Martin Milner, who starred on TV on “Adam-12” with Kent McCord and, earlier, on “Route 66” with George Maharis, died Sunday night, Diana Downing, a representative for his fan page, confirmed. He was 83.
Milner was also known for his roles as a jazz guitarist in the brilliant 1957 film “Sweet Smell of Success” and in the 1967 camp classic “Valley of the Dolls.”
Milner began acting in movies while a teen, after his father got him an agent, first appearing in the 1947 classic “Life With Father.” The film starred William Powell and Irene Dunne, and thus Milner, along with his co-star Elizabeth Taylor, bridged the generations in Hollywood between the golden age and contemporary era.
He appeared as Officer Pete Molloy alongside Kent McCord’s Officer Jim Reed in NBC’s “Adam-12” from 1968-75. Molloy was the seasoned, savvy veteran bringing along Reed who was, at first, a rookie.
The innovative series had a more realistic quality than previous cop shows: The partners, on which the show narrowly focused, would patrol with no idea what they would encounter through the course of the day, and viewers got to witness the highs and lows in their lives.
Milner had a long association with Jack Webb, whose Mark VII Ltd. produced “Adam-12” and had produced “Dragnet” since 1951. After Webb and Milner met on the set of the movie “Halls of Montezuma” in 1950, Webb cast Milner in various roles on “Dragnet” in the early ’50s, first on radio and then when the crime drama transitioned to TV, where Milner appeared in six episodes of “Dragnet” from 1952-55.
Milner even appeared as a drummer in the Webb-directed 1955 feature “Pete Kelly’s Blues.” (The actor did not know how to play the guitar, so he was not really playing in “Sweet Smell of Success.”)
Webb later chose Milner to star in “Adam-12” and directed the pilot episode; as a producer, Webb liked to do crossover episodes between his various series for promotional purposes; Officers Molloy and Reed were introduced on episodes of “Dragnet” and also appeared on episodes of the brief Mark VII show “The D.A.,” starring Robert Conrad, as well as on “Emergency.”
“Route 66” ran on CBS from 1960-64, about a decade before “Adam-12” and resolutely not produced by Webb: Written and lensed across North America and inspired by the spirit of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” the series followed Milner’s Tod Stiles and George Maharis’ Buz Murdock as they traveled from town to town in a Corvette, exploring social issues and the changing cultural landscape.
As “Adam-12” ended in 1975, Milner transitioned smoothly to the Irwin Allen-produced series “Swiss Family Robinson,” in which he played the paterfamilias. When that series proved short lived, Milner went on to appear in a variety of TV movies; there was also a guest spot on “Police Story.”
In the 1989 TV movie “Nashville Beat,” Kent McCord (who had a story credit) and Milner reunited onscreen, with McCord as a cop from L.A. who visits Milner, a onetime LAPD officer who moved to Nashville and rose to captain. Together they fight a man behind increasing gang activity.
Also in the ’80s Milner guested on “Fantasy Island,” “Airwolf” and “MacGyver” (playing MacGyver’s father), among other shows. On “Murder, She Wrote” he appeared in five different roles between 1985 and 1996.
After his last visit with Jessica Fletcher, the actor appeared on “Diagnosis Murder” in 1997 and thereupon retired from the screen.
Back at the beginning of his career, the young, clean-cut Milner appeared in a number of war movies, including two with John Wayne, “Sands of Iwo Jima” and “Operation Pacific,” and one with Richard Widmark, “Halls of Montezuma.” (The actor did a sizable number of war movies, of varying quality, over the course of his film career.) But Milner also did a teen-centered comedy and a teencentric social-issues drama.
He got his start in television early in his career and early in the history of the medium, guesting on “The Lone Ranger” in 1950 and recurring on eight episodes of “The Stu Erwin Show” in 1950-51.
Milner moved between film and TV throughout the 1950s.
In 1951’s “I Want You,” starring Dana Andrews, Dorothy McGuire and Farley Granger, Milner’s character has been drafted for service in the Korean War, and his father pleads with Milner’s employer to declare the kid “indispensable,” which would mean he could continue working and avoid the fight. Milner’s employer, played by Andrews, refuses, and Milner’s character is later killed in action. Milner had not yet made it: Though his role (if not, perhaps, his performance) is central to the film, the New York Times did not mention him by name in its review.
The actor appeared in the film noir “The Captive City”; the comic fantasy “My Wife’s Best Friend,” starring Anne Baxter; and the Western “Springfield Rifle,” with Gary Cooper, to give a sense of the miscellany of assignments Milner was drawing in the early ’50s.
In 1955 he appeared in a small role in”Mister Roberts,” starring Henry Fonda, James Cagney and William Powell.
By 1956 the tide had turned for Milner: He was now doing more television than film, perhaps frustrated that he was still relegated to little more than bit parts in A pictures and had to rely on B pictures for somewhat more substantive supporting roles. Still, he had a couple of his most memorable film roles ahead of him.
In 1957 he appeared in two pictures starring Burt Lancaster. The first was “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” in which Milner played James, the youngest of the four Earp brothers (at least in the movie). The second was “Sweet Smell of Success,” a very different film in which Lancaster played a caustic New York columnist who’s inappropriately possessive of his sister, who becomes romantically involved with Milner’s jazz guitarist; Lancaster’s character stops at nothing to destroy this relationship. Milner finally turned in an impressive performance in an A picture, and even got his mention in the New York Times: “Marty Milner is sincere and believable as her indomitable romantic vis-a-vis.”
He subsequently had decent supporting roles in A pictures “Marjorie Morningstar,” starring Natalie Wood and Gene Kelly, and “Compulson,” starring Orson Welles, Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman. Reviewing the latter, the Times said, “Mention should be made, too, of Martin Milner’s restrained depiction of her fiance.”
Despite the success these newest film roles represented Milner was spending more and more of his time guesting on various TV series, and he seemed to decide that exploitation films would afford him more exposure. In 1960 he made two very silly, very bad movies with Mamie Van Doren and the horror film “13 Ghosts,” produced by William Castle. He was prominently featured in all of these.
But then “Route 66” changed the course of his career.
Martin Sam Milner was born in Detroit. Both his parents were in showbiz: His father was a film distributor, his mother a dancer.
Milner was a man of various interests. He tried Broadway in 1967 in brief-running “The Ninety Day Mistress.”
After he stopped acting, he co-hosted a radio show in Southern California, “Let’s Talk HookUp,” about freshwater and saltwater fishing, for a number of years. In the early 1970s he bought a 24-acre avocado farm where he lived with his family.
Survivors include Milner’s wife, Judith Bess “Judy” Jones, a former singer and actress to whom he had been married since 1957; daughter Molly; and sons Stuart and Andrew. Daughter Amy, who appeared in an episode of “Adam-12,” died of acute myeloid leukemia in 2004.