Martin Milner, Star of 'Adam 12' and 'Route 66,' Dies at 83
Milner's career included roles in the Burt Lancaster films 'Gunfight at the O.K. Corral' and 'Sweet Smell of Success.'
Martin Milner, the affable actor who did his best work behind the wheel on the TV series Route 66 and Adam 12, has died. He was 83.
Milner, whose big-screen career also included roles in the sensational Burt Lancaster films Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and Sweet Smell of Success, both released in 1957, died Sunday after a long illness at his home in Carlsbad, Calif., his son, Stuart, told the Los Angeles Times.
As clean-cut Yale graduate Tod Stiles on Route 66, which aired on CBS from 1960-64, Milner and his working-class buddy Buz Murdock (George Maharis, later to be replaced by Glenn Corbett’s Lincoln Case) traveled all over the country in Tod’s Corvette convertible in search of adventure.
Then, on NBC’s long-running Adam-12, Milner played Officer Pete Malloy, who partnered with hot-tempered young Officer Jim Reed (Kent McCord) to protect and serve the citizens of L.A. as they patrolled the city streets. The realistic, day-in-the-life series, produced by Jack Webb, ran from 1968-75.
In both pairings, the sandy-haired Milner played the more grounded, practical character.
Milner was under contract at Lancaster’s production company, Hecht-Lancaster. In John Sturges’ Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, he played the younger brother of Wyatt Earp (Lancaster) who meets an untimely end, and in Sweet Smell of Success (1957), he’s the up-and-coming jazz guitarist who becomes the target of slimy newspaper columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Lancaster again).
Milner was born Dec. 28, 1931, in Detroit. His father was a film distributor for Universal International and Eagle-Lion Films, and his mother was a dancer. The family moved around and he worked as a child actor in local productions in Seattle before the Milners settled in Hollywood when he was 14. He studied with an acting coach and landed an agent, then attended USC.
Milner’s first movie role came when, at just 14, he was cast as John Day, the second-oldest son of William Powell and Irene Dunne, in Life with Father (1947). Shortly after that, he was stricken with polio and bed-ridden for a year.
Milner became friends with Webb when they both had roles in Lewis Milestone’s war film Halls of Montezuma (1950). In 1952, Milner began a two-year stretch in the Army, where he directed training films and served as master of ceremonies for a touring-show unit that was based at Fort Ord in Northern California.
With Milner still in the service, Webb gave him voice work for $75 a day on the radio version of Dragnet, which Milner squeezed in during three-day passes, then had him guest-star on several episodes of Webb’s 1952-55 Dragnet series on NBC.
For six weeks, Milner also was detached from duty so he could perform in John Ford’s West Point tale The Long Gray Line (1955), starring Tyrone Power and Maureen O’Hara.
(During his Army tour, Milner became friends with fellow soldier (and future Fugitive star) David Janssen and Clint Eastwood, who was serving as a swimming instructor at his base. Legend has it that Milner and Janssen encouraged Eastwood to try his hand at acting.)
During this period, Milner also appeared with John Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) and Operation Pacific (1950) and in other films like Robert Wise’s The Captive City (1952), The Saber and the Arrow (1953), Francis in the Navy (1955), Pillars of the Sky (1956), Marjorie Morningstar (1958) — in which he portrayed the playwright friend of Natalie Wood — and Richard Fleischer’s Compulsion (1959).
He also appeared in and produced the cult classic Sex Kittens Go to College (1960), starring Mamie Van Doren as a professor who once was a stripper.
On Route 66, Milner famously (and accidentally) broke Lee Marvin’s nose wide open during a fight scene in a 1961 episode. All 166 installments of the series, created by Stirling Silliphant and Herbert B. Leonard and inspired by the Jack Kerouac novel On the Road, were filmed on the road in cities across the U.S.
"We traveled with kids and a housekeeper," Milner said in a 2001 interview. "And it was before the days of motor homes and before the days of vans, really. We took our dog with us. It was a circus.
"Generally, we did two episodes in one town, to hold the moving down. So we’d go into town, do two episodes, get everything loaded in the truck, and if it was a long move — if, for instance, we were going from Montana to Chicago — the crew, with the exception of the driver, would fly home for a few days. But me and my family would travel with the trucks, because we had the kids with us."
Later, Milner played the betrayed husband of Patty Duke’s character in the 1967 film adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls.
Milner also played Officer Malloy — a confirmed bachelor who turned down several promotions in order to stay on the street — on The D.A. and Emergency!, two other 1970s series produced by Webb.
At the end of Adam-12, Milner starred as the patriarch in Irwin Allen’s version of Swiss Family Robinson, which didn’t survive the 1975-76 season on ABC.
In 1990, Milner played a police captain on The Nashville Network cable telefilm Nashville Beat, where he was reunited with McCord. And for a season on the 1989-93 ABC family drama Life Goes On, he portrayed a socialist bookshop owner.
Milner also played the first victim in the history of NBC’s Columbo series (a mystery author, his Jim Ferris is murdered by Jack Cassidy’s Ken Franklin, his writing partner, in the premiere episode that aired in September 1971 and was directed by Steven Spielberg).
During his career, Milner also guest-starred on such TV shows as The Lone Ranger, Slattery’s People, The Twilight Zone, The Millionaire, The Rat Patrol and Murder, She Wrote.
An avid fisherman, Milner for years lived in Del Mar, Calif.