For a 10-year old boy, the 1960s TV show, Route 66, had everything — a two-seat convertible sports car that took two cool guys all over the U.S. I wanted to be one of the guys in that Corvette, with the wind in my hair, not a care in the world, tooling around the country looking for my place in it. Now, 60 years later, I can relive the memories and the shows.
For a 10-year old boy living in a small Pennsylvania town, the 1960s TV show, Route 66, had everything to feed my fertile imagination — a two-seat convertible sports car that took two young men to cities and towns all over the U.S.
I wanted to be one of the guys, Tod Stiles or Buz Murdock, in that Chevrolet Corvette, with the wind in my hair, not a care in the world, tooling around the country looking for my place in it, and finding drama and adventure in every episode.
Oh how I wondered what would fill my windshield as I grew up, what was around the bend or over the next hill.
And so every week I watched Route 66 to see where that little Corvette with the luggage rack on the back would take Tod and Buz and what they would experience when they got there.
It was new television then, the premise of two guys in their 20s on a quest, going from place to place in a fast car. Each episode, all in black and white, had a completely different cast and story line and was filmed entirely in whatever location the writers could cook up. That had never been done on television before. People, their accents, livelihoods, ethnic backgrounds and attitudes varied widely from one location to the next.
When the show was shooting in Youngstown, Ohio, a reporter from the CBS affiliate there, WKBN, got an interview with the stars as they pulled up in their Corvette.
The show screamed cool to the 10-year me. The guys were cool, the ’60s lingo they laid down was cool, even the catchy theme song by Nelson Riddle was cool.
I’d forgotten about Route 66 until recently when I spied an episode on YouTube, which led to a few more.
The car was still as cool as it was 60 years ago, and Tod and Buz were still as cool as they were so many years ago, a feat few of us can say is true about ourselves.
Route 66 aired on CBS for 116 episodes from 1960 to 1964. Martin Milner played Tod Stiles, a Yale graduate, from a privileged background. But when his dad dies and his business goes bankrupt, the only thing left to Stiles is the new Corvette.
George Maharis is Buz Murdock, an orphan from the streets of New York.
Stiles is clean-cut and educated; Murdock’s darker, hipper. Murdock’s character so resembled Jack Kerouac in his book, On the Road, that the author contemplated a lawsuit.
In the third season, George Maharis contacted hepatitis and was replaced by another actor.
The episodes were generally wrapped around whoever was guest-starring that week, and many of the guest stars went on to be famous in TV or the movies. Lee Marvin, Ed Asner, Inger Stevens, Robert Duvall, Robert Redford, Walter Matthau, Rod Steiger, Soupy Sales, Cloris Leachman, James Caan, James Coburn, Alan Alda and Joan Crawford are just a few.
Ethel Waters won an Emmy Award, the first by an African American actress, for her role as a blues singer who convinces Tod and Buz to get her old band back together before she dies.
One episode took place near Harrisburg, not far from that little town where I lived.
Another episode, I’m Here to Kill a King, which was scheduled to air on Nov. 29, 1963, the week of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, was so controversial the airing was pushed back until 1964.
Over time, that 10-year old boy grew up to have a few cool convertibles of his own and got to see some of the places, big and small, like Grand Isle, La., which Tod and Buz visited in their little black and white Corvette.
You can find many episodes in chronological order by clicking here.
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