himself by the fire. When Red returns, it is evident that Tod has moved onto the paranoia and terror phase of the his trip.
Oh, hey, Red have you done something with your hair?
He has a hallucination that Red has transformed into a witch.
A frightened Tod makes a hasty retreat from Red's abode.

When we see next Tod, it is morning; but he is still trapped in his night of horrors.
He is stranded on the street, sobbing uncontrollably.
The officer in car 12 (OMG, car 12!) spots Tod. 
The officer tries to convince Tod to come with him, but the paranoid Tod punches him and knocks him out cold.
"I know you, you're trying to kill me," says Tod right before he takes the officer's gun.
At this point, Officer Romero, Dr. Anderson, and Buz finally catch up with Tod. The armed and frantic Tod fires the gun at the police car, wounding Officer Romero.
Tod runs from the scene and starts climbing up the Ben Franklin bridge. Buz follows him.
After the long and terrifying night, Tod and Buz finally reunite high over the Delaware on the Ben Franklin bridge. Tod, now in the final stage of the drug's effects, wants to die. He tells Buz, "The two great adventures for mortal man, being born and dying. Now I want to experience the second, and I believe, greater of those adventures; death."

Buz tries to convince his friend that he does not want to die, he has his whole life ahead of him.
"No, in this night I lived a hundred lifetimes. I saw God and the devil locked in mortal combat. Infinitely vivid, incredibly detailed. I lived my whole life, back to the very moment of my birth. For me, only one great adventure remains."
Buz tells Tod that he was drugged and asks him if he wants the devil to win. God wants him to live. If he dies, the devil will win. His words break through Tod's drug-induced fog. 
As if he has just awoken from a dream, Tod is suddenly aware of his surroundings. He fearfully clings to his best friend for safety.

The next scene opens with a shot a of this building, which I presumed was a university or hospital in Philadelphia.
But, the Route 66 production crew played a sneaky trick on me. This is a  stock photo of Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore! 

After Tod's rescue, he sleeps for a deserved twenty hours.
Dr. Anderson examines Tod and gives him a clean bill of health.
Buz is waiting for him in the hall, they then walk out of the university (or hospital) together.
Actually, they're leaving neither a university nor a hospital. They're on the stairs of the Franklin Institute here.
This monument, The Aero Memorial, is directly across the street from the Franklin Institute. That's how I knew where they were standing.

Tod pauses to appreciate the gifts he has regained, "the good sweet air, the newborn day, the sun, the sky, and the life He gave us".
The End

Well, that's my favorite episode of Route 66. A beautiful combination of Milner's acting, poetic writing, and the story of a dedicated friend. I hope you have a chance to see it, if you haven't already. 

If you want to catch Route 66 this summer on MeTV, here is a link to their site and summer schedule.

I hope you enjoyed my contribution to the blogathon. If you want to read more blog posts about other classic TV shows from the MeTV line-up. The link to the blogathon schedule is here.

Finally, I want to give a special "thanks" to Johnathan Andrew Sheen and Diana Downing for their help with this piece.


  1. Great job! *applause* I wish you were doing more episodes!

    1. Thanks, Terry! Covering an hour long show takes a lot! I need to get back to my boys in blue!

  2. You did an awesome job as always. " The Thin White Line " is my favourite Route 66 episode. Martin was simply amazing.

  3. Will you be completing the Marty Milner trifecta with some Swiss Family Robinson?

    1. I would if I could find that show, Bryan. It seems ever other version exists on DVD except for the Milner version. It had Helen Hunt and Willie Aames, too, I can't be the only one that wants to see this.

  4. I love Adam-12 but I never got into Route 66. (Although, I have watched Movin' On with Claude Akins. That's kind of Route 66 with truckers.) I am taking your episode recommendations... and diving in this weekend! Thank you. Great write-up and you blog is Screenshot-Filled Fantastic!

    1. Thanks, Daniel. I do love to make screen shots! This Movin' On sounds interesting, I'll have to check that out. Have fun with your Route 66 adventure this weekend!

  5. There is no other television series like Route 66. It's an anthology show like Naked City was, but instead of staying in New York, the two leads travel all over America of the early 60's. Sometimes the plot centers around Buz or Tod (or Linc) but more often our young heroes are caught up in the plights of those they encounter on their travels. The scenery is beautiful and the writing and acting are top notch. Give it a try!

    Sam Kujava

    1. Thanks, for the recommendation. I'll have to check out "Naked City".

  6. I really enjoyed your post, especially your description of your journey toward appreciating Route 66. I've been wanting to watch more of the series because I've become a great fan of Naked City, and writer Stirling Silliphant is a link between both shows. Naked City was fairly easy for me to get into since, like you, I enjoy crime stories. Route 66 hasn't really captured me yet, but I'm going to keep an eye out for the episodes you recommended. Great post!

