On the Road with Route 66

by Guy Belleranti
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In the early 1960's television traveled the U.S. and Route 66 through the dramatic series Route 66. The hour long program began in the fall of 1960 on CBS. 116 episodes were produced over the series' run.

For the first two and one half years Route 66 followed the travels of Tod Stiles and Buz Murdock, played respectively by Martin Milner and George Maharis. Stiles had led a fairly sheltered life and had a college degree. Murdock, meanwhile, had no college education and had grown up in Hell's Kitchen.

But as the program begins Stile's father has died virtually pennyless. His only asset, a Corvette convertible, passes to Tod. It is in this car that Tod and Buz hit the road searching for a new place to put down roots. Along the way they meet up with adventure, trouble, romance and more.

This wasn't the typical TV program. Indeed, much of the series was filmed along Route 66 in gritty black and white. And parts that weren't filmed on Route 66 were still done on location in other places of the U.S. and, in a few instances, in Canada or Mexico.

People came and went episode by episode as Tod and Buz traveled Route 66, continually encountering new accents, livelihoods, ethnic groups, etc. – the flavor of America. The episodes themselves featured great character studies and moody, dark subjects.

Socially conscious stories included those revolving around a heroin addict, a runaway, a Nazi hunter, a dying jazz singer, migrant farm workers and so on.

In the latter part of the third season Milner's Tod Stiles had a new traveling partner, Lincoln (Linc) Case, played by Glenn Corbett. Linc was a Vietnam War vet searching for new direction in his life. Linc remained through the fourth and final year, with Maharis' Buz Murdock never returning.

Besides the on location shooting and socially conscious stories several other things also stood out on Route 66.

One of course was the Corvette. Another was the instrumental theme song by Nelson Riddle. In fact the song became a pop hit.

The majority of the episodes were written by Stirling Silliphant, the same man who wrote the screenplays for such motion pictures as In the Heat of the Night and The Poseidon Adventure.

Finally, a number of both fading stars and rising newcomers were featured as guest stars on Route 66.

A few of them were: Peter Lorre, Rod Steiger, James Caan, Robert Redford, Inger Stevens, Diane Baker, Buster Keaton, Boris Karloff, Walter Matthau, Ethel Waters, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall and Lee Marvin.

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