In short, she reports that Maharis asked for a scaled-back shooting schedule that season because he was recovering from two bouts of hepatitis. Executive producer Herbert B. Leonard said Maharis was exaggerating his illness so he could break his contract and go into movies. Leonard also cited Maharis’ homosexuality and alleged run-ins with the law as why he couldn’t be trusted.
Funk Blocher, who interviewed the “Route 66″ principals for a book project, concludes:
Personally, I think George Maharis was legitimately concerned that his health was suffering, due to the punishing working conditions he was expected to put up with when he returned to work. He was very angry about it, and did not handle the situation with tact or discretion. The producers were ticked off: he was badmouthing the show and costing them money, just another star behaving badly. I doubt that they ever seriously considered the possibility that George was telling the truth, and that 15 hours days and shooting for hours in winter-cold water really was too much to ask of a guy with hepatitis. Actors who gripe in public are typically assumed to be spoiled and greedy, and Leonard didn’t trust Maharis anyway after learning that the handsome young star was not the All-American heterosexual heartthrob the producer thought he’d hired. Aside from offering more money, which they assumed was the real issue behind the histrionics, the producers made no attempt to address Maharis’s concerns, so he left the show. It’s a tragedy in the classical sense, with hubris and a fatal flaw leading to the star’s downfall. Maharis never regained the popularity he had for the first year and a half of his Route 66 tenure. […]
I hesitate to say outright that Herbert B. Leonard was homophobic, and that this was a contributing factor to the misunderstandings surrounding Maharis’s departure from Route 66. But based on what we were told in those 1986 interviews, it’s a little hard to draw any other conclusion. It really is rather sad. Here was a rising young actor in the role of his life, and it all came crashing down for reasons that had very little to do with the reported ones.
On a related note, I think it would be cool if the organizers of the annual Route 66 Festival invited Maharis to next year’s gala in Clinton, Okla.
The other “Route 66″ co-star, Martin Milner, is in poor health and unable to make personal appearances. I’m sure the show holds bitter memories for Maharis. But perhaps time and retirement have served as a balm to those wounds.
Personally, I think roadies would be thrilled to meet one of the stars of a classic television show that helped cement the popularity of Route 66. In turn, such an experience would be a healing experience for Maharis.
So what do you think?
UPDATE: You can can order all four seasons of “Route 66″ on DVD from Shout! Factory: