Martin Milner, who died Sunday evening at the age of 83, had an eclectic career that began in 1947 with the classic film “Life With Father.” He costarred in the acclaimed 1957 drama “Sweet Smell of Success” and achieved TV superstardom with George Maharis in CBS’ 1960-64 drama series “Route 66" and in NBC’s 1968-75 police procedural drama “Adam-12." Milner chatted with the L.A. Times’ Susan King in 1992 when he was guest starring in the ABC drama “Life Goes On” as a socialist book store owner.
Serious guy Martin Milner is letting his hair down for his latest role as Harris, a socialist bookshop owner on the ABC series “Life Goes On.” Literally.
“My hair is halfway down my back,” Milner said, laughing. “I am not doing the next three shows so I am getting my hair cut. My hair has taken on a life of its own.”
The veteran actor, who has appeared in such film classics as “Life With Father,” “The Sands of Iwo Jima” and “Sweet Smell of Success,” as well as the long-running 1960s TV series “Route 66" and “Adam-12,” is enjoying his recurring role on “Life.”
“I have always played such strait-laced conservatives,” he said. “Even on ‘Route 66' [in which he co-starred with George Maharis], I was the more conservative of the two characters. [On ‘Life’] I am kind of this mad socialist, really kind of a wild man who owns this bookstore-coffee shop where Becca (Kelli Martin) works.”
These days, Milner doesn’t enjoy working on “a run-of-the-mill everyday basis. But with this particular character, it’s a lot of fun because I haven’t done him before. It’s kind of a wonderful character for a guy who is kind of lazy and lives in San Diego. I drive into town and work one or two days.”
Milner was just 14 when he made his film debut as the middle son of William Powell and Irene Dunne in the 1947 comedy “Life With Father.” “I was never a child star,” he said. “I was just somebody who got two or three jobs before I was a young adult.”
He even stopped working at 16 because he was nearly 6 feet tall.
“No one wanted to hire me,” he said. “They could hire an 18-year-old and not have all the child-labor regulations.” At 17, Milner started lying about his age and began working steadily until he was drafted into the Army in 1952.
Six months before he was drafted, he became friends with actor-producer-writer Jack Webb of “Dragnet” fame when they made “The Halls of Montezuma.” During his two-year stint in the Army, Webb would give him work on the radio version of “Dragnet.”
“Whenever I could get a three-day pass and get home, even if he didn’t have a part for me, he would write one so I could make $75,” Milner recalled. Fourteen years later, Milner teamed up with Webb again as the star of the Webb-produced NBC police series “Adam 12,” which aired from 1968 to 1975.
Milner is best remembered on the small screen for “Route 66,” which aired on CBS from 1960 to ’64. He said he had no idea “Route” would become a cult series. “We knew it was a quality piece of work,” Milner said. “We didn’t know this sort of cult thing would happen. I guess if you live long enough, you become nostalgia.”
He said a lot of fans still recognize him from those two series.
“The older people stop me for ‘Route 66' and the younger, yuppie-types stop me for ‘Adam-12,’ ” he said.
Milner recently saw some of the old episodes of “Route 66.” A fan from Kentucky sent him all 116 episodes on tape for him to copy. “Some of them ... I had absolutely no recollection of making them,” he said, laughing. “It was like seeing them for the first time. We made 116 30 years ago. When you work and act a lot, you have the facility of putting the last thing you did out of your mind.”
“Life Goes On” airs Sundays at 7 p.m. on ABC . Repeats of the series air Mondays-Thursdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. on the Family Channel.