Like Stiles and Murdock on Route 66May 31, 2022 03:17PM ● By Geno Lawrenzi Jr.
The year was 1960. I was an aspiring journalist and writer living in Phoenix, Arizona. And two creative television producers came up with a new TV series called “Route 66.”
The series was about two good-looking young guys who traveled around the U.S. in a blue Corvette, looking for adventure, romance and jobs, and came closer to telling the story of America in the 1960s than any other television series in history. The characters, blonde-haired Todd Stiles and dark-haired Buz Murdock, were a couple of free-spirited hippies that many viewers felt were loosely based on the characters Jack Kerouac created for his best-selling novel, “On The Road.” The TV series upset Kerouac so much that he actually considered filing a lawsuit against the television producers. The suit was never filed and the successful series produced 116 shows that ended in 1965.
The show really hit home for my brother John and me. Both of us followed the episodes which were shot on location around the country. The plots followed my own life so closely it was almost uncanny. I would move from state to state working on location, while Stiles and Murdock, played by Martin Milner and George Maharis, would find jobs in a California winery, on a Maine shrimp boat, on an offshore oil rig and in small towns that dotted the American landscape.
I used to love the plots that the show’s creators Herbert B. Leonard and Stirling Silliphant crafted. Silliphant wrote nearly all the shows for the series, which usually depicted Maharis or Milner getting involved with a local beauty, or hanging around town until their Corvette could be repaired, or something darkly dangerous trapping them there until they figured their way out of a situation.
Silliphant would often throw guest stars into his plot. During its four-year run, the show featured Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, James Caan, Joan Crawford, Ben Johnson, Jack Lord, Lee Marvin, Walter Matthau, Robert Redford, Rod Steiger, Rip Torn and Tuesday Weld.
And who could forget the show’s theme song played by Nelson Riddle? It was glorious. It made you want to travel.
My brother and I were living in Phoenix when we somehow became owners of a small but racy British sports car. We owned the BMW for about six months and drove it around the Grand Canyon State to places like Show Low, Payson and Tucson.
We played the parts of carefree young men on the prowl and the local beauties loved it. When we stopped at an A&W root beer stand in one small town, two local girls in shorts came up to our car and asked if we raced it. We told them a wonderful fabricated story I’m sure they didn’t believe.
I actually met Martin Milner when he stopped in Phoenix to do some production work. He had ended “Route 66” and was starring in “Adam-12”. He was very gracious and talked about the former series with warmth and affection for his co-star Maharis. I asked him the color of the Corvette since the series was filmed in black and white.
“We had several different Corvettes that we used, but it was generally light blue,” he said with a laugh.
That got me thinking. Maybe I could create a TV series about two poker players who traveled around the country in a sports car—say a red Corvette or a black BMW—and they could be broke in Las Vegas trying to raise enough cash to enter a poker tournament at Binion’s Horseshoe or The Orleans Casino. Yeah, that would work.