Destination: United States
Here’s your background music for this article: Nelson Riddle’s theme song for Route 66.
Just in time for your summer road trip planning–here’s a DVD set that inspires a trip across America. The whopper set of the 1960-1964 TV show, Route 66: The Complete Series, contains all four years of the show–24 discs–116 episodes–100 hours of viewing. Now you know that we love road trips around here–having spent more than a year of Wednesdays visiting every state in the U. S.
Good grief! Has it really been 50 years since naughty heart throb George Maharis (Buzz) and all-American, clean-cut, intellectual Martin Milner (Tod) teamed up with a Corvette convertible to tour America? Briefly, two guys set out in a Corvette to tour America, working along the way. The show’s episodes run the gamut from murder to mystery to family melodrama to slapstick farce and everything in between.
Unlike so many shows today, the episodes were filmed on location. Instead of using establishing shots (you know, St. Louis Arch, Grand Canyon, Chicago skyline) the whole production moved every week, making some very long working hours. That approach gives us a realistic look at iconic tourist scenes in the U.S., plus lots of little things you won’t see unless you’re actually on the road.
When I received the review set of Route 66, I started dipping in to see some of the famous guest stars. Although I’ll admit to being old enough to have watched the originals, I had forgotten a lot. Additionally, looking back on an era of entertainment (and life) reveals things you may not have noticed as important the first time around.
- An hour show on TV is a lot shorter today than an hour show in the sixties, because the commercials are longer and more frequent.
- The writing was more literary. Audiences were expected to appreciate the complexities of a script like “Welcome to the Wedding” in which the brooding actor Rod Steiger, playing a murderer, draws us into his philosophical discourse on the meaning of life without emotion.
- The settings, hairstyles and fashions are REALLY the early 1960′s, not just the meticulous recreations of Mad Men. That makes for some interesting comparisons that go beyond bouffant hair and narrow neckties.
- Just look how the pair of travelers pull those crisply ironed white shirts out of their limited luggage. None of today’s pack light–two pair of pants and two t-shirts
- The use of a Chevy Corvette for this show must be the best product placement ever dreamed up. While young women were panting over Maharis, and their mothers were wanting to mother Milner, the men were lusting after that set of wheels.
- Some of the guest stars are now considered legendary. People at the end of their career like Joe E. Brown and Buster Keaton, more known for silent films than TV, show us why they are classics when they appear together in the slapstick episode called “Journey to Nineveh” (typical of the interesting titles of episodes, by the way.)
- On the other hand, you’ll spot actors who were nobodies in the early 60′s and became household names. Ron Howard shows up as a cute little tyke in Opie days (on the Andy Griffith Show) and way before he became an award-winning director. Ed Asner plays a minor role in the show featuring Rod Steiger. But there are dozens and dozens more names you’ll recognize in these shows.
Because Tod and Buzz get jobs in each community they visit, we get acquainted with not just a tourist America, but with working class America–fishermen, farmers, factory workers. The sad thought strikes me that it would be impossible to replicate their journey exactly, because so many of those jobs are gone.
Maharis left during the third season, replaced by Glen Corbett as Linc. Corbett lacked the chemistry and the show ended after the fourth season. Milner and Maharis still live in Southern California, and you can learn more about the show from some interviews on line if you Google Maharis, although Milner has fewer interviews available. Interestingly, both of them, in separate interviews, picked a show from the first season as their favorite. It is called “Thin White Line,” and deals with LSD–then still unfamiliar to the TV audience.
I am totally hooked by this enormous collection–watching an episode or two each day. (Well, a girl’s gotta do something until Downton Abbey comes back, right?) And as I watch, I compile a list of places in the United States that I simply must see–and hope they are still there. However, be warned, the episodes did not happen in a sequence you could follow on a real road trip, and, surprise, very few of them actually took place along the actual Route 66.
(Extra materials on the DVD include commercials from the period– eliminated in the episodes themselves–and a look at the little sports car that everyone wanted.)
Links here to Amazon are affiliate links which means that even though it costs you no more, you’ll be supporting our work at A Traveler’s Library when you shop through those links. Thanks! Photo of Buz and Todd are from the Route 66 web site, courtesy of Shout Productions, who made the DVD set. Other photos are from Flickr and you can click on them to learn more about the photographers.
Have you taken a road trip on Route 66? Or across some other wide swath of America?