The cover story is on George Maharis, one-half of the duo roaming the highways on CBS's Route 66, one of the more existential programs on TV. The profile, by TV Guide's favorite journalist-psychoanalyst Richard Gehman, is pretty much what you'd expect; he starts out by gently mocking Maharis as one of what he calls "The Method Creatures," along with Marlon Brandow, Paul Newman, Ben Gazzara "and several other mumbling types." Maharis is a man with a voracious appetite for life - his friend Inger Stevens compares him to a coiled spring - and relies on instinct for most of his acting chops. "I never learn lines," he tells Gehman, "somewhere along the line I make a connection, I come to something I feel, and then I put my finger on it, and that's it."
Maharis says he lacks discipline as an actor; Gehman says that isn't all he lacks, and goes on to ridicule some of his other abilities ("When Maharis gets angry before the TV cameras, he resembles a young monkey eating a lobster."), but this makes no difference to his many female fans, women being what they are, you know. He is now one of America's "foremost symbols of sex in the raw," but as for that rebellious streak promised in the title? Maharis, as he himself admits, "is fundamentally insecure. He is a nonconformist not simply because he hates organized society; he is one because he feels he has to protect himself."
What the article doesn't address, and can't because Maharis has yet to leave the show, is how underrated he and his character, Buz Murdock, were to the success of Route 66. The show's premise, for any of you unfamiliar with it, is a deceptively simple one: Buz and his friend, Tod Stiles (Martin Milner), travel the roads of America in a Chevy Corvette willed to Tod by his father after his death. The contrast between the two couldn't be more clear: Tod, college-educated and born to money; Buz, an orphan from the wrong side of the streets. Through the run of the series these two go from odd job to odd job, looking for adventure and romance along the way while they wait to run into the one true thing that will cause either of them to settle down and leave the road. At first, I found Tod the more persuasive of the two: quieter, more reasonable, less of - well, a rebel. But as time went on, Buz began to assert his own appeal. Without question, Maharis was a dynamic, charismatic actor, and while his temper often caused him to jump in where angels fear to tread, over the course of the series he also begins to display a healthy cynicism that provided a welcome contrast to Tod's youthful idealism and desire to change the world. They both had their flaws, but the street smarts of Buz began to outweigh the book smarts of Tod - and those smarts also begin to rub off on Tod as well, (judging by the number of fights he gets into after Buz leaves), unless that's just a case of lazy writing.
|Milner (L) and Maharis|
The fact is, Route 66 badly needed Maharis, no matter how much trouble he might have been, and it badly needed Buz Murdock. Had Linc Case (Corbett's character) displayed similar traits to Buz, Maharis' absence might not have been so pronounced; as it is, the viewer is often left wishing there was someone around - anyone - to knock some sense into Tod's head, to tell him that it is time for them to cut their losses and get out of town fast.
Because of this, anyone who watches Route 66 is, by the end of the series, almost compelled to become a fan of Maharis'; it truly is a case of absence making the heart grow fonder. Maharis was never able to replicate the fame that he achieved through Route 66, but his performance in an iconic series is still more than most working actors will ever accomplish. Had he continued on through the remainder of the show's run, however long that might have been, Route 66 would have been a far superior show than it is. In contrasting his character to that of Martin Milner, one finds out just how essential he was to the show. Remove Tod, and you remove the premise. Remove Buz, on the other hand, and you remove the heart, the passion of the show. Of the two, I think that is the quality most difficult to replicate.
The other dynamic, difficult star in question is Vincent Edwards, the dark, brooding anti-hero of ABC's medical drama Ben Casey. While Edwards is a prime attraction for many of the same reasons as Maharis, his penchant for disrupting the set is fast becoming a legend, according to Henry Harding's "For the Record" feature. He's demanding a substantial raise (from $1,750 to $7,500 per episode, which would amount to nearly $60,000 a shot today), plus 25% ownership in the show, and a $300,000 loan from Bing Crosby Productions to finance his own production company. The series creator, James Moser, doesn't think this is out of line; "After all, an actor is like a ballplayer, and only has so many years." When you depend on your virile good looks, that is.
Edwards predicts a new deal will work out, and that he'll soon be back "listening impatiently while kindly old Dr. Zorba reads lines," and part of that is true. Edwards does come back, but Sam Jaffe, the veteran actor and consummate pro who played Zorba, would eventually leave, unable to put up any longer with Edwards' lack of professionalism and gambling addiction. Mark Rydell, one of the show's directors, would later talk about Edwards' gambling problem: "He used to come to the set with 20 or 30 thousand dollars in packets and he would say, ‘You gotta get me out by 11, I’m going to the track. So I might have 10 scenes with him in various places with other people, and suddenly I would have to go and do all of his coverage in those scenes so that he could leave.” His addiction was so obvious, though, that Edwards remained popular with most of the cast and crew, who felt pity for him more than anger. He died in 1996, his life, says Stephen Bowie, "a shambles."
