Route 66, part of my weekday morning routine…

Martin Milner (right) as Tod Stiles, with Geor...

Image via Wikipedia

We have Direct TV.   We used to have cable but having moved  to a more rural area of Missouri, away from our former home in the St. Louis area, our cable carrier wasn’t available anymore.  So, we signed up  with Direct TV.   We still get most of the St. Louis tv channels we were  familiar with, including  Channel 24.  I don’t know it’s history, but Channel 24 is owned  by a minister  who has  a  ministry to the homeless and less fortunate of St. Louis.  Channel 24 must somehow provide money for his work, and being a minister, the programming is usually of a wholesome nature, and often the programs are from  yesteryear.   (Why Frasier is aired I’ll never know…nothing against Frasier, but I wonder if the minister is aware of some of it’s storylines ?)  One of the  classic tv shows that Channel 24 airs that I have grown to appreciate, and look forward to viewing, is Route 66.

Route 66 airs at different hours on Channel 24.  One episode usually airs at 4:30 p.m., Mondays-Fridays, and then again, two more episodes air at 11:00 p.m. and then again at 4:00 a.m.  Thanks to our dvr machine(God bless the inventors of this gadget that lets me skip commercials and watch tv when I want to watch it!), I record the episodes and then watch one each morning, lingering over my breakfast as husband and the three oldest kids have exited the house for work and school, and before the youngest three, whom I homeschool, are awake.

The plot of the show is fairly simple.  Two young men, in their twenties, have decided to travel the USA,  in a Chevrolet Corvette Convertible, working odd jobs when they need to in order to  refund their wallets.  Whenever they stop off in one of America’s tiny towns or large cities, they inevitably meet someone, or a group of folks, who are having a problem and our twenty-something traveling duo finds a way to solve the problem.

Originally, Route 66 aired on CBS, from 1960-64.  The show was created by Herbert B. Leonard and Stirling Siliphant; Siliphant wrote most of the shows episodes.  Nelson Riddle created the theme music for the show, which became popular, and the sales of Chevrolet’s Corvette increased due to the popularity of the show.  The two travelers were played by Martin Milner and George Maharis.  Milner played Todd Stiles, a college student(Yale or Harvard, can’t recall at the moment), who’s father owned a tugboat company in New York Harbor.  Maharis played Buz Murdock, an orphan who grew up in NYC, and as an adult, worked for the elder Stiles’s company.  The elder Stile’s died suddenly, and as the will is gone over by the lawyer, it is discovered that the deceased didn’t know, or chose to ignore the fact, that his company was almost bankrupt.  It is left to Todd (Milner) to settle up accounts, close up the business, and there isn’t much of an inheritance left, so Todd drops out of college,  buys the snazzy Corvette, comes up with his plan to travel the open road, and invites Buz to join him.

Siliphant was a gifted writer and the episodes he wrote were interesting, the dialogue was great, a bit cryptic at times whenever Todd or Buz decide to speak cool, as in late beatnik or early hippie, but the message gets across, and the acting couldn’t have been better.  Many famous stars of today were in this tv show and it is fun to watch an episode and suddenly realize that that is a young Robert Redford who accidentally caused a young woman to fall down an embankment to her death!  Other stars I’ve noticed on the show: Gene Hackman, Cloris Leachman,Leslie Nielsen,Nehemiah Persoff, Jack Warden, Julie Newmar, Barbara Eden, Martin Sheen, Lee Marvin, Robert Duvall, Alan Alda, to name a few.  I also have noticed that the show was a vehicle for once former famous actors and actresses as their time in the limelight was waning, and now in their 50s and older, they could still turn to tv for acting jobs.  Some of these stars were Chester Morris, Glenda Farrell, Nina Foch, Chill Wills, Betty Field, Sylvia Sydney, Joan Crawford, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Lon Chaney Jr.  The episode that starred the latter 3 gentlemen I just listed, was a fun one to watch and I imagine it was a fun one to rehearse and film.

As Route 66 grew in popularity, George Maharis became seriously ill with Hepatitis and had to be hospitalized for a number of weeks.   Since he couldn’t be on the show, Milner’s character did some episodes solo, having his character Todd call in at various stops along his travels to check in with Buz, who was convalescing from Pneumonia at a hospital in California.  Maharis did recover enough to finish out Season 3, but prior to Season 4, he decided to end his run on the show and pursue a movie career.  CBS didn’t want to cancel the show, so a search was on to select a new traveling companion for Milner’s character.  Actor Glenn Corbett was hired to do so, playing Lincoln Case, a native Texan, recently retired Army Ranger who had seen action in Vietnam.  The show followed it’s same format, but to me, the episodes just didn’t have the same snap and pizzaz to them that the earlier ones did with Maharis as co-pilot.  Corbett did a decent job, but Milner, seemed crankier to me, as if he was merely tolerating Lincoln Case;  doesn’t seem to really get to know him.   Despite my observation about Season 4, I would recommend this classic tv show highly, and I do know it is on dvd, in case there isn’t a tv channel in your area, run by a local minister, airing classic tv shows that are a lot more wholesome than what is aired on today’s Primetime line up.

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