Updated below with a tribute from Milner’s Adam-12 costar and longtime friend, Kent McCord.
Martin Milner, the veteran actor best known for starring in the popular TV dramas Adam-12 and Route 66, has died. He was 83. The Los Angeles Police Department’s communications office confirmed his death in an Instagram post referring to his Adam-12 character that reads, “Pete Malloy, you are end of watch”:
Milner began his career in late 1940s, appearing in war films including the John Wayne starrers Sands Of Iwo Jima (1949) and Operation Pacific (1951) and Halls Of Montezuma with Richard Widmark and Jack Palance. In 1952, he made his first of several appearances on the TV version of Dragnet, the start of what would be a long small-screen relationship with writer-producer-actor Jack Webb. In 1954, Milner landed a regular role on the final season of sitcom The Stu Erwin Show, after we his career was focused in television.
Milner had supporting roles in a few more movies — including the star-packed pics Mister Roberts (1955), Sweet Smell Of Success (1957) and Gunfight At The O.K. Corral (1957) — before he began guesting in such late-’50s/early-’60s TV favorites as The Life Of Riley, Wagon Train and The Twilight Zone. In 1960, he landed a lead role in Route 66, in which he and George Maharis (and later Glenn Corbett) played young men traveling the U.S. in search of adventure. The CBS series lasted four seasons and 116 episodes and cemented the Detroit native as a TV regular.
But it his next starring role that would make Milner a star. Webb resurrected Dragnet for TV in 1967, and Milner was cast in a first-season episode as Pete Molloy, an LAPD officer who testified at a trial along with his rookie partner Jim Reed (Kent McCord). The next season, NBC launched Adam-12, for which co-creator Webb took a cue from Dragnet in using real stories from the LAPD files and spotlighting the mundane aspects of police work along with the interactions of partner cops. Molloy was the seasoned, stoical, confirmed-bachelor veteran paired with a fiery and green rookie Reed as they patrolled the street of Los Angeles. It wasn’t an instant hit, but Adam-12 finished Season 3 among the dozen top-rated primetime series. It ended the following 1971-72 season in top 10 and remained popular through its final season in 1975. A young Stephen J. Cannell was among its writers.
“He was one of the great guys in our industry, and one of the greatest friends and co-workers that anyone could imagine,” McCord told Deadline. “Our children were the same age and our families spent holidays together. He became one of my dearest and closest friends. He was a great human being.”
They had been friends for nearly 50 years – one of Hollywood’s longest running friendships. “I got a call from Marty’s son last night that he had passed away,” McCord said. “I saw him about three weeks ago, so it wasn’t a shocking surprise. He and I had a wonderful friendship for all these years. I knew him as a fan first from Route 66. Glenn Corbett, who was a friend of mine, replaced George Maharis on Route 66. I was cast first in Adam-12, and when he learned that Marty was going to be on Adam-12, he said, ‘You’re just gonna love this guy.’ And he wasn’t wrong.”
Their first encounter was in 1965 on the set of Gidget, the TV series, where Milner was guest starring and McCord was a young background player. Two years later, they were starring together on Adam-12, and remained friends ever since.
Before shooting the pilot for Adam-12, producer Bob Cinadar had them go on ride-alongs with LAPD officers, and one day they wound up together at the Van Nuys jail. “We were standing around at a staging area,” McCord recalled, “and Marty kind of yawned and said, ‘I can never sleep before I start one of these,’ and I thought, ‘Thank God. He’s not the only one.’ It immediately put me at ease. He was the consummate professional.”
On hiatus, sometimes the two friends would just take off and drive around the country together to promote the show. “If we went east, we’d rent a car and drive to the next appearance,” McCord laughed. “We’d call the NBC affiliate in Indianapolis and say we were coming to town and they’d put us on the morning news show. People would say, ‘You guys look like you like each other,’ and the truth of it is that we did. We had such a good time. We had a lot of fun together. I can’t say enough good things about him. I got so lucky.”
Milner returned to primetime the following season, starring as the patriarch in ABC’s adventure series Swiss Family Robinson. It lasted 20 episodes. He would continue to appear in telefilms and guest roles on such popular series as Police Story, Fantasy Island, MacGyver and an arc on Life Goes On. Milner also appeared in various roles in about a half-dozen episodes of the long-running mystery Murder, She Wrote.