Sunday, January 30, 2011

Part One of "Black November"

Here is Part One of "Black November." The entire episode appears to have been posted on YouTube. I realized in my last post that I didn't give adequate praise to Nelson Riddle's iconic musical score, another ingredient that made the show so wonderful. The first ten minutes of "Black November" (shown here) will give you a good idea of the highly atmospheric nature of this episode.

Season One, Episode 1: Black November

Air Date: October 7, 1960
Director: Philip Leacock
Writer: Stirling Silliphant
Guest Stars: Everett Sloane, Keir Dullea, Whit Bissell, Patricia McCormack, George Kennedy

"Black November" is a compelling start for Route 66. It's a dark episode, and I'm not just talking content-wise. For some reason, so many of the scenes come out looking dark. Perhaps it is the print used by Infinity Entertainment on this DVD set. But I get the impression it was shot in a dark tone. According to James Rosin, this was the episode that was used to sell the series to CBS. Everything about the episode is taut. Director Philip Leacock got his start in B-movies and graduated to steady gigs in television. He'd go on to direct lots of episodes of The Waltons, Eight is Enough, Fantasy Island, Dynasty and Falcon Crest.

No surprise here that Stirling Silliphant wrote the teleplay. Before that, Silliphant had established an impressive track record as a TV writer, knocking out teleplays for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Alcoa Theater, Markham (a detective show starring Ray Milland) and another Herbert B. Leonard show, Naked City. He's in top form here. Route 66 really was his baby. His typewriter brings these characters to life.

Most Route 66 fans already know by now that "Black November" is a slight variation of John Sturges' Bad Day at Black Rock (1955). The Plot: Buz and Tod drive into a Mississippi town called Garth. Everybody is acting real weird, as if they're hiding a secret. Only Jenny Slade (Patty McCormack), the blonde girl who works at a local store, acts like a normal human being. Everybody is else seems to be terrified of their own shadows. Turns out the town is run by a tyrant who, like the town itself, is also called Garth (played by Everett Sloane, who was Mr. Bernstein in Citizen Kane). Buz and Tod find out that a P.O.W. camp used to be located in this town and a German prisoner of war was lynched many years earlier. Eventually, the mystery is revealed in flashback form, and Garth's son Paul (Keir Dullea) ultimately saves Tod and Buz from being lynched and helps redeem the traumatized town.

There is a lot about this episode that stands out. Sloane's performance is intense. It's also fascinating to see Keir Dullea in a pre-2001: A Space Odyssey role. Dullea is a method actor who was never given the roles he deserved, and he did not really go anywhere after Stanley Kubrick's 1968 outer space magnum opus. This is too bad, because Dullea is a very impressive actor who shows his depth in this episode. The rustic southern locale sets the stage for the on-location feel that came to define Route 66. The episode was filmed in Concord, Kentucky, just over the border and to the west of Nashville, in February 1960. Also watch for Whit Bissell (co-star of 1957's I Was a Teenage Werewolf with Michael Landon) as store owner Jim Slade.

The most fascinating thing about "Black November" is watching Buz and Tod . Unlike most TV shows, where characters need at least one season to form their personalities, Buz and Tod emerge as fully realized characters, exhibiting the personality traits that would define them over the course of the series (Buz = tough Hell's Kitchen kid with a touch of Kerouac; Tod = cool, calm, rational, slightly hip - but not as as hip as Buz - and ultimately very moral). You could actually drop "Black November" into the middle of Season Two or Three and it would fit in perfectly with the tone and style of the other episodes. There aren't very many shows that start off with the characters fully developed. This owes entirely to Milner and Maharis as actors and Silliphant as a writer.

Not surprisingly, "Black November" often ranks in the Top 10 of episodes for most Route 66 fans (I won't tip my hand yet in that regard). It's a gritty episode, slightly contrived at times, but mostly it - like Buz Murdock - packs a terrific punch.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Clippings: The Big Announcement (1960)

From The San Antonio Express, April 12, 1960.

