Route 66 (TV series)

Route 66 (TV series)

infobox television
show_name = Route 66

caption = Tod and Buz take a ferry to trouble in the series premiere.
format = Drama
runtime = approx. 0:52 (per episode)
creator = Stirling Silliphant
starring = Martin Milner
George Maharis (1960-1963)
Glenn Corbett (1963-1964)
country = USA
network = CBS
first_aired = October 7, 1960
last_aired = March 13, 1964
num_seasons = 4
num_episodes = 116
imdb_id = 0053534|

"Route 66" is an American TV series in which two young men traveled across America. The show ran weekly on CBS from 1960 to 1964. It starred Martin Milner as Tod Stiles and, for 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 is best remembered for its iconic Corvette convertible and its instrumental theme song (composed and performed by Nelson Riddle), which became a major pop hit.

Format and characters

"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" and "Then Came Bronson". A later example of this traveling protagonist format is "Quantum Leap".

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" (1958-63). 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) storylines. 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. So, from toiling in a California vineyard to manning a Maine lobster boat, the two men took odd jobs along their journey which brought them into contact with dysfunctional families or troubled individuals in need of their help.

Tod and Buz (and later, Linc) symbolized restless youth searching for meaning in the early Sixties, but they were essentially non-characters. We learn almost nothing about them over the course of the series. All we are told is 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. His third-season replacement, Lincoln Case (Glenn Corbett), is a darker character, an army veteran haunted by his past. He's more introspective with a sometimes explosive temper, but is nonetheless a reliable companion on this soul-searching journey.

The series concluded with the two-part episode "Where There's a Will, There's a Way" in which Tod Stiles got married, and he and Linc finally settled down. This made the series one of the earliest 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. This was not unusual for early 1960s episodic TV.


"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. It is one of very few series in the history of television 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 society, in which people were more apt to spend their entire lives in one small 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 both mentioned this in 1980s interviews. "Now you can go wherever you want," Maharis added by way of contrast, "and it's a Denny's."

Guest stars

The roster of guest stars on "Route 66" includes quite a few actors who later went on to fame and fortune, 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 25 years. The show was filmed at the O'Hare Inn, near O'Hare Airport, Chicago, Illinois. Dutch singer Ronnie Tober had a small guest role with Sharon Russo, Junior Miss America. Other notable guest stars from the series included James Caan, Robert Duvall, Walter Matthau, David Janssen, Buster Keaton, Lee Marvin, Tina Louise, Suzanne Pleshette, Robert Redford, Martin Sheen, and Rod Steiger. 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 over the course of the series.

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 in which Marvin appeared.

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 they would later become associated as stars of their own respective mega-hit television series. In "Shadows of an Afternoon", Michael Conrad can be seen as a uniformed policeman, many years before he became famous in his regular role as Police Sgt. Phil Esterhaus on Hill Street Blues. And in "Soda Pop and Paper Flags", Alan Alda guested 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" that aired November 4, 1960 Hal Smith, who played town drunk Otis Campbell in "The Andy Griffith Show", also plays a drunk named Howard and is listed in the credits as "Drunk".

The 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 storyline, 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 in real life be briefly married to each other.

A noteworthy in-joke occurs during the episode "Where Are the Sounds of Celli Brahams?" In this segment, Horace McMahon guests as a Minneapolis, Minnesota festival promoter. At one point, his character confesses to Linc his failed ambition to be a policeman. Linc remarks that he looks like a policeman Linc once knew in New York City. McMahon had starred as Lt. Mike Parker on the New York-based police drama Naked City from 1958-63, another television series overseen by the creative team of Stirling Silliphant and Herbert B. Leonard.

Production notes

* The original working title of the series was "The Searchers", according to George Maharis. That title was also the title of the 1956 film "The Searchers" directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne, so the series was renamed.

* The show actually had very little real connection with the US Highway providing its name. Most of the locations visited throughout the series were far afield from the territory covered by "The Mother Road." 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 shown only rarely, as in the early first season episode "The Strengthening Angels".
* The episode "I'm Here to Kill a King" was preempted because of President John F. Kennedy's assassination that month, and was not seen on television until the series entered syndication. This episode, and "A Long Way from St. Louie", are the only ones filmed outside the U.S., (in Canada).


