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Route 66 is an American TV series in which two young men traveled across America in a Chevrolet Corvette sports car. The show ran weekly on Fridays on CBS from October 7, 1960 to March 20, 1964. It starred Martin Milner as Tod Stiles and, for the first two and a half seasons, George Maharis as Buz Murdock. Maharis was ill for much of the third season, during which time Tod was shown traveling on his own. Tod met Lincoln Case, played by Glenn Corbett, late in the third season, and traveled with him until the end of the fourth and final season. The series currently airs on Me-TV, My Family TV and RTV.
Among the series more notable aspects were the featured Corvette convertible, and the program's instrumental theme song (composed and performed by Nelson Riddle), which became a major pop hit.
Route 66 was a hybrid between episodic television drama, which has continuing characters and situations, and the anthology format (e.g., The Twilight Zone), in which each week's show has a completely different cast and story. Route 66 had just three continuing characters, no more than two of whom appeared in the same episode. Like Richard Kimble from The Fugitive, the wanderers would move from place to place and get caught up in the struggles of the people there. Unlike Kimble, nothing was forcing them to stay on the move except their own sense of adventure, thus making it thematically closer to Run for Your Life, Maverick, Movin' On, and Then Came Bronson.
This semi-anthology concept, where the drama is centered on the guest stars rather than the regular cast, was carried over from series creator Stirling Silliphant's previous drama Naked City (1958–1963). Both shows were recognized for their literate scripts and rich characterizations. The open-ended format, featuring two roaming observers/facilitators, gave Silliphant and the other writers an almost unlimited landscape for presenting a wide variety of dramatic (or comedic) story lines. Virtually any tale could be adapted to the series. The two regulars merely had to be worked in and the setting tailored to fit the location. The two men take odd jobs along their journey, like toiling in a California vineyard or manning a Maine lobster boat, bringing them in contact with dysfunctional families or troubled individuals in need of help.
Tod and Buz (and later, Linc) symbolized restless youth searching for meaning in the early 1960s, but they were essentially non-characters. We learn almost nothing about them over the course of the series. All we are told is that, after the death of his father, Tod Stiles inherits a new Corvette and decides to drive across America with his friend Buz. Tod, portrayed by clean-cut Martin Milner, is the epitome of the decent, honest, all-American type. He is the moral anchor of the series. By contrast, the working-class Buz (George Maharis) is looser, hipper, more Beat Generation in attitude. There were subtle indications the Buz character was intended to loosely embody Jack Kerouac in appearance and attitudes.
Towards the end of the second season, Maharis was absent for several episodes, due to a bout of infectious hepatitis. He returned for the start of third season, but was again absent for number of episodes before leaving the show entirely mid-way through season three. Consequently, in numerous episodes in late season two and early season three, Tod travels solo, while Buz is said to be in the hospital with an unspecified ailment. Tod is often seen writing to Buz in these episodes, or having a one-sided phone conversation with him. In total, Tod appears solo in 13 episodes during seasons two and three.
Buz made his final appearance in a January 1963 episode, and was then written out of the show without a definitive explanation. Then, after five consecutive solo Tod stories, Tod gained a new traveling companion named Lincoln Case (Glenn Corbett) in March 1963. Case is a darker character than Buz Murdock, an army veteran haunted by his past. He's also more introspective than Buz with a sometimes explosive temper, but he is nonetheless a reliable companion as the duo continues their travels.
The series concluded in Tampa with the two-part episode "Where There's a Will, There's a Way," in which Tod Stiles got married, and Linc announced his intention to return home to his family in Texas, after a long period of estrangement. This made the series one of the earlier prime-time television dramas to have a planned series finale resolving the fate of its main characters.
The show was filmed and presented in black and white throughout its run.
Route 66 is well remembered for its cinematography and location filming. Writer-producer Stirling Silliphant traveled the country with a location manager (Sam Manners), scouting a wide range of locales and writing scripts to match the settings. The actors and film crew would arrive a few months later. Memorable locations include a logging camp, shrimp boats, an offshore oil rig, and Glen Canyon Dam, the latter while still under construction.
