NEW YORK — Martin Milner, an actor who broke out of supporting movie roles as the quintessential clean-cut young man to achieve television stardom as one of two road-hungry bachelors in “Route 66” and later as a veteran police officer in “Adam-12,” died Sunday at his home in Carlsbad, Calif. He was 83.
The cause was heart failure, his wife, Judy, said.
Mr. Milner, who came from a show-business family, had a successful and highly visible run in late-1950s movies before “Route 66” came along.
He was the naive fiancé of a ruthless New York columnist’s sister in “Sweet Smell of Success”; a helpful friend of John Barrymore’s wayward daughter Diana in “Too Much, Too Soon”; a shy young reporter surrounded by murderers in “Compulsion”; and the wide-eyed boy who loses the girl to the sophisticated older man in “Marjorie Morningstar,” based on Herman Wouk’s novel.
But “Route 66” gave him top billing — or a share of it, alongside George Maharis — beginning in 1960. The two were cast as single men in their 20s driving from town to town and state to state in a shiny Corvette convertible trying to find themselves.
The series, in which Mr. Milner’s character was both the nice guy and the rich kid (it was his car), was a ratings hit and ran four seasons on CBS.
The series often tackled serious social issues, and its guest stars included major Hollywood names like Joan Crawford, Rod Steiger, and Boris Karloff, as well as future notables like Robert Redford and Martin Sheen.
Mr. Milner returned to series television four years later, this time as an experienced (but still baby-faced) Los Angeles police officer, in Jack Webb’s drama “Adam-12.” He had met Webb when both were in the cast of the 1950 war film “Halls of Montezuma,” and had appeared in six episodes of Webb’s series “Dragnet” in the early days of his television career.
Mr. Milner had no illusions about his place in the Hollywood firmament and seemed not to be particularly concerned about it.
“The really big stars have a drive that made them into superstars,” he said in an interview with The Toronto Star in 1994. “They can’t turn it off when they have that success. I certainly was not driven by a great dedication that made me succeed or else.”
He wondered aloud if that made him a bum. Then he added, “It’s terrible, but it’s true.”
Martin Sam Milner was born in Detroit. His father, Sam, was a film distributor, and his mother, Mildred, known professionally as Jerre Martin, was a dancer with the Paramount Theater circuit. The family soon moved to Seattle and then to Los Angeles, where Martin’s movie career began in his early teens.
Mr. Milner appeared in more than 40 films.
In 1975 he starred in his last theatrically released film, “The Swiss Family Robinson,” the third American movie based on the 1812 novel by Johann David Wyss. It briefly became a television series as well with Mr. Milner as the lead.
‘The really big stars have a drive that made them into superstars. . . . I certainly was not driven by a great dedication that made me succeed or else.’Martin Milner
In 1998, Mr. Milner paid homage to the role that seemed to define him, although it had represented only four years of his five-decade acting career. He appeared as the on-air narrator of a documentary video, “Route 66: Return to the Road With Martin Milner,” getting behind the wheel of a vintage Corvette and driving cross-country again.
The series was unusual for having been shot entirely on location across the United States, which Mr. Milner said lent the enterprise an uncommon freedom.
“You could never do it again because, in those days, the networks didn’t keep such a tight rein on production, and by the time the network saw one show, we were in the next town,” he told Ohio66, a fan website, in 2001. “If they didn’t like it, it was too bad.”