"Route 66" was devised by Stirling Silliphant, who wrote the majority of the episodes. It was notable for its dark storylines and exceptional realism. Tod and Buz would frequently become involved with individuals whose almost nihilistic worldview made for occasionally frightening television. Some forty-six years after its premiere, "Route 66" is still one of the few television series to offer such a range of socially-conscious stories, including mercy killing, the threat of nuclear annihilation, terrorism, runaways and orphans. Other episodes dealt with the mentally ill, drug addiction or gang violence. However, some stories were congenially lighthearted, such as a memorable episode featuring Richard Basehart as a folklorist trying to record the local music of an isolated Appalachian community, and a Halloween episode called "Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing".

Even more unusual is the way it served up a kind of soaring dialog that has been referred to as "Shakespearean" and free-verse poetry. For instance, the boys encounter a Nazi hunter named Bartlett on the offshore oil drilling rig where they work. Bartlett describes the horrors of WWII and the Holocaust thusly: "Tod, I hope you live a long life and never know the blistering forces which sear and destroy, turn men into enemies and sweep past the last frontiers of compassion" and "once you've seen that dark, unceasing tide of faces... of the victims...the last spark of dignity so obliterated that not one face is lifted to heaven, not one voice is raised in protest even as they died..." (from episode #4, "The Man on the Monkey Board").

The quirky, textured writing extended even to episode titles, which included such oddities as "How Much a Pound is Albatross?" and "Ever Ride the Waves in Oklahoma?". Other episode titles were drawn from a wide range of literary sources, such as Shakespeare ("A Lance of Straw") or Alfred Tennyson ("A Fury-Slinging Flame").

Many of the stories were character studies, like the above-mentioned one featuring RichardBasehart as a man who uses people then tosses them away, as if they are plastic spoons. The episode titled "You Can't Pick Cotton in Tahiti" refers to small-town America as both a far-away, exotic Tahiti and the "real America" compared to "phony-baloney" Hollywood, and still offers food for thought. Many episodes offer moving soliloquies, into which future Academy-Award-winning writer Stirling Silliphant ("In the Heat of the Night") poured his deepest thoughts.

Despite all the adventure, travelogue, drama and poetry, the real subject of the series was the human condition, with Tod and Buz often cast as a kind of roving Greek chorus, observers and mentors to broken-down prizefighters and rodeo clowns, sadists and iron-willed matrons, surfers and heiresses, runaway kids and people from all walks of life, forced by circumstances to confront their demons.

One hallmark of the show was the way it introduced viewers, however briefly, to newways of life and new cultures. For instance, we get a glimpse of a shrimper's life in episode 3, "A Lance of Straw", and a look at Cleveland, Ohio's Polish community in episode 35, "First Class Mouliak". Here the young are pushed by their parents into careers and even marriages they may not want, in an effort to hold community and family together, albeit at the expense of the happiness and well-being of the kids. This story featured Robert Redford, Martin Balsam, Nehemiah Persoff and Nancy Malone as guest stars.

One of the legacies "Route 66" left behind is a dramatic and photographic portrait of early-1960s America as a far less crowded and less complicated era, in which altruism and optimism still had a place. That place was filled by two young men who seemed to represent the best in us, the willingness to stand up for the weak and who espoused old-fashioned values like honesty and physical courage. Peaceful rebels who rejected material possessions and the American dream of owning a home, the boys were orphans who may have embodied Jack Kerouac's Beat Generation, a little bit of Marlon Brando's wild side from "The Wild One", James Dean's inability to settle down and fit in from "Rebel Without a Cause" and the wanderlust of the above-mentioned Jim Bronson, the traveling writer and loner who toured the USA via motorcycle in the 1969-1970 series "Then Came Bronson". The use of the Corvette on "Route 66", not only as the boys' transportation but as their marquee and symbol of their wandering spirit, created the link between America's Sports Car and America's Highway that endures to this day.

Given the unusual tenor of the show and the ordeal of keeping some 50 people on the road filming for most of the year, it seems highly unlikely that anything like "Route 66" will ever be attempted again.

