Martin Sam Milner (December 28, 1931 – September 6, 2015) was an American film, stage, radio and television actor. Milner is best known for his performances in two popular television series: Route 66, which aired on CBS from 1960 to 1964, and Adam-12, which aired on NBC from 1968 to 1975.
Milner was born on December 28, 1931, to film distributor Sam Gordon Milner and Paramount Theater circuit dancer Mildred (née Martin) in Detroit, Michigan. The family left Detroit when he was a young child and moved frequently before settling in Seattle, Washington, by the time he was nine. There he became involved in acting, first in school, and then in a children’s theater group at the Cornish Playhouse.
When Milner was a teenager, he moved with his family to Los Angeles where his parents hired an acting coach and later an agent for him. Milner had his first screen test and began his film career with his debut in the 1947 film Life with Father in the role of John Day, the second oldest son of Clarence Day played by William Powell. Less than two weeks after filming for that film ended in August 1946, Milner contracted poliomyelitis. He recovered within a year and had bit parts in two more films before graduating from North Hollywood High School in 1949. He immediately landed a minor role in the film Sands of Iwo Jima starring John Wayne. He also had a role in Richard Fleischer‘s Compulsion, featuring Orson Welles.
He had several more roles, both minor and major, in war films in the 1950s, including another John Wayne picture called Operation Pacific in 1951 and Mister Roberts with Henry Fonda, James Cagney and Jack Lemmon in 1955. On the set of Halls of Montezuma in 1950 he met and befriended actor Jack Webb. Soon thereafter, he began intermittent work on Webb’s radio series, Dragnet.
Milner attended the University of Southern California where he studied theater. He dropped out after a year in the fall of 1950 to concentrate on acting. He made his first television appearance in 1950 as a guest star in episode 28 titled “Pay Dirt” on The Lone Ranger. That same year, he began a recurring role as “Drexel Potter” on the television sitcom The Stu Erwin Show.
In 1952, Milner began a two-year stint in the United States Army. He was assigned to Special Services at Fort Ord on California’s Monterey Bay Peninsula, where he directed training films. He also emceed and performed in skits in a touring unit show to entertain the soldiers. Milner was encouraged by fellow soldier David Janssen to pursue an acting career when his time in the Army ended. He also served at Ft Ord at the same time as future actors Clint Eastwood and Richard Long. While in the Army, Milner continued working for Jack Webb, playing “Officer Bill Lockwood” (briefly the partner of “Sgt. Friday”) and other characters on the Dragnet radio series on weekends. He also appeared on six episodes of Webb’s Dragnet television series between 1952 and 1955.
After his military service ended, Milner had a recurring role on The Life of Riley from 1953 to 1958. He also made guest appearances on numerous television shows including episodes of The Bigelow Theatre, The Great Gildersleeve, TV Reader’s Digest, Science Fiction Theatre, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, NBC Matinee Theater, The West Point Story, The Twilight Zone (episode: Mirror Image) and Rawhide. Milner also acted in films, the most notable of which are The Long Gray Line (1955), Mister Roberts (1955), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), as jazz guitarist Steve Dallas in Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Marjorie Morningstar (1958), Compulsion (1959) and 13 Ghosts (1960).
In 1960, Milner won the role of Tod Stiles in the CBS television series, Route 66, from 1960 to 1964. Created by Stirling Silliphant, Route 66 is essentially about two regular, but distinctly different young men in a car touring the United States.
After the sudden death of his father left him unexpectedly penniless, Tod traveled across the United States in a Chevrolet Corvette, taking a variety of odd jobs along the way and getting involved in other people’s problems. Tod’s traveling partner on his escapades was his friend Buz Murdock, a former employee of his father’s played by George Maharis. During the series’ third season, Milner got a new co-star as Glenn Corbett was brought in to replace Maharis. Tod’s new traveling partner was Lincoln “Linc” Case, an Army veteran who had a dark past, and Corbett remained in the role for the remaining season and a half.
Route 66 was a different sort of television program, as the travels of Tod and his traveling partners were shot on location. Thus, Milner spent nearly four years traveling the country for the series, sometimes taking his wife and children along.
Milner and Webb had a long-established working relationship by the time it came to cast Adam-12. Milner appeared in numerous episodes of both the radio and television versions of the seminal Jack Webb series Dragnet. Milner had also worked with Webb in the 1950 film Halls of Montezuma and the 1955 film Pete Kelly’s Blues. This led to the role for which Milner is best known.
In 1968, Milner returned to television as seven-year LAPD veteran uniform patrol Officer Peter Joseph “Pete” Malloy in the Jack Webb-produced police drama, Adam-12. Kent McCord played his partner, rookie Officer James A. “Jim” Reed. The popular NBC series ran from 1968 to 1975. Like Webb’s Dragnet, it was based on real Los Angeles Police Department procedures and cases. It was hailed for its realistic, positive portrayal of ordinary police officers.
Milner was Webb’s hands-down choice for “cop behind the wheel” Pete Malloy, in part because his relative youth and prior acting credits and because of his on-camera driving experience from his days on Route 66.
After Adam-12 Martin Milner starred as Karl Robinson in a television series version of The Swiss Family Robinson (1975–1976), produced by Irwin Allen. Most of his following work was as a television guest star, most notably in action-adventure series MacGyver (as James MacGyver, MacGyver’s father), Airwolf, Life Goes On , Murder, She Wrote and RoboCop: The Series. In 1983, Milner hosted a morning radio wake-up show on AM 600 KOGO, San Diego.
Milner also has the distinction of having portrayed the victim in the premiere episode of Columbo titled “Murder by the Book.” In 1990, Milner re-teamed with Kent McCord, his co-star from Adam-12, in the cable TV-movie Nashville Beat (1990), originally shown on the now-defunct The Nashville Network. The story, partly written by Kent McCord, had McCord as an LAPD detective who teams up with his old partner, Milner, in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1992, he guest starred on five episodes of ABC’s Life Goes On. After retiring from acting, Milner co-hosted a radio show about fishing called “Let’s Talk Hook-Up” on San Diego-area sports station XETRA AM 690 (now XEWW).
In May 1956, Milner met singer and actress Judith Bess Jones at a Hollywood dinner party. They were married on February 23, 1957, in Waukegan, Illinois. They had four children together: Amy, Molly, Stuart and Andrew.
In February 2003, Milner’s eldest daughter Amy, who appeared in an episode of Adam 12, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. She died in December 2004.
On September 6, 2015, Milner died of heart failure at his home in Carlsbad, California, at the age of 83. His memorial service was held by Law Enforcement and community members in Oceanside, California six days later.