The series ends in 1966, and although he'll make another try at a medical series with Matt Lincoln (as well as a failed pilot to reboot Casey), Vince Edwards will never again approach the heights he reached as Ben Casey.
Ah, I love running across items like this: a look at 10-year-old Richard Thomas, future star of The Waltons, but right now appearing in the children's adventure show 1, 2, 3, Go! in which he travels on a flying carpet with Today veteran Jack Lescoulie on adventures "from Alaska to Cape Canaveral; from California to the Virgin Islands; from New London, Conn., to London, England."
It won't be the last time Richard Thomas appears in the pages of TV Guide.
The National Association of Broadcasters met in Chicago for their annual convention last week, at which there was yet more sparring between Leroy Collins, head of the NAB, and Newton Minow, chairman of the FCC. I'm sure this will be the subject of intense discussion Saturday night on Irv Kupcinet's At Random (11:30 p.m., WTCN), which includes not Collins and Minow, but Desi Arnaz, Rhonda Fleming, NAB board chair Clair McCollough, and Leonard Reinsch, Radio-TV adviser to the Democratic National Committee. A wonder that 90 minutes would be big enough to hold it all.
Sunday is Passover, and Metropolitan Opera tenor Jan Peerce is one of the guests on CBS's Passover special Open Door (9:00 a.m.), while at noon Eternal Light (KSTP) presents Morton Wishengrad's fantasy "The Tender Grass," with Broadway star Marian Seldes and veteran actor Sam Wanamaker. In the role of Elijah is Martin Brooks, who played Dr. Rudy Wells in the Six Million Dollar Man/Bionic Woman series. It's also Palm Sunday, and Hallmark Hall of Fame (5:00 p.m., NBC) repeats last year's color special "Give Us Barabbas!", starring James Daly as the infamous criminal, Kim Hunter as Mara, and Dennis King as Pilate. Later in the evening (7:30 p.m., to be precise), NBC presents a Project 20 special "He Is Risen," a sequel to the network's acclaimed Christmas special "The Coming of Christ," with Alexander Scourby narrating while the "stills-in-action" technique shows great works of art by El Greco, Velazquez, Rembrandt, and others.
On Monday, Malachy McCourt, the younger brother of author Frank McCourt and an author in his own right as well as actor, plays a reprobate cousin of Cha Cha on Surfside 6 (8:00 p.m., ABC), but I think I'd favor Jonathan Winters' appearance on I've Got a Secret (9:30 p.m, CBS), with Merv Griffin sitting in for vacationing Bill Cullen as one of the panelists.
Dr. Reuben K. Youngdahl, who appears weekday mornings on WCCO, hosts a primetime special Wednesday, The World and Its People, (6:30 p.m.) talking about Israel's fight for independence. He includes slides and films which, I suspect, he may have taken himself. At 7:30 p.m. on NBC, Perry Como welcomes Jane Morgan, Kukla and Ollie (with Burr Tillstrom), and the St. Monica Children's Choir to his Kraft Music Hall Easter show. Then, the infamous Keefe Brasselle is one of the stars of "The Go-Between" on The U.S. Steel Hour. (9:00 p.m., CBS)
Thursday is devoted to guest stars: Cliff Robertson on The Outlaws (6:30 p.m., NBC), Jayne Mansfield on Tell it to Groucho (8:00 p.m., CBS), and David Niven and DeForest Kelley on Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre (8:30 p.m., CBS), while Joey Bishop is the guest host this week on The Tonight Show (10:30 p.m., NBC) while the network waits for the arrival of Johnny Carson; the show comes from Hollywood this week, with Woody Herman's orchestra as the house band.
On Good Friday, WCCO carries The Stations of the Cross from St. Olaf (8:30 p.m.), taped earlier today. You'll remember me mentioning this last week when WCCO carried it for Good Friday 1960. Also at 8:30 (NBC), Dinah Shore presents highlights taken from two shows filmed in Europe last year; her guests include Charles Boyer, Ingemar Johansson (probably while he was heavyweight champion), and members of the Royal Danish Ballet.
Ah, there's a lot more we could look at this week, including an article on how librarians report that television has helped encourage Americans to read. Of course they do - they read TV Guide!