Route 66 News

Why did George Maharis leave “Route 66”?

Karen Funk Blocher, a published author, had done years of research during the 1980s about the “Route 66” television show. She was going to write a book about the ’60s show and its involvement with the true Mother Road, but the project was eventually abandoned.

One of the reasons the book was never finished was because Blocher said she was in a “moral quandary” about it over explaining co-star George Maharis‘ departure from the show. Blocher is coming clean about this on her Outpost Mavarin blog.

In essence, Maharis told her he had contracted hepatitis, and that the shoots were so grueling that to continue would risk his health. He wanted the producers to give him a less arduous schedule, but refused. So he left the show.

Producer Herbert B. Leonard provided a different story. According to Blocher, Leonard found out that Maharis was gay, and was having a hard time keeping his co-star’s sexual activities away from the press. Maharis also used the illness, Leonard said, as an excuse to break his contract so that he could get into movies. Co-star Martin Milner and a “Route 66” writer-producer also agreed with Leonard’s version.

Blocher suspects the truth is somewhere in the middle, and I concur. I admit this is the first time I’ve heard the homosexual angle regarding Maharis’ departure. I’ve seen Milner at least a couple times at Route 66 events, and he’s never mentioned this. But a Google search of “George Maharis” and “gay” will leave little doubt what his sexual orientation is, including documentation of sex-related arrests in 1967 and 1974.

I find it a little ironic that a socially progressive show like “Route 66,” which dealt with  race and labor issues, didn’t take the high road with one of its co-stars. Then again, this was before the Stonewall uprising that sparked the gay-rights movement

Blocher promises to write more about this subject, as she closes her post with “To be continued.”  So stay tuned.


21 thoughts on “Why did George Maharis leave “Route 66”?

  1. Karen Funk Blocher

    Oops! I forgot to write the second half of this piece until I happened upon your entry tonight. Here it is:
    Fairness to George, Part Two

    I agree that it is odd that such a hip, progressive show would treat one of its stars so badly on the basis of his sexual orientation. But as you point out, 1962-1963 was a very different time. And of course that was only a contributing factor. The main problem was that Maharis was a bit too loud in his complaints, and the producers did not consider the possibility that at least some of Maharis’s complaints and demands were truthful and justified. If both sides had handled tthings better, George Maharis’s career might never have crashed and burned as it arguably did, and the show might have lasted another couple of years..

    1. Brenda

      But someone else (and his name fails me right at this moment!) was placed in that role as Milner’s co-star, another hunk with black hair and dark eyes – very handsome man just as Maharis is – so the show DID continue, right? Or was that just to finish out Maharis’ contract? I watched Route 66 just a couple of nights ago with the new co-star and (dang it!) I can’t call his name! Of course I’m old enough that I watched the original shows every week with Milner and Maharis, but I remember that at least on the show, Maharis had a huge temper problem that “Todd Stiles” was always trying to help him keep in check. Loved that show!

  2. John Williams

    I met George Maharis for coffee in the summer of 1983 in Edmonton Alberta. He was performing in a production of Neil Simon’s I Ought To Be In Pictures.

    I was 27-years-old at the time, high school graduate and two years of university to my credit. I was also unemployed and basically still searching in my life.

    I yearned to be an actor and George encouraged me to follow my heart through the community theater.

    Since 1983, I have done 27 plays in the community and local dinner theater, gone back to school and earned a college diploma in Radio, Television, Journalism Arts and now work for a sports publication in Buffalo, New York.

    I also studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City in the summer of 2001.

    I am presently doing a play this summer in Southern Ontario to raise awareness for Post Partum Depression.

    It’s amazing what my chance encounter with George Maharis did for me. He encouraged me like no high school coach ever did and gave me a wonderful sense of direction to my life.

    Thanks George
    Your friend for life,

    John Williams
    Fort Erie, Ontario
    [email protected]

    1. bren

      John, I am SO excited for you, that you have all these activities to your credit in your life! I SINCERELY hope that you keep this momentum going the rest of your life and that God gives you a long, safe, happy life. Consider me an adopted grandmother!!