Theme song

Nelson Riddle was commissioned to write the instrumental theme when CBS decided to have a new song, rather than pay royalties for the Bobby Troup song "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66". Riddle's theme, however, offers an unmistakable homage to the latter's piano solo (as originally recorded by Nat King Cole) throughout the number. Riddle's "Route 66" instrumental was the first television theme [] to make Billboard Magazine's Top 30 [] , and earned two Grammy nominations in 1962. []


George Maharis reported in a 1986 "Nick at Nite" interview that people often ask him about "the red Corvette." According to Maharis, the Corvette was never red. It was light blue the first season, and fawn beige for the second and third seasons. Both colors were chosen to photograph well in black and white, but the show's cinematographer complained that the powder blue car reflected too much light. The Corvette was replaced with a newer model annually by the series' sponsor, General Motors, but the show itself never mentioned or explained this technicality.

Awards and nominations

*In 1962, guest star Ethel Waters was nominated [] for an Emmy Award in the category "Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Series" for her performance in the episode "Good Night, Sweet Blues". It was the first-ever Emmy nomination for an African-American actress [] .

*Also in 1962, George Maharis was nominated for "Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Series" (Best Actor) [] for his role as Buz.

*In 1963, the Writers Guild of America presented writer Larry Marcus with the "Best Episodic Drama" award for his screenplay for the episode "Man Out of Time".

Episode list

First season (1960-1961)

Fourth season (1963-1964)

DVD Release

On August 5, 2008, Infinity Resources Group released the complete first season of "Route 66" on DVD in Region 1 for the very first time. According to, the second season is scheduled to be released on October 21, 2008. [cite web |url= |title= Route 66: Season Two - Complete Season (8pc) |accessdate=2008-09-14 |work= |publisher= |date= ]

Cultural impact

* The series was lampooned in the April 1962 issue of "Mad" magazine. The parody, entitled "Route 67", followed the publication's established practice of irreverently satirizing current popular programs and motion pictures in comic strip format. The send-up features an appearance by the character Mary Worth, who chides the boys for trying to usurp her role as the nation's chief do-gooder.

* According to biographer Dennis McNally (Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, The Beat Generation, and America), Jack Kerouac tried to sue the show's producer Stirling Silliphant, claiming that it plagiarized his novel "On the Road", which also featured two buddies traveling America's byways in search of adventure. McNally said Kerouac was "appalled by the show's violence," but the lawyers he contacted convinced him that he could never win a lawsuit. (page 272, "Desolate Angel", McNally)

*"Route 66" was featured on the cover of "TV Guide" four times.

*In a 1963 episode of the popular situation comedy "Leave It to Beaver", the character Eddie Haskell obtains a summer job on an Alaskan fishing boat and likens himself to "the guys on "Route 66"." "Beaver" was at the time airing on the rival ABC network.

*In the "Alien Nation" episode "Gimmee, Gimmee", Albert gives Matt a vintage Corvette, whereupon the series theme by Nelson Riddle is heard.

*Actor Martin Milner toured the real Route 66 for the 2002 video production "Route 66: Return to the Road with Martin Milner".

*James Rosin, author of the book, "Route 66: The Television Series, 1960-1964" (2007), hosted a presentation about the television series at the September 2007 Mid atlantic nostalgia convention in Aberdeen, Maryland.


In 1993, "Route 66" was resurrected, albeit briefly. The "sequel" series followed the adventures of two friends, Nick Lewis (played by James Wilder) and Arthur Clark (Dan Cortese), one of whom (Lewis) had inherited a classic Corvette from his father, Buz Murdock. The new series lasted a total of four episodes on NBC before being cancelled.

External links

* [ Informative review of Route 66 Vol. 1, Part 1]
* [ Route 66 (1960) episode list on]
* [ Route 66 (1993) episode list on]
* [ The Martin Milner Archives] - fan site, with text of numerous articles about the series
* [ Martin Milner Fansite @] - includes detailed biography & TV/film credits
* - Route 66 on the TV-IV wiki
* [ The complete theme song for the series]

Further reading

* Rosin, James. "Route 66: The Television Series 1960-1964". The Autumn Road Company, Philadelphia. ISBN 0-9728684-2-9, ISBN 13: 978-0-9728684-2-6



* Actor interviews, aired on Nick at Nite, 1986
* Steinberg, Cobbit S. TV Facts. New York: Facts on File, 1980. ISBN 0-87196-312-4

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