September 9, 2015

Martin Milner, R.I.P.,
Judy Carne, R.I.P.

A confession: I was never a big fan of Martin Milner's two most famous roles, which is entirely different from not being a fan of Martin Milner the man.  The paths these two characters took, Tod Stiles on Route 66 and Pete Malloy on Adam-12, were almost inverse trajectories in my mind.

As Tod, the restless, educated young man roaming the country in search of adventure, romance and himself, Milner had a winning freshness about him, particularly when partnered with the rougher, more street-smart Buz Murdoch, played by George Maharis.  But there were always things about Tod - his over-eagerness to always get involved (i.e., meddling), his almost-Rousseauian conviction that life could be perfected - that would get on my nerves.  "Just walk away!" I would shout more than once, watching a particular episode or another.  "Don't get involved!"  Of course, he never took my advice - if he had, there might have been a lot of 10 minute episodes.  By the time Maharis was written out of the show, halfway through the third season, Tod had started to develop a chip on his shoulder: having to carry the series on his own, he became far too certain, for a man his age, that he absolutely knew what was right, far too quick to resort to his fists, often wound so tight that he seemed on the verge of hysteria.  When Glenn Corbett was introduced as Maharis' replacement, it was in an episode in which Tod's arrogance and pugnacity reached such heights that he was virtually a cartoon character.  It marked the first time I ever took a series that we watched every week and put it on indefinite hiatus.  That was two years ago, and it hasn't rejoined the schedule yet.  It will someday, but my Friday nights are just fine without Route 66.

A few years later, Adam-12 premiered, and unlike Route 66, I was able to watch this series in its original run.  Having had no past history with Milner, I had no reason to carry over any antagonism from the other series, and yet I found myself clearly not liking the character of Pete Malloy.  He was brusk, with an attitude that I found off-putting.  In those days I tended to side more with his partner, Kent McCord.  And yet as the series progressed, I found myself warming to Malloy - there was a good humor about him, a generosity of spirit, a benign patience with his partner that often mirrored the relationship between Dragnet's Joe Friday and his partners Frank Smith and Bill Gannon.* Though Malloy could still get on my nerves from time to time, I found him much more likable by the end of the series.

*No surprise, since the two shows were both created by Jack Webb.

I hasten to add that this is my opinion only; many fans of each show would disagree with me strongly on my negative takes.  And that's why I stressed from the very outset that there was a difference between Martin Milner's characters and Martin Milner himself.  He was an excellent actor, whether as a man who sees his double in The Twilight Zone or the very first murder victim on the very first episode of Columbo.  His reputation was always that of a consummate professional, on and off the set.  He was a devoted family man, married to the same woman for 58 years, and he brought his family with him on location during the run of Route 66 - impressive, since the show was on location, all over the country, every week.  And in virtually every role he played, he projected a trademark humanity (that picture at the top of the page is very fitting) that won him countless fans, all of whom mourn his death this week at 83.

***

If Adam-12 was at the law-and-order end of the cultural spectrum, Laugh-In was at the other end altogether, even though Mr. Law-and-Order himself, Richard Nixon, was a guest on the first show.  Laugh--In projected the anarchy and flower-power of the '60s that would have been the bane of many a social conservative, and nobody exemplified that spirit better than one of the undeniable faces of the show, Judy Carne.

"Sock it to me" - is there anyone of an age that doesn't remember that line, or the girl that made it famous?  And sock it to Judy Carne they would: doused with water, hit with a board, dropped through a trap door.  It doesn't say much for the progressiveness of the show that it held such an attitude toward women (besides the physical pummeling, the only other thing they were good for was dancing in skimpy bikinis), but as I've often said, it does no good to view one age through the lens of another.

I watched Laugh-In when it was on, partly because it was the thing to do, partly because it was the only thing on television for that first year I lived in The World's Worst Town™.  It would be an exaggeration to call it a favorite of mine; in fact, one of my few fond memories of it is that a stage version of the show was one of the choices we had when it came time to do our Senior Class play.*

*Sample line: "Dan: I have a brother who plays the piano by ear.  Dick:  That's nothing.  I have an uncle who fiddles with his navel."  I would have played either Dan or Dick had the administration allowed us to choose that play.  Needless to say, they didn't.  Needless to say, I would have loved it.

Laugh-In wasn't Carne's first television series; that would have been Fair Exchange, with Lynn Loring, followed by Love on a Rooftop, an ahead-of-its-time sitcom in which she co-starred with Peter Duell.  Nor was it her first brush with fame; that would probably have been her brief marriage to Burt Reynolds, who doesn't come off looking too well in Carne's account.  But Laugh-In was what she became known for, and sadly, it was probably the height of her career.  Poor health, a long history of problems with drugs and the law, and an unhappy life would plague her for years after,   It might best be summed up by a Los Angeles Times reviewer who, reviewing her autobiography Laughing on the Outside, Crying on the Inside, wrote "And, finally, after those celebrities have sold every used-up comedy line, or discount-shoe, or 15-minute stint on a cable talk show, or two-minute cameo appearance,” one Los Angeles Times reviewer wrote, “they go into their Emotional Ready Reserve, and — drawing on resources they never even legitimately had — sell the very last things in their lives: their memories and fabrications."

It's never fun reading something like that.  A friend said she was pretty much a recluse her last few years, and one can only hope that there she might have found some modicum of the peace that she had missed for so long.  She died this week at 76, leaving her demons, at least in this world, behind.

4 comments:

  1. This classic TV blog beat is just going to get sadder and sadder, isn't it?

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    1. We are starting to lose the icons the 70s..it hurts to hear of their passings..

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    2. We are starting to lose the icons the 70s..it hurts to hear of their passings..

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    3. Tell me about it. Talk about feeling old...

      And one thing it does, surprisingly (at least to me), is it instills in me a brief sense of anxiety. There are so many actors and actresses out there (and other people as well, authors and public figures) who have really meant something to me, and sometimes I want to be able to reach out and let them know about that. And as they die off, I realize I'm not going to get that chance. I always say that many of these people are more accessible than one might think, but I don't seem to have the wherewithal to do anything about it! Did you know, for example, that Dorothy Malone lives only a few miles from me?

      At least I've got an autographed picture of Dawn Wells, but that's primarily because she's still got her health and energy. How many others have that, and how long before they begin to dwindle away as well?

      On the other hand, not to get too down about it all, we still have their work, and that's always going to bring us pleasure!

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