    2. bren

      It’s good that your statement is only your opinion. I watched the show just a couple of nights ago, and Glenn Corbett was at his very best, which was wonderful! I’m glad, though, that I now have the “reason” (if you can call it that) of why George left the show. He should have fought the company, in my opinion. He was great.

  3. John Williams

    Hi George!!

    Happy birthday to you today (September 1st) and many happy returns.

    I’m John Williams from Canada. We met some 24 years ago in Edmonton as stated in the above message from July 8th!!

    I hope you’re doing well and have a wonderful birthday today!!

    My play on Post Partum Depression went very well and I’ve just been cast in a Murder Mystery Dinner Theater play which will run in the fall!!

    Again, so many thanks to you for our conversation in the summer of 1983.

    I would love to hear from you George if you get a chance!! My e-mail is listed below!!

    Have a great birthday,

    [email protected]

  4. john gianino

    George have been a fan of yours since the very 1st episode of RT66.
    Now I,m enjoying them again on dvd.I hope your health is good and would love to talk to you please e-mail me.

  5. Ron Harris

    George, since they reissued the Route 66 Season 1 shows on DVD, I have been able to relive you great performances on that show! I am glad to see that you are still around and I want you to know that you had a very positive effect on the babyboomers growing up at that time. I was 13 years old when Route 66 first came out and it was definitely the best show of it’s era and in some ways maybe the best of all time. You and Marty Milner were great.

  6. Ralph Terry

    Aloha Mr. Maharis! I am in hopes this short note finds you in good health. I know that you have heard this time and time again but I grew up with watching you each week drive across our nation and bringing enjoyment to all. I have the complete set of all seasons of Route 66 and you not only showed your acting talent but did it in a style that can never be duplicated. I have a 61 corvette and everytime I take it out for a spin your sitting in the passenger seat and I relive all those wonderful trips you and Todd made. I would like to send you one of my 61 corvettes sun visor, right side of course and have you sign it if you would. Aloha and mahalo and may you be happy as much as watching you all those years has made me happy. Aloha

  7. Anonymous

    Hello Mr. Maharis–

    I was just a kid when Route 66 aired, but I do have memories of the car and the music from when I was about 6 or 7 years old. It wasn’t until Nick at Nite had the program on its schedule in the mid-’80s that I rediscovered the program and was able to appreciate it as an adult. That show was, and is, one of the best programs EVER aired on television. I don’t know if your Buz Murdock character was deliberately patterned to be a ‘rebel without a cause’ but it sure seems that way. I can only imagine what plot twists the show might have taken had things turned out differently: Buz and Tod seemed to be trying to find their way, and had the show continued with you until, say, 1967, I could envision Buz being a hippie of sorts to counterpoint Tod’s personification of the Establishment.

    Route 66 was well ahead of its time, and I’m glad that I was finally able to catch up with it when I could understand and appreciate its unrelenting quality.

    I hope that all is well with you

  8. Linda Adams

    I was 8 years old when I first watched your show. I was an only child and such a lonely child with no father and a mother gone most of the time. I dressed up on Friday nights for your show, seems really silly now. Your show provided something of whatever it was I lacked. I met you in 1966 with my friend at Wm Morris (Johnny Hyde, agent) and we interviewed you for our school, also ran into you at a Crosby, Stills, Nash concert at the then Forum in LA. Sure you don’t remember, but thank you so many years later for meeting with us. I wish you well, and hope that your life is happy.

