Martin Milner passed yesterday at age 83. Sincere condolences to family, friends and fans. Milner was a nice guy and, I’m sorry to say, an Orange County-residing Republican for most of his life, but we all have our paths to follow. The red-haired, freckle-faced actor was known for playing decent, middle-of-the-road whitebread guys who always respected like-minded milquetoasts and had reasonable, fair-minded things to say about any situation. Average Joe obit writers are all saying that Milner was best known for his lead roles in Route 66 (CBS, ’60 to ’64) and Adam-12 (’68 to ’75). But they were both flotsam. Okay, Route 66 had a mildly cool escapist attitude with a few angles but Adam-12 was essentially rightwing propaganda.
Adam-12, exec produced by Dragnet‘s Jack Webb, was basically a show about conservative, Orange County values (i.e., respect and allegiance for traditionalism and authority) in the face of the convulsive changes of the late ’60s and early ’70s. It always bothered me that my younger brother, a pseudo-libertarian leftie who passed under tragic circumstances in ’09, always used to mutter “one-Adam-12” whenever the subject came up at the dinner table. Will somebody please tell me what’s so cool about L.A. cop lingo? My brother wouldn’t leave it alone.
Route 66 was an intriguing little relationship series about a couple of mild mannered lightweights (Milner, George Maharis/Glenn Corbett) roaming around and catching glimpses of the existential void in American life.
If you ask me Milner peaked with two performances from the second Eisenhower administration — Steve Dallas, a decent if somewhat priggish jazz guitar player who got smeared as a commie pot smoker because he fell in love with J.J. Hunsecker‘s younger sister Susie (Susan Harrison) in Sweet Smell of Success (’57), and Paul Grinstead, an amiable young guy who happens upon Vera Miles‘ Millicent Barnes in an upstate New York bus station in “Mirror Image,” a Twilight Zone episode (aired in February ’60) about Barnes being convinced that a duplicate clone is trying to take over her life.
I love the last shot when Milner is chasing his own duplicate (“Hey! Hey!!) and the double turns around and grins as he runs off, and he’s not Milner but some goofy-faced guy who was hired because of a strong resemblance. Why didn’t they just have Milner do the running-grinning-and-looking-back shot? Very weird.