Ten Minutes of Route 66 Commercials from Season One

I love these commercials. They are featured on Infinity's DVD set of Route 66's Season One episodes. I thought before I start Blogging about episodes, we should have a few more commercial breaks. There are several interesting things about these commercials. The first Chevrolet commercial, in particular, has an ethereal, almost dream-like quality, and the music - a mix of haunting, elegant and upbeat - is very much the product of the times. In the next commercial, it's hilarious to see the woman in the second commercial taking Bayer Aspirin to help her sleep at night. And the Corvair Monza commercial is uber-charming and makes me wish I was at the beach instead of sub-zero Ontario. My favorite is the Chevrolet Impala convertible commercial, with the guy leaving his job at the end of the day as a high-tech cameraman recording images of outer space rockets to go tool around the highways and byways of America with his family.

Watch these commercials. You'll love 'em, I promise!

A Wonderful Introduction to Route 66

James Rosin
is author of Route 66: The Television Series (buy the book on his Website for $21.95, which is linked here; avoid, where used copies run for anywhere from $131 to $210!!!). In August 2009, he gave a wonderful talk to the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention about Route 66.

I'm posting both parts of his talk here, because it provides essential background information to the TV show. Newcomers and hardcore fans alike will learn a lot from watching these videos. His talk focuses on the history of Route 66 - how the show came to be, how it was cast, et cetera.

Unfortunately, the talk seems to get cut a bit short in Part 2. This is too bad, because it gets cut off where Rosin is talking about George Maharis leaving the show. Among fans of the show, there is some debate and discussion about why Maharis left the show and Rosin's history is so interesting that I was bummed out his talk got cut short.

Still, these videos are must-sees for the show's fans.

Even though Rosin has written a very useful guidebook to Route 66, his perspective and focus may differ slightly from mine in some areas, and my Blog will hopefully bring out some insights that are not in his book.

Still, I have tremendous respect for his take on Route 66. Like me, Rosin is a big fan of the show, and - also like me - he watched it growing up (although he watched it when it was originally on the air and I didn't).

Please buy his book, if you get a chance, because it's an ideal companion piece to the recently released series on DVD.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Route 66 Corvair Commercial (1960)

Dig this, Route 66 fans! This is a commercial from Season 1 of Route 66. I love the elegance of these commercials. They're simple and beautifully made. This one is for the Chevrolet Corvair Lakewood Station Wagon and the 700 Corvair Coupe. Sure, the slogan "Greatest Show on Worth" is as corny as it gets. Sure, Ralph Nader later exposed the Corvair as a dangerous vehicle in his 1965 tome Unsafe at Any Speed. But I still love these commercials and I'm touched by their innocence and ethereal quality. Have a look, Route 66 fans, and see if you agree with me.

Introduction: My Favorite TV Show

I discovered Route 66 for the first time a quarter of a century ago. I was 17, going on 18, living in conservative suburban Utah, and the show came on daily on Nick at Nite. I instantly fell in love with Route 66 and I watched it religiously. Tod and Buz were my heroes. Their search for authenticity in John F. Kennedy's America resonated deeply with me. It helped that they tooled around America in such an awesome convertible Corvette, which proved to be the other main character of the show.

When I couldn't watch the show, I recorded it on VHS. My brother Jeff watched it with me. I loved the beatnik-influenced dialogue, the on-location scenes of America (circa '60, '61, '62 and '63) and the show's existentialism. I loved that the show often had sad endings, that it never offered any pat answers, that it mixed pathos and humor so damn well.

I found the two main actors on Route 66, George Maharis and Martin Milner, incredibly compelling. Maharis and Milner had a strong fraternal chemistry, I thought. I'd grown up on Adam-12, the cop show that starred Milner and Kent McCord, on the air from 1968 to 1975 (I now collect Adam-12 on DVD, too, thanks to Shout! Factory). So I was familiar with Milner from that show. I'd never seen Maharis before. I was going through a Jack Kerouac phase in those days - '85, '86, '87 - and I thought Maharis bore an uncanny resemblance to the renowned Beat author.

