Actor Martin Milner, whose work as Officer Pete Malloy introduced generations of Americans to a tough and honorable policeman on Adam-12, died on Sunday. Milner, who was 83, died at home in Carlsbad, Calif.
Word of Milner’s death came out Monday, via a fan page on Facebook. His former co-star on Adam-12, Kent McCord, then confirmed to The Associated Press that the actor had died.
“I had a long, long friendship with Marty and we remained friends up till the end,” McCord tells the news agency. “He was one of the really true great people of our industry with a long, distinguished career … Wonderful films, wonderful television shows, pioneering shows like Route 66. He was one of the great guys. I was lucky to have him in my life.”
Born in 1931 in Detroit, Milner grew up in Seattle and Los Angeles, where he studied theater at the University of Southern California before his acting career took off.
In 1949, Milner had a minor role in the John Wayne film Sands of Iwo Jima. He went on to other notable roles in the 1950s, acting in 1955’s Mister Roberts, with Henry Fonda, and 1959’s Compulsion, with Orson Welles. In 1957, he appeared in both Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and Sweet Smell of Success. In 1967, he appeared in Valley of the Dolls.
But one of the most fateful acting jobs Milner had came in 1950, when he met eventual Adam-12 creator Jack Webb on the set of Halls of Montezuma. At the time, Webb was in the second year of making his Dragnet radio series — and two years away from turning the show into a TV series built around Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday.
Milner began working on Dragnet, with some limitations.
“Milner played the role of Sergeant Friday’s partner, Officer Bill Lockwood, as well as other characters on the radio series,” according to the site Together We Served. “He could convincingly portray Friday’s partner on the radio show, but his baby face relegated him to ‘the house male juvenile delinquent’ roles on the television show.”
The early 1950s were also when Milner was drafted into the Army, during the Korean War. Serving at Fort Ord on Monterey Bay, he was part of an unlikely group of fellow actor-soldiers, including David Janssen, Clint Eastwood and Richard Long.
In 1960, Milner became a household face after Route 66 debuted, telling the itinerant stories of Tod Stiles, a once-wealthy young man who drove around America in his Corvette along with his friend Buz Murdock (George Maharis). It was famously filmed on-location.
“We never saw the schedule,” Maharis told NPR in 2012. “It was week-to-week. We didn’t know where we were going and sometimes we wouldn’t know what the script was until two days before shooting.”
Route 66 ran for more than 115 episodes; Milner followed it up with Adam-12, which ran from 1968-’75. In it, he played Malloy, the veteran cop who was partnered with rookie officer Jim Reed (McCord).
On Monday, Milner’s death brought the notice of the current chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. In a tweet, Charlie Beck wrote:
“Adam 12 and Martin Milner embodied the spirit of the LAPD to millions of viewers. His depiction of a professional and tough yet compassionate cop led to thousands of men and women applying to become LAPD officers, including me. Godspeed Martin, you will live forever in our hearts.”
In the later phase of his career, Milner went on to guest-star on numerous TV shows. Starting in 1993, Milner, an avid fisherman, began co-hosting a syndicated radio talk show about fishing, called Let’s Talk Hook-Up. He stayed with the program for about a decade.
Milner is survived by three of his four children — Molly, Stuart and Andrew — and by his wife, Judy Jones. A fourth child, Amy, died of leukemia in 2004.