Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Jake Frost
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Stanton Daily. Posted by Jake Frost
December 28, 1931
1960s - 1970s
Currently Known For:
Route 66 and Adam-12
“I was never a celebrity—just a working actor.” The first to admit that he never wanted to be a superstar in Hollywood, Martin Milner had a fairly decent career as an actor after making his acting debut at 16 years old in the 1947 film, Life with Father. He built his reputation over the next decade and enjoyed the height of his career in the 1960s and 1970s when he starred in popular television series like Route 66, from 1960 to 1964, and Adam-12, from 1968 to 1975. From there, he stuck with television and made appearances in Columbo, The Swiss Family Robinson, Fantasy Island and Murder, She Wrote before retiring in 1997 after his cameo opposite Dick Van Dyke in an episode of Diagnosis: Murder. Spending the next 18 years devoted to his wife, their four children and numerous grandchildren, Milner was 83 years old when he took his last breath at his home in Carlsbad, California on September 6, 2015.
Martin Sam Milner was born on December 28, 1931 in Detroit, Michigan where his mother was a dancer on the Paramount Theater circuit and his father was a constructor worker turned film distributor. With his parents constantly looking to advance their careers, they moved the family to Seattle, Washington before settling down in Los Angeles, California where Milner developed an interest in acting after participating in a few school productions. Honing his talents at the Cornish Playhouse where he was a member of the children’s theatre group, Milner’s dedication to acting inspired his father to hire an acting coach and an agent with Milner eventually landing his first acting gig in 1947 when he played John Day in Life with Father.
Graduating from North Hollywood High School in 1949, Milner snagged a minor role in the John Wayne flick Sands of Iwo Jima before he enrolled at the University of Southern California. He dropped out a year later to pursue acting full time and made his television debut in an episode of The Lone Ranger. Later cast in a recurring role on The Stu Erwin Show, Milner appeared in a handful of war flicks like Operation Pacific and Mister Roberts before serving time in the United States Army in the 1950s. Coincidentally, during his two-year stint in the army, he made sporadic appearances on the popular television series, Dragnet.
Discharged from the army in 1954, Milner found steady work as an actor with credits in The Life of Riley, Science Fiction Theatre, The Twilight Zone and Rawhide but didn’t truly see his career blossom until the 1960s when he was cast as Tod Stiles on the CBS series, Route 66. Spending the next four years traveling around the country for the show from 1960 to 1964, Milner’s longtime friendship with television producer and director Jack Webb paid off again in 1968 when Webb cast him as Officer Pete Malloy in Adam-12, which ran until 1975.
With Adam-12 keeping him too busy for the silver screen, Milner’s film credits dwindled but his television career blossomed with guest appearances in Columbo, The D.A and Emergency! After Adam-12 wrapped, he joined the cast of The Swiss Family Robinson as Karl Robinson and starred in a string of television films like Flood!, SST: Death Flight and Little Mo but failed to find the same level of success. Instead, he focused on staying busy and did exactly that with bit parts throughout the 1980s and 1990s in The Littlest Hobo, Fantasy Island, Airwolf, MacGyver, Life Goes On, RoboCop: The Series and Murder, She Wrote. Then, in 1997, he made his final television appearance in an episode of Diagnosis: Murder.
After retiring, Milner admitted that he never had the drive or the desire for stardom. “The really big stars have a drive that made them into superstars,” he said during an interview with The Toronto Star. “They can’t turn it off when they have that success. I certainly was not driven by a great dedication that made me succeed or else. It’s terrible, but it’s true.”
Despite his retirement, Milner wasn’t quite ready to throw in the towel and tried his hand at radio when, after years of being an avid fly fisherman, he hosted his own fishing program, “Let’s Talk Hook-Up,” on San Diego’s XETRA AM 690. Even hosting fishing trips through the show, he also paid tribute to his early success in Hollywood when he starred in the 1998 documentary, Route 66: Return to the Road with Martin Milner. Afterward, he settled down with his wife, singer and actress Judith Bess Jones, at their home in Carlsbad, California where he was often visited by his four children—Amy, Molly, Stuart, and Andrew—and his grandchildren until the family suffered a great tragedy in 2003 when Amy, Milner’s oldest daughter, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. A year later, she lost her battle to cancer in December 2004.
Milner stayed out of the spotlight for the next decade as his own health declined and, at 83 years old, took his last breath on September 6, 2015. Six days later, he was cremated and honored at a memorial service in Oceanside, California where his friends and family gathered alongside local law enforcement officials to celebrate his life—a tribute that certainly honored his legacy after decades of playing police officers and military men in film and television. Los Angeles’ Chief of Police, Charlie Beck, paid tribute to Milner’s work on Adam-12 saying, “He embodied the spirit of LAPD to millions of viewers. His depiction of a professional and tough yet compassionate cop led to thousands of men and women applying to become LAPD officers, including me.” Milner’s Adam-12 costar, Kent McCord shared the sentiment saying, “I had a long, long friendship with Marty and we remained friends up ‘til the end. He was one of the really true great people of our industry with a long, distinguished career—wonderful films, wonderful television shows, pioneering shows like Route 66. He was one of the great guys. I was lucky to have him in my life.”
With his legacy living on through his family and friends, we can’t help but remember Milner’s own perception of his career: “I have no complaints on any level. I’m pretty happy about the way everything turned out.” It certainly turned out well.