Then something terrible happened. Nick at Nite yanked Route 66 off the air. I can't remember when this devastating moment occurred. Sometime in '87, I think. And I'd stupidly recorded over my Route 66 VHS tapes (goddamn Miami Vice in that Friday night time slot!). God, I was depressed. This was in the days before the Internet and DVDs. Route 66 was impossible to find. It wasn't available on VHS. I searched and searched. I was forlorn. My two television heroes, Buz and Tod, were gone. I had never loved a TV show that much. A few came close: Leave it to Beaver, The Twilight Zone, Gilligan's Island, The Outer Limits, The Fugitive, All in the Family, Miami Vice, The Rockford Files (to name a few). But nothing could touch Route 66. It was my favorite TV show then. It remains my favorite today.

For the longest time, I searched and searched for Route 66 on my TV dial, but I couldn't find the show anywhere. No TV stations aired it. It had gone the way of other MIA TV shows like Highway Patrol, The Naked City, Wagon Train, The Rifleman, One Step Beyond, The Rat Patrol, Nanny and the Professor, That Girl and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (rest in peace, David Nelson - we love you!). The years passed... 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991... No Route 66, anywhere. 1992... 1993...

The coming of the Internet changed everything. On June 25, 1994, I posted a message on an old USENET bulletin board. I actually tracked it down and it's still archived on Google Groups. "Please, if you know where to find episodes of Route 66 on video, drop me a note at" I didn't hear anything back for a while. Eventually, a woman from the Heartland (I can't remember where, exactly... I think it was Oklahoma) posted a message saying that if I sent her some amount of money - I think it was $50 - she'd send me a bunch of episodes she taped off Nick at Nite. I was desperate. I sent her the money. The VHS tapes came to my home in Ogden, Utah, a few weeks later. I almost cried. I now owned about eight or nine Route 66 episodes. The picture quality was a bit dicey, but, hey!, it was better than nothing! And I dug the fact that she kept in some of those eight-year-old Nick at Nite commercials.

Shortly thereafter, in 1995, Columbia House Video released several Route 66 videos on VHS. I ended up buying them all. There were something like 20 episodes total (two per tape). They were the most famous episodes - "The Thin White Line," "Birdcage on My Foot," "First Class Mouliak," "How Much a Pound is Albatross?" Looking back, it wasn't much, but for a Route 66 who'd gone years and years without seeing the show, those tapes were like a fresh, cold drink of water after years of wandering in the desert.

Flash forward to the 2000s. In 2007, Infinity Entertainment Group began releasing entire Route 66 seasons on DVD. I snapped them up as fast as they came out. Season 1, Part 1... Season 1, Part 2... All of Season 2... Season 3, Part 1, Season 3, Part 2... I was in heaven! I'm still waiting for the final season, Season 4, but - I'll be honest - I'm not devastated that it's not out on DVD yet. When you read this blog, you'll see that I'm so heavily biased toward George Maharis/Buz Murdock that it's not even funny. His replacement, Lincoln Case (Glenn Corbett) was cool. But he was no Buz Murdock. And there are several Route 66 episodes where Tod Stiles goes solo, sans Buz. It just isn't the same.

But I digress. I'm on the verge of starting a religion around Infinity Entertainment for releasing Route 66 on DVD. I won't. But I will say this, "Thank you, Infinity. You've brought me immense amounts of joy!" And rest assured, when you decide to release Season 4, I'll be one of the first to buy it. I'll put it on pre-order.

Because I love Route 66 so much - everything from the scenery to Buz and Tod to the wonderful Nelson Riddle score to the great teleplays (many written by the late, great Stirling Silliphant), to the guest stars, to the Corvette, to the little announcement in the end credits "Herbert B. Leonard, Executive Producer..." - I have chosen to launch a blog about the TV show.

My plan is to watch each episode and write about it - or at least, as many episodes as I can in the seasons (one through three) that are currently available. If Season Four - the final season of Route 66 - is released on DVD while I'm writing this Blog, I will cover it as well. I will also include blog entries on the show's guest stars, Route 66 TV commercials, filming locations - pretty much all things Route 66. I will also be featuring scenes on this blog from episodes, cool lines of dialogue, trivia, info about the making of the show, and I'll rate the regular fistfights and love interests that happened throughout the show's history.

Please keep tuning in for more. What follows is my loving ode to a great show.