Photo by Ken Duncan, 1973
On this very date in 1974, I was present at an all-male, coke-fueled party in the Hollywood Hills. I was an invited guest of the host, a noted theatre & film producer, & hand selected, so to speak, to be the date for a certain Oscar winning, non-closeted screenwriter. The party was in honor of the birthday of hunky actor George Maharis, who in mid-40s was still the best looking & sexiest man in a room of 50+ sexy men. Maharis was certainly friendly enough, but was ‘hands-off” to me. I could not stop gaping & gasping at his strong sexual allure & perfect body, as he moved through the house & pool area accepting best wishes, wearing the tightest of pants & a shirt open to the navel. Maharis had just posed nude for Playgirl magazine a few months before & having seen the whole package in print, I was finding myself a bit dizzy at seeing him in the flesh.
A few months later Maharis was arrested & charged with committing a sex act with a male hairdresser in the restroom of a gas station in LA. Maharis was booked on a sex perversion charge & released on $500 bail. 6 years earlier, he had been arrested by a vice squad officer for lewd conduct in the restroom of a Hollywood restaurant; the officer said Maharis made a pass at him.
I was well acquainted with his acting from my father’s favorite TV show- Route 66, a series so filled with hot cars & hot bods that I watched riveted, one of the few TV shows that my father & I shared. I usually joined my mother for Peyton Place & the variety shows. Maharis played dangerous, hot headed- Buz Murdock on Route 66, & the show reeked of the rebelliousness & restlessness of youth in the 1960s. I tried not to show my excitement when watching it with my father.
Route 66 ran from 1960-1964, & was about a pair guys & a Corvette who roamed the country together, often dressed in coats & ties, for no apparent reason. Buz’s buddy-Tad was played by an equally hot, blond Martin Millner. Maharis received an Emmy nomination for this role in 1962.
Contrary to popular belief, the Corvette convertible the characters drove on the existential black & white series was not red, blue or white, but brown, so that it photograph better.
The series featured an amazing array of guest actors: Sylvia Sidney, Buster Keaton, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., & newcomers Robert Redford, Keir Dullea & William Shatner. Route 66 also boasted a silky cool jazzy theme song from Nelson Riddle that was a hit on the pop charts.
However, Maharis left the wildly popular show before it ended its run. Glenn Corbett finished the season as Tod's new buddy- Linc Case. The series lasted only one more season with the new combination. There has been much speculation as to why Maharis was gone from the popular show. Rumors were rampart that Maharis had left the series over a salary dispute, his desire to do films, or that he & Milner were having problems.
Maharis now says the he had contracted hepatitis in 1962, & that the shoots were so grueling that to continue would risk his health. He asked the producers to give him a less arduous schedule, but they refused.
But, others in the know claim that Route 66 producer Herbert B. Leonard found out that Maharis was gay & was having a hard time keeping his star’s sexual activities away from the press. Leonard & Milner also claimed that Maharis also used the illness as an excuse to break his contract so that he could break into movies.
Maharis eventually did break into movies, mostly forgettable B films. He also worked on stage & had a nightclub act, but nothing ever matched his success as Buz on Route 66, & the series never recovered from his departure.
Maharis also had a recording career, releasing 7 albums between 1962 &1966. He regularly appeared in Las Vegas in the 1970s & 1980s.
The still trim, talented & handsome Maharis left acting in 1993 & is now an impressionist painter with gallery shows on both coasts. He is single & lives in LA & NYC. Maharis turns 84 years old today. I really desired him on that Sunday afternoon, 38 years ago, but maybe I still have a chance.