Monday, July 13, 2009

More on "Route 66"

After the jump is a column I wrote about "Route 66" and NE Ohio, which appeared in Sunday's Beacon Journal. In an early episode of the classic TV series Route 66, one of the main characters turns to the other and declares, ''You know, Youngstown is not exactly on our course.''

In fact, Northeast Ohio in total was not in the path of the beloved American highway. But, as several recent DVD releases show, the series came back to the region again and again — for eight episodes in all.

Route 66 originally aired on CBS from 1960 to 1964. (There was also a short-lived attempt to revive the show on NBC in 1993.) It involved two young men, originally played by Martin Milner and George Maharis, who traveled the country in a Corvette, made money with odd jobs and tried to help a lot of troubled people along the way.

The show tapped into the public sentiment for the highway Route 66, which ran from Chicago to Los Angeles. It had been immortalized in a popular song written by actor-musician Bobby Troup, especially its advice to ''get your kicks on Route 66.''

But the TV series ventured far beyond the route of the actual Route 66. One of the show's selling points was that it was not bound by a Hollywood studio; it made its episodes on location around the U.S., a perpetual road show bringing its cast and crew to two dozen states over the series run.

It not only dropped the names of real locations, it showed them. If a road sign said Cleveland was 17 miles down the road, you could figure the episode would end up in Cleveland.

The show has long had a following both because it was often a well-made and serious show and because it made so many memories around the country when the show came to a given town. There are Web sites devoted to the program (as there are to the highway Route 66), including, which discusses the production and locations of different episodes. Some of the information in this story was taken from the site.

Infinity Entertainment has been gradually issuing DVDs of episodes of the series. On July 21, its set of Route 66: Season Three, Volume One (16 episodes, four discs, $29.98) will complete the release of eight episodes in Northeast Ohio.

Overall, they included, from the first season, The Opponent (shot in Youngstown), Welcome to Amity (Kinsman) and Incident on a Bridge (Youngstown); Two on the House and First Class Mouliak, both done in Cleveland and in the second season; and Every Father's Daughter, Welcome to the Wedding and Only by Cunning Glimpses, all in Cleveland and all in the third season.

In 1961 alone, the show set up camp for a month in the region, shooting the five episodes from the first two seasons. And that wasn't the end of the Ohio experience for Maharis and Milner. After the May-June 1961 production, they came to Akron in August of that year as celebrity guests of the All-American Soap Box Derby.

Sometimes there was a rough chronological sense to the Ohio shows when they aired. The three first-season episodes aired over three consecutive weeks in June 1961, and one seemed to lead into the other.

In The Opponent, Buzz says at one point, ''We have a job in Kinsman,'' which is where the next episode was shot. Unfortunately, Kinsman is renamed Amity in the episode itself.

Not that continuity was always evident. First Class Mouliak (with a young Robert Redford) was the fifth episode of the second season, airing in October 1961, and Two on the House did not follow until much later, in April 1962.

Familiar faces would often show up in different roles. Edward Asner, for example, is a fight trainer in The Opponent, then reappears as another character in Welcome to the Wedding, which also featured Rod Steiger.

And there was the odd travel geography, in which these rambling guys seemed to keep circling back to Ohio.

Part of that undoubtedly stemmed from the region providing a variety of interesting locations. Terminal Tower is visible in every episode, and heavily featured in Welcome to the Wedding. In that episode, you can get a good look at the mural, transplanted from the 1939 World's Fair, which long graced the terminal, as well as a panoramic Cleveland skyline.

The famous Octagon House in Kinsman, boyhood home of lawyer Clarence Darrow, serves as a boarding house in Welcome to Amity. When you freeze the DVD at the right moment, you can even see a sign promoting its historic connection (although, again, this is Amity for the show's purposes). Only by Cunning Glimpses includes the Sahara Hotel, Every Father's Daughter the Vixseboxse art gallery.

Start looking with a group of local folks, and you find yourself pausing so they can study long-remembered scenes, old buildings, bridges and back roads.

Besides the locations, Northeast Ohio attracted the show because producer Sam Manners hailed from Cleveland.

''I have a tremendous pride in my home town,'' Manners told the Cleveland Press as the series began shooting episodes in 1962 for the third season. During the shoot, Manners told the Press, ''We shot scenes of Terminal Tower, Public Square, Edgewater Park, a shopping center, the Cultural Gardens, my former neighborhood on West 99th and the James H. Rand home [on Lake Shore Boulevard].''

The shoots could be challenging. Production would begin before actors had completed scripts.

''We worked six days a week, sometimes seven, because we were always behind schedule,'' Maharis said in an interview with the Route 66 News Web site in 2007. ''You got up at 5 in the morning and you get back to your motel at 7 or 9 at night, sometimes even later.''

For Only by Cunning Glimpses, a barn was built in Warrensville Heights and then burned down, with the latter part of a shoot that went all night. (The Plain Dealer reported that Maharis delayed things at one point by complaining that a fight scene was not realistic enough.)

In The Opponent, as Tod and Buzz walk through a crowded downtown Youngstown, you can spot numerous extras unable to stay in character, staring at the actors passing by them.

But it was a big deal to have a TV show in town then. It still is, for that matter. And Route 66 works not only as a TV show, but as a document of the region's past.

1 comment:

  1. "Incident on a Bridge" was filmed in Cleveland, not Youngstown. See this link: