Martin Milner: More Than Pete Malloy   4 comments

handsome milner

Officer Pete Malloy steps from his cruiser. Calm and self-assured, he approaches the harried shop owner, the speeder, the lost child with authority and understanding. You know that whatever problem arises, Malloy can solve it. His even, reassuring manner even puts me at ease and I’m watching a rerun on television. Behind the beloved Adam-12 patrol officer and a host of other characters, Martin Milner built a career in both film and television. Though the paparazzi may not have camped outside his door, he worked as an actor for fifty years precisely because he could play someone trustworthy and wholesome.

milner life

Martin Milner began his film career working with William Powell, Elizabeth Taylor, and Irene Dunne in Life with Father (1947) playing a boy younger than himself. His youthful face and wholesome good looks would serve him well. A bout with polio confined him to bed for nearly a year, but Milner recovered and won parts in The Sands of Iwo Jima, The Halls of Montezuma, Operation Pacific, and Fighting Coast Guard. Soon life imitated art, and after attending USC for a year, Milner spent two years in the Army at Fort Ord, California directing training films and emceeing shows for the troops stationed there. While at Fort Ord, Milner met David Janssen and Clint Eastwood. Different versions of this story exist, but the likeliest one is that Milner and Janssen talked Eastwood into pursuing a career in the movies. If they hadn’t, Eastwood might have remained the squintiest swimming instructor ever.

milner success

After the Army, Milner continued working in film, television, and radio. He made a number of A-list films in the 1950s. He played an Earp brother in Gunfight at the OK Corral and a small, but funny role as a southern shore patrol officer in Mister Roberts. Two of his bigger roles followed. As Steve Dallas in Sweet Smell of Success, we get to see Milner as a musician with strong morals pitted against slimy, underhanded J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). Lancaster and Tony Curtis own the film, but Milner’s good man in a bad position shows he can convey integrity without coming off as self-righteous.

compulsion milner

Compulsion, Meyer Levin and Richard Fleischer’s take on the Leopold and Loeb thrill killer case found Milner playing Sid Brooks, a poor journalism student and reporter who finds the key piece of evidence in the case. We see Sid, a member of the killers’ circle of friends, come to realize his spoiled rich kid friends, Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell, may have murdered a child. Sid is smart and idealistic, but not naïve. He never has an “I can’t believe it” moment. His expressions change subtly as the story progresses. It’s not a big performance, but that’s precisely why it works. William Castle’s fun 3-D spookfest 13 Ghosts allowed Milner to take advantage of his sincere boy next door looks and play a character with a hidden agenda.

66 milner

All during the 1950s Milner appeared as a guest star in many of the most popular television shows including Dragnet, Rawhide, The Rat Patrol, Combat, and The Twilight Zone. He also provided the voices for a few radio shows during that era including the Jack Webb series Dragnet. Milner and Webb met during production of The Halls of Montezuma and Webb later hired Milner for his radio show. The 1960s brought more success with the series Route 66. In that series Milner’s character Tod Stiles roams the country first with George Maharis, then with Glenn Corbett. The duo travel from town to town in their Corvette entangling themselves in the lives of the people there. The series’ jazzy score and romantic vision of the unfettered bachelor made the show a big hit. Milner even produced a film in 1960. Sex Kittens Go To College stars Mamie Van Doren as a professor. It also has a monkey that plays piano and Conway Twitty…and a robot. I haven’t seen it yet, but with all that going for it, I’m in.

pete hat

Next came the role that people associate the most with Martin Milner. Jack Webb based the television series Dragnet on what he learned about police work in He Walked by Night (1948). His love of police procedurals led him to produce the Dragnet series for radio, film, and television and Martin Milner performed on both the radio and 1951 television show in a variety of roles. In 1967, Officer Pete Malloy appeared on an episode of Dragnet and the following year, the Jack Webb produced Adam-12 brought the character and actor back. From 1968-1975, Milner played the veteran officer on Adam-12, The D.A., and Emergency. His partner, Officer Jim Reed (Kent McCord) also appeared in all four series. Milner’s portrayal of Malloy, the confirmed bachelor with the experience to move up in rank but the desire to stay on the streets appealed to me a great deal. I have to admit, I had a crush on the guy. His positive and enlightened portrayal of a police officer contrasted starkly with the general anti police mood of the era and made his character even more appealing.

columbo milner

After Adam-12 ended, Milner appeared in a number of guest starring roles in series like Fantasy Island, MacGyver, Life Goes On, Murder She Wrote and as patriarch Karl Robinson in the Swiss Family Robinson television series. Milner can also brag about being the first victim in the Columbo TV series. He even gets killed by Jack Cassidy! His last role was on the Dick Van Dyke series Diagnosis Murder in 1997.

milner fish

An avid fisherman, Milner started a talk radio show in 1993 called Let’s Talk Hook-Up about fishing. He hosted the radio show until 2004 when his eldest daughter became seriously ill. His friend and TV partner Kent McCord appeared with Milner at various drives for bone marrow donors. Apparently Martin Milner, the man inspired the same loyalty as his most famous character did. I don’t know about you, but that makes me smile. Martin Milner lives with his family, happily out of the spotlight. Sometimes nice guys do finish first.

Rest in peace, Officer Malloy. 

1931-2015

young milner

I wrote this piece for the Big Stars on the Small Screen Blogathon hosted by Aurora of aurorasginjoint.com fame. Please check out her site for articles about loads of other actors and actresses who made the jump from movies to TV or vice-versa.

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4 responses to “Martin Milner: More Than Pete Malloy

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  1. This was an awesome post, Kerry! I have always liked Milner. So dynamic and talented. Wish he were really much more of a household name. Whenever I mention him or write about him, I get a “Huh?” or “Who?” I LOVE the ep he did for TZ called “Mirror Image” where he starred opposite the beautiful Vera Miles. It was a thirty minute ride into perfection with those two in one episode together. I enjoyed this piece, Kerry! Nice job!

  2. I love Martin Milner. I still watch the Adam 12 episodes (repeatedly) I love route 66 where he played Tod Stiles and I love him in movies he came out with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. Martin Milner always played this serious, but funny character and he seemed to enjoy his work. I wish I could watch more of his movies, because to me they are classics.

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