  9. mickey Lux

    Gee, I wish I could say that I was just a little kid when Route 66 was on prime time TV. I was actually fifteen years old when the show premiered in 1960, and I fell in love with George Maharis. The little group of friends that I went around with mostly liked Elvis and collected all his stuff, but I was a die-hard George Maharis fan. I just thought, and still think, that he was the most handsome star in the business. I lived in a suburb of New Orleans, and one day he came to my N.O. when I was eighteen and a recent high school graduate, to promote his latest album, “Where Can You Go for a Broken Heart?” I went to the record section of the store where he was signing autographs, bought the album, and then lined up with the rest of the hundreds of fans to get his autograph. I told him (with trembling hands) to write “To Mickey” and then sigh his name. He did, and I kept that album until 1965 when Hurricane Betsy hit and flooded my home with five feet of water. It destroyed the album and pretty much everything else in the house. I was into acting myself and had been in a lot of plays in high school. In college, I majored in drama and became a drama teacher in a local high school. In the thirty-eight years of teaching, I produced many plays and musicals, both at my school and in community theter. I loved to go see plays, and in the 1980’s I was fortunate enough to get to see George in “I Ought to be in Pictures” at the Beverly Dinner Playhouse in a suburb of New Orleans called Metairie. He was great and looked the same. I kept the program for that play until Hurricane Katrina hit and my house again flooded, but this time the water went over the roof-top. Fortunately I had evacuated before the levees broke. Of course, I lost the program for the play and everything else. I have been searching ebay for this album. Somebody is bound to have it, I hope. I had to retire from teaching right after Katrina since all the schools in my community were flooded. I spent thirty-eight years fostering drama in young peoples’ lives. I have recently returned to teaching part-time because I can’t stand to be too idle. I feel so fortunate to have found this blog and information about George and Route 66. I have bought the DVD of the first season and love it. I’m looking forward to getting the second season. They just don’t make shows like that any more. Keep up the news. Thanks.

  10. mickey Lux

    Oops, I meant to say, “I have been searching ebay for this “program” for the play”I Ought to be in Pictures” instead of ‘album’.” It might be hard to get this program since the majority of people who attended the play atthe Beverly Dinner Playhouse in Metairie in the 1980’s were probably locals and lost their programs too in Katrina. Actually, the theater itself burned to the ground in the late 80’s. I also forgot to mention that the night of the day that George Maharis signed the “Where Can You Go for a Broken Heart?” album (an other albums of his) at the store (Maison Blanche) in New Orleans in 1963 (It was August 24), he appeared on the beach stage at Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park and sang. I remember screaming bloody murder when he walked out on the stage.I was practically hysterical. I was eighteen and acted a lot younger for my years. That park is no longer there either.

  11. BritWit

    Hi! George Maharis! I’m so lucky that cable tv’s “Retro” channel is airing back-to-back “Naked City” and “Route 66” shows every weekday afternoon. You were a staple heartthrob during my high school years and now I can continue to drool while collecting Social Security! Ha! I also found one of your re-mastered albums from the Walmart site. Yay! Hope you are hale, hearty, and happy!

  12. Sherryl Devitt

    Hi George:

    Happy Birthday now and forever. I agree with anyone who thinks that Route 66 is (was) the Best Show ever. You and Marty Milner were terrific and the theme song was stupendous. You are the finest actor who ever was (is) and I look forward to Route 66 every week day night on Retro TV. I think about watching Route 66 when it originally aired, and how disappointed I was when you were replaced by Glen Corbett. You are sorely missed, could you do a blog so that people like myself who could hear from you. You should have your own talk show on television, I bet it would be a hit. Love you always, email me if you will at [email protected]

  13. theuresamaven

    Are you serious? First, back in 1960′ America, if even a hint of a man’s homosexuality got out, his career was finished. A woman, could generally get away with it. In the case of George Maharis, he wasn’t very good at hiding that he was gay. Maybe it was that godwaful toupee that he wore.

    1. nothingpetty

      As I remember the story, George was caught in a Griffith Park lavatory with another gentleman. This was the story published in the Chicago newspapers. I remember it because I was dealing with my own recognition of my being gay and the thought that George was gave me a certain thrill and sense of communion.

  14. Deb Novotny

    Hi George Maharis
    My favorite show when I was 10 was your Route 66. I used to have to fight my younger brother for the TV because he liked another show at the same time! I’m so glad ME TV put Route 66 on every Sunday. I saw you at the Twin Coaches south of Pittsburgh in 1966 and you graciously signed my autograph book which I still cherish. I hope you are well and if you want to send an email mine is: [email protected]

  15. Joe Bodnar

    I used to watch that show every Friday on CBS. That was the greatest show ever on TV. Too bad your career fell during the sixties. Geez when they put Glen Corbett in your part it was God Awful.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: