George Maharis, "Route 66" and that Corvette are back — on DVD
Now that you can finally get your kicks watching "Route 66" on DVD, reality-addled first-timers have a prime example of the 1960 relic known...
Seattle Times DVD writer; Seattle Times DVD writer
Now that you can finally get your kicks watching "Route 66" on DVD, reality-addled first-timers have a prime example of the 1960 relic known as "scripted drama," while boomers rediscover one of the best-loved shows of all time.
Volumes 1 and 2 of season one (Infinity Entertainment Group, $29.98 each) follow two-fisted pals Tod (Martin Milner) and Buz (George Maharis) through 30 poignant cross-country adventures. The first half of season two hits shelves in May. Sadly, the shows have been cropped to fit new widescreen TVs, and there's not much extra on the discs.
I can't do anything about the former but complain, but I rang Maharis, now 79, at his Beverly Hills home for some audio commentary.
Q: How do you spend your time these days?
A: Well I have, what shall I say, financial interests. I have a home in New York that I go to for about a half a year. And I paint in both places. Basically that's what I spend a lot of time doing.
Q: A lot's changed since you guys climbed into that Corvette.
A: Oh, boy ...
Q: If a couple dudes hit the road just to find themselves in 2008, people would just think they were slackers.
A: Oh, I think you're absolutely right. I think one of the big, big, big, big, big differences was in those days you were responsible for what you did. Today, it seems in a lot of cases people are always looking for some other reason why they're not responsible. And of course trying to find out where you were, where you belonged and everything is a great adventure. I don't know that people do that anymore.
Q: The show really seemed to capture something about its time.
A: What it is, is that when you get to be a certain age you begin to wonder what the hell you're going to do with the rest of your life. And in the show what happens is Tod and myself — Buz — we decided that we were going to go and see where we could find, and if we found someplace that we really liked or that really clicked with us, that's where one of us would stay or both of us, whatever — and the other guy would go off and try to find it. So it was really kind of a searching or what you may have seen hundreds of years ago where the people came over the mountains to go from one place to the other to find a better life, a place where they belonged, and they didn't rely on anybody else to do it for them. And then of course as you go from town to town to town and you meet these people, the experiences were just terrific. We used to go sometimes 70, 80 miles, and we'd hit a new town and it would be totally different than the town we just came from. Now you can go 3,000 miles, 4,000 miles, and it's just the same!
Q: You had a lot of guest stars who hit the big time.
A: Yeah, we had Robert Redford when he had brown hair. [Laughs.]
Q: Tod was a former rich kid and nice guy. Buz had much more of an edge —
A: Correct, yeah. He was the street fighter and Tod was more well-educated, college, so forth, and when his father died and the father's business went under and everything, the only thing he left to Tod was the car.
Q: That car was the third character in the show.
A: The first year we had a car — everybody used to think that the Corvette was red. And I used to say, "What makes you think it was red? The show was in black and white." In fact, the first year we had it, it was a light blue, and the camera man ... said "It reflects too much light, we need something darker." Towards the end of the year they got us a darker car, which was brown. But every year they gave us a new car.
Q: Buz and Tod traveled, they brawled, they met chicks. It was one of the great TV friendships. What was your relationship with Martin Milner?
A: Very good.
A: I know, a lot of people made a lot of garbage out of that, but that's not true. We respected each other, we were very different in background, in character, and we had a lot of things in common, but basically we had a mutual respect, understanding and really cared about each other — and I think it shows on the show. I mean, you could see that there was a camaraderie there between the two of us, which was true. I don't think you can get that if you really don't have it. You may be able to do it for one film, but over a period of years it's very difficult to maintain.
Q: Have you been in touch with him or know how he's doing these days?
A: Well, you know, I have not been in touch with him for a while. I have heard — I don't know if this is true — but I heard he had a stroke about two years ago. I hope he's doing well.
Q: Can you clear up once and for all why you left the show?
A: Because of hepatitis. When I was in Austin, Texas, I think it was, we were filming a thing with Barbara Barrie where I had to go into the river and get her, and we had shot some of it in the afternoon, and then at four o'clock in the morning we had three shots to do. And it was 40 degrees outside, and the water was colder. They had a wet suit for her and a wet suit for me. They put her wet suit on and put the trench coat over her, which matched the scene before. And then when I put the wet suit on, I couldn't get my trousers on over it, I couldn't get my jacket on over it. And we had to match the shot. The stuntman couldn't go in the water, it was too cold. So they asked me if I would do it, which I did. And while we were waiting to get the last two shots, my jacket actually froze on me, so they poured some hot water on me — it's all on tape, you can see it. And then they got worried about me, and at six o'clock in the morning they sent a doctor over who gave me a shot of B-12, and stupidly, I knew he wasn't using disposable needles but I thought they were OK, but they weren't. I got hepatitis.