    1. I've heard from a few people who felt the same way I did about Route 66, it's good to know I wasn't alone. I'll have to give this Naked City a look-see. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  7. ROUTE 66 is one of my all-time favorite TV shows for many of the reasons that you listed (e.g., the actors, the real locations). It helps, too, when most of the episodes are written by one of television's all-time great scribes: Stirling Silliphant. His dialogue may not have been natural and his episode titles were often esoteric. But he still wrote a number of brilliant episodes. I thought that Martin Milner and George Maharis were a terrific team, too. A few years ago, my wife and I watched all of seasons 1-3. But once George left the show, it just wasn't the same. I really enjoyed this post.

    1. I love Silliphant's poetic dialogue. This episode was not written by Silliphant, but it is still wonderful.

  8. I think the fact that Route 66 was shot on location is a big part of what enhances its appeal. The skillful use of locations and cinematography can make the episodes seem more like short films rather than standard TV episodes.

    1. You're right Thomas. The scenery in Route 66 is much prettier then the Universal back lot.

  9. Lovely post on a terrific show! "Route 66" is one of those brilliant, different, adult, unusual series that filled the schedules back in the early 1960s -- hard to believe that the level of maturity, intentional ambiguity and intellectual curiosity seen in this series and others has barely begun to be duplicated today. I wish you could do all the "Route 66" episodes like you did this one! Of course Martin Milner is such a tremendous performer, I'd say completely underrated but deserving of every bit of praise we can heap upon him. George Maharis was a perfect partner in the show, and I am sorry to say that though I like Glenn Corbett in a lot of things, there is no way that he filled that bucket seat like Maharis did. But there are so many amazing episodes in the series, so much to explore! I was on a major "Route 66" kick a while back -- it's the kind of show that draws you in, as you have found. Thank you for this great post!

    1. Thanks, Lisa! So glad you liked it. I haven't seen any of the "Linc" episodes, I think I'll take my time getting to those.

  10. Just as you say, "Part of the fun of the series is seeing what America actually looked liked from 1960 to 1964." That too is my enjoyment of Route 66. I recently discovered they shot part of one episode of Route 66 in Youngstown OH where I used to live--and I've watched that episode over and over to examine what Youngstown looked like in the 1960s. What fun! I can even tell exactly what road they were driving on--and none of that looks the same anymore (of course!) Thanks for the reminder about this show.

    1. I recently discovered that an episode was shot in Carlisle, PA, my father's hometown. I haven't seen the episode, but I've seen pictures. It's weird to think that Martin Milner and my father were once in the same town at the same time!

  11. Wonderful writeup for a very interesting episode. I've been on a R66 binge for several years. Google Earth (and Maps) have made it fairly easy to retrace the steps of the show across America. I've visited and photographed a few of the filming sites and it's amazing to see the before/after effect of 50 years. Also, be sure to check out the Ohio66.com website where you'll see the work of several other R66 fans.

    1. Thanks! And thanks for the tip about Ohio66.com. They filmed an episode in Carlisle, PA, my father's hometown, were you able to visit and photograph that location?

  12. I wrote a lengthy comment on this a while ago, but I apparently screwed it up and it didn't post, so here we go again!

    This was another episode that really impressed me when I had the chance to binge on this series a while ago. It really gave a measure of the strength of the relationship between Tod and Buzz -- Buzz's frantic concern about the missing Tod is palpable and undeniable.

    But it also shows Tod, even under the influence, as a remarkably literate man. He quotes classic literature, the Bible, Shakespeare. In other episodes, he quotes poetry and philosophers and histories by people like Holocaust survivors.

    And Tod's got a powerful force of will: He dominates Joe the Bartender in a way that borders on -- maybe even crosses the border into -- bullying, and does the same to the patrons when he's collecting money for Tambourine Maggie... But in the end, Joe risks a lot to "protect" Tod, and Maggie actually does what she's pretended to for years, what she's promised, and donates all the money she's collected for exactly the kind of charity Tod suggested.

    Maharis and Milner both give really powerful performances. Milner as Tod gets to display an especial tour de force, his moods swinging through mania and dominance and power through fear and desperation to a melancholy resignation. It's a showy script for him, but he more than lives up to it. It's easy, with that performance dominating the episode, to overlook Maharis' more solid performance, but he's also money in the bank. I used to dismiss him as the guy you got when you couldn't afford George Hamilton, but had enough money not to settle for George Chikiris, but he's stronger than that, and the force of Buzz's concern for his friend is right there on the screen -- you can almost see it like a beam of energy flowing between him and Tod. When he locks himself in with Joe the Bartender, you feel that his desperation may lead him to cross any number of lines, and it's simultaneously touching and disturbing.

    It's a terrific show and a terrific episode, and part of what made me now consider myself a fan.

  13. The Thin White Line was a great episode! Milner was terrific. The end when Tod just grabs and hangs onto Buz got me.
    I binged on this on Decades and have since been DVRing it on METv 😊
    Wonderful article!