Sunday, November 07, 2010

Fairness to George, Part Three

George Maharis and me in a Denny's parking lot, 1986.
I received an email today from Rick Dailey of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, who is building an online location guide to the 1960-1964 television series Route 66. Recently he and another fan have been researching the circumstances of George Maharis's controversial departure from that show, looking into actual documentation from the time. Rick got in touch with me because I wrote a couple of posts on the subject several years ago, based on my 1986 interviews with Maharis and others. I still occasionally get feedback from people about the two "Fairness to George" posts, so apparently there is still interest in this 48-year-old controversy. I recently found a dot matrix printout of the Maharis transcript, from our 1986 interview at a Denny's in Las Vegas, so this seems like a good time to post a few excerpts.

First, here's the gist of the story. Route 66 was a television series about two guys (originally Martin Milner as Tod Stiles and George Maharis as Buz Murdock) driving around the country in the late-model Corvette Tod inherited from his father, taking odd jobs, meeting people and having adventures. Three things made it an amazing and groundbreaking series. First, it was filmed on location all over the country, from Oregon to Grand Isle, Louisiana. Second, it was primarilly written by one of the show's producers, Stirling Silliphant, who drove around the country ahead of the production crew, and wrote stories based in the places he visited. Silliphant had a unique, lyrical style that was unlike anything else on tv. Third, the two stars, aside from being young and hunky, were interesting and contrasting characters, well-played by Milner and Maharis. Tod was the largely soft-spoken, well-educated but now penniless son of a failed businessman, with a strong ethical sense. Buz was working class, a bit of a rebel, self-educated, passionate and articulate.

And then George Maharis got sick with hepatitis, and ended up leaving the show under a cloud. There were accusations that he was trying to break his contract to go make movies, just another big-headed star behaving badly. The unreported (at the time) undercurrent of the rift between the star and producer Herbert B Leonard was Leonard's belated discovery that Maharis was gay, with the potential scandal that such a fact might cause the show if it ever came out in the press. This was 1962 after all, decades before Ellen. He was replaced by Glenn Corbett as Linc Case in 1963, but ratings soon declined and the show was canceled in 1964.

Found! The Maharis transcript.

Now let's have a look at a few bits of the transcript, which I typed up tonight for Rick Dailey:
Maharis: Well, they made a mistake with Glenn. It was very funny, because I had never seen the shows that he was in. I was ill. And I don't know what they told you about that, but that was a lot of stupidity and miscommunication. Nobody talked to me about it. And I was the object of all this garbage.

We had been working in cold water. It was winter, and we were working out here in California. We went out to do a show at the Veteran's Hospital, and there was a shot with Steve Hill, and I had to go down to the bottom of a pool and get him. Well, the inside pool that they used there was ninety degrees. The pool that they actually shot was an outdoor pool, and it was forty degrees. And the stuntman, who was my double, couldn't get in the water. It was too cold. So I did it.
He goes on to say that he also worked in a river with Barbara Barrie, at night in 17 degree weather, and she had a wetsuit and he didn't. He got a cold, and they gave him a B12 shot, and he got hepatitis from the needle. Then he worked in the water off Catalina Island, and felt very ill. At that point he ended up in the hospital for a month. After that he says he returned to work too soon, working long hours for the next four months.
Maharis: ...and I was in really bad shape in St. Louis. And the doctor in St. Louis , who they had sent me to, said, "Get home. Now." And for some reason or other, they thought it was something to do with contracts. And the doctor said to me, in St. Louis--and it was their doctor--he said, "If you don't leave now, you're in serious trouble." And I left.

And by that time, it was ugliness. It didn't have to occur. It didn't have to happen. But for some reason or other, the people who were next to the people who were next to the people, talk to each other, and they don't know what the hell is going on. And nobody ever called me about it, and said, "Are you ill?" All of a sudden I started reading this shit in the paper [which said] I was trying to get out of my contract. Trying to get out of my contract? I was in New York; I thought I was dying.

And here is the last page of the 53-page transcript.
Karen: He [Milner] said that he felt that Tod was not anything like himself.

Maharis: He's wrong. From my perspective, he's wrong. Very much of Tod in him.

Marty's not as gregarious as [I am]. He's not as trusting. He's more suspicious. I'm suspicious, but I'm more vocal about it. He's suspicious, but he's hesitant about it. I don't know why. He's been successful in his career, and would think that he'd say what he wanted. See, I don't give a damn. I say what I want anyway. I figure, if they don't like it, too bad. Money doesn't make the difference of whether you can say it or not say it. I think everybody's got that right. The only thing is, you have to stand by it.

That's the best of it. here's also a rather good 2007 interview I found online tonight. Check it out here.

Update: I've had another email on the subject, and without going into specifics, I should state here that Maharis seems to have been more at fault in the circumstances of his departure than I ever suspected. The evidence would appear to indicate that (as usual) the truth is somewhere in between the claims made on each side, and possibly closer to the producer's side of the story than George's. For example, as producer Herbert B Leonard pointed out to us all those years ago, during the "three years" Maharis says it took him to recover from the hepatitis, he made at least three films, as well as recording sessions and singing appearances on tv. My guess, such as it is, is that Maharis felt he was well enough for these activities, but not for the more physically demanding work of an action-adventure tv series shot entirely on the road. What a shame; regardless of who was right and wrong and to what degree, the falling out between George Maharis and the makers of Route 66 cut short an astonishing run of literate, groundbreaking television, and left Maharis with a somewhat tarnished legacy.


See also:
Fairness to George, Part One

Fairness to George, Part Two


Aconitum-Napellus said...

Thank you for such a fascinating three part article and all the work you put into it. It was really interesting to read. I only discovered Route 66 a few months ago, and have fallen in love with it and George Maharis. Have you considered putting the whole of that 54 page interview online? I'd love to read it :-)

Phyllis Caldwell said...

Your articles are great. The recent release of the complete DVD set of Route 66 has brought back all the wonderful memories to us baby boomers. We'd all forgotten this show and the wonderful George Maharis. I wish someone would write more articles on him. There are so many new and old fans of Route 66 and George out there just like myself who are dying for more info! Thanks again for this great series of articles.

Anonymous said...

Thank you especially for part three. George showed up at a local mall, (a promoted appearance), soon after he left the show. He left the store without signing any autographs. That negative experience affects how I judge him. I'm sure he had hepatitis... but, he made movies even though the TV schedule was too grueling. I've read that movies start shooting early in the morning and continue until late at night. I think there is truth to both sides.

Anonymous said...

Also, I've read that George complained about everything... but the producer apparently "got even" with George by making him swim without a wetsuit in cold water during the episode that took place off of Catalina Island. The guest star wore a wetsuit covering her upper body at about the halfway point of that episode. They could have rewritten that, and other, episodes.