Q: On the subject of how times have changed, what about other claims about your departure, that the producer had a problem with your off-screen lifestyle — which I think would scarcely be a blip on the radar today?
A: Yeah, well, I don't hear anything about that. Never heard that before. Never heard that before. And the only thing they said in their lawsuit, so forth, so on, was that I left the show because I wanted more money. That was crazy. That was all crazy. I don't really know what went on there, but they should have protected me. The show would have lasted for a much longer time, and had they done that — I don't know why they did what they did.
Q: You were one of the first celebrities who posed for Playgirl.
A: Yep. I was the second one. Lyle Waggoner was the first one. This lady friend of mine, Marnie, was the publisher of the magazine, and she called me and said "We need some celebrities to do a centerfold. Would you do it for me?" Of course they weren't paying anything in those days. And I said "fine." And the photographer came over, and I said to the photographer "What do you want me to bring for clothes?" He said "What do you mean?" I said "What do you want me to wear?" He said, "It's a nude centerfold." And I said, "Oh." He said, "You got a problem with that?" And I said, "No, not really." My heritage is Greek, and we never worried about taking our clothes off, and that's the way it was.
Q: I've seen those urns!
A: Yes, right! Exactly! And the first time I saw it I was in Chicago doing a play, I was doing a matinee, and I came out of the stage door, there must have been 60 blue-haired ladies waiting outside for autographs, and they all popped open the centerfold. I was really embarrassed, I gotta tell you!
Q: Readers will be glad to know that you can find anything online these days.
A: Yeah, you got that right.
WEB EXCLUSIVE: MORE OF MARK RAHNER'S Q&A WITH GEORGE MAHARIS
Q: You guys invented the genre of going-from-place-to-place-helping-people. "The Fugitive" and "Kung Fu" were rank imitators.
A: Yeah, but the point is we weren't out to help people, we were out to figure out what the hell was going on in the world, where we belong, and of course we'd get sucked into these situations. And I gotta say, Stirling Silliphant was a very prolific, terrific, terrific writer. And we had very good directors, and some of the people that you see in the show who are unknown at that point are now very well known.
Q: What did you bring to Buz?
A: Me. [Laughs.] I was born in New York City. I lived on the west side of New York as a young person and a lot of the stuff that I'd done when I was a young man — I used to hitchhike to Cuba. [Pause.] You got that?
Q: How did that work?
A: What you do is you hitchhike all the way down to the Keys, you go to the last Key, and there used to be a ferry that you could get on that would take you to Havana. Of course that all stopped with Castro. And a lot of the stuff, I used to hitchhike around the country and do a lot of these kind of things, and when I used to talk to Stirling about these things he kind of wrote this guy with me in mind.
Q: Were your and Milner's acting styles different?
A: Different. Totally. We were totally different people. That's the reason it clicked so well. Of course when I got hepatitis the first time and then had a relapse the second time and left the show, and they put Glenn Corbett in it — for some reason or other they thought Glenn Corbett looked like me. I didn't think he looked like me.
Q: I don't think so, either.
A: No. He had blue eyes, very good looking man, so forth and so on. But the basic thing was, he was really Marty Milner with dark hair. And when the two of them got together there wasn't the opposites that you had with Marty and myself. Marty was kind of a middle-American, educated college, so-forth, upper-middle-class American, and I was really just a street urchin.
Q: The yin and yang is what made it work.
A: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Q: Even people who don't know the show know that Nelson Riddle theme song. What sort of Pavlovian effect does it have on your when you hear it now?
A: Oh, I love that thing. Nelson Riddle was terrific, he really was. And I always loved that theme. It was based on, I think, somebody told me, an old Jimmy Dorsey thing which was called "Oodles of Noodles," but I'm not sure about that. I love that theme, you know. Ba-da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da-daa. It's just a traveling song.
Q: Did you ever hear from people who were inspired to take similar road trips?
A: Oh, yeah, a lot of them. Still do. Still do. [Thoughtfully.] Still do.
Q: What do they say to you?
A: They just want to know whether it's a good idea. They want to know whether they're being foolish. They want to know whether it's going to be tough, and so forth. And my answer is, "How old are you?" And they tell me they're 20-something, I say "Take a shot! Seek and ye shall find."
Q: Since you were in the "Rosemary's Baby" sequel, it seems fair to ask if you were invited to be in "Route 666."
A: No, I never heard of it. What's "Route 666"?
Q: It's a horror movie.
A: Oh, that's right, that's the mark that they make for the devil. Oh, I hadn't thought of that, but OK.
Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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