The show had little connection with the U.S. Highway providing its name. Most of the locations in the series were far from "The Mother Road," which passed through eight states. The series took place throughout the lower 48 US states. Two of the episodes took place in Canada, one of which was shot at the Inn on the Park in Don Mills Ontario. U.S. Route 66 the highway was briefly referred to in just three early episodes of the series ("Black November," "Play It Glissando," and "An Absence of Tears") and is rarely shown, as in the early first season episode, "The Strengthening Angels." The pilot program was centered in the Portsmouth, Ohio, area off route 52 with several locals recruited. One of these locals making appearances in 4 scenes as local yokels, Thomas G. Vetter, shared the stories of the locations for each scene. Due to a snow storm hitting the Portsmouth area during the pilot production the carriage fight required completion in Hollywood, CA.
Route 66 is one of few series in the history of TV to be filmed entirely on the road. This was done at a time when the United States was much less homogeneous than it is now. People, their accents, livelihoods, ethnic backgrounds, and attitudes varied widely from one location to the next. Scripted characters reflected a far less mobile, provincial society, in which people were more apt to spend their entire lives in one part of the country. Similarly, the places themselves were very different from one another visually, environmentally, architecturally, in goods and services available, etc. Stars Martin Milner and George Maharis mentioned this in 1980s interviews. "Now you can go wherever you want," Maharis added by way of contrast, "and it's a Denny's.
The roster of guest stars on Route 66 includes several actors who later went on to fame, as well as major stars on the downward side of their careers. One of the most historically significant episodes of the series in this respect was "Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing." It featured Lon Chaney, Jr., Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff as themselves, with Karloff donning his famous Frankenstein monster make-up for the first time in twenty-five years and Chaney reprising his role as the Wolfman. The show was filmed at the O'Hare Inn, near O'Hare Airport, Chicago. Dutch singer Ronnie Tober had a small guest role with Sharon Russo, Junior Miss America.
Other notable guest stars were James Brown (of Leonard's previous show, "Rin Tin Tin," multiple times and the actual Rin Tin Tin dog once with a guest starring credit as a guide dog in "Absence of Tears"), James Caan, Joan Crawford, Robert Duvall, Dorothy Malone, George Kennedy, Joey Heatherton, Ben Johnson, E.G. Marshall, Walter Matthau, David Janssen, Buster Keaton, Ed Asner, Lee Marvin, Michael Rennie, Tina Louise, Darren McGavin, Jack Lord, Suzanne Pleshette, Anne Francis, Tuesday Weld, Susan Oliver, Robert Redford, Leslie Nielsen, Martin Sheen, Rod Steiger, Lois Nettleton, Lois Smith, Sylvia Sidney, Beulah Bondi, Barbara Eden, Diane Baker, and Joan Tompkins. Julie Newmar is especially memorable as a motorcycle-riding free-spirit—a role she reprised in a later episode. William Shatner and DeForest Kelley also guest starred, in separate episodes. Lee Marvin and DeForest Kelley were among the many actors and actresses to appear in more than one role in the series. Janice Rule played different characters in three episodes. Two others were Logan Ramsey and Bruce Glover, who both later appeared in the three theatrical movies about Buford Pusser, Walking Tall, Walking Tall Part 2, and Final Chapter, Walking Tall, and Ed Asner and Lois Nettleton, who appeared in the episode, "The Opponent," appeared in the 2006 Christmas movie, "The Christmas Card." Burt Reynolds and Gene Hackman, among others, appeared in small bit parts.
In a 1986 interview, Martin Milner reported that Lee Marvin credited him with helping his career by breaking Marvin's nose "just enough" to improve his look. This happened in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, during a scripted fistfight for "Mon Petit Chou," the second of two episodes with Marvin.
Two late third-season episodes, which aired one week apart, each featured a guest star in a bit part playing a character with a profession with which he would later become associated as the star of his own mega-hit television series. In "Shadows of an Afternoon," Michael Conrad was a uniformed policeman, years before he became famous as Police Sgt. Phil Esterhaus on Hill Street Blues. In "Soda Pop and Paper Flags," Alan Alda guest starred as a surgeon, a precursor to his career-defining role as Dr. Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce on M*A*S*H. Also in the first season episode, The Strengthening Angels, which aired November 4, 1960, Hal Smith, who played town drunk Otis Campbell in The Andy Griffith Show, also played a drunk named Howard and was listed in the credits as "Drunk."
A 4th season episode, "Is It True There Are Poxies at the Bottom of Landfair Lake?", featured guest stars Geoffrey Horne and Collin Wilcox. In the episode's story line, Wilcox's character pretended to get married to Horne's, although it turned out to be a practical joke. A few years after appearing in this episode, Horne and Wilcox would be briefly married to each other in real life