March 22, 2019

Remembering Marty Milner

Much has been written about the life — and the Sept. 6 death — of actor Martin “Marty” Milner, who starred in the 1960s television hit series “Route 66” and “Adam-12,” but the obit writers overlooked two important facts.

One is that the red-haired, freckle-faced actor was the son of a Polish-Jewish immigrant, who worked himself up from construction hand to film distributor.

The other omission is that in 1959, Milner and this reporter were fellow actors in the Playhouse 90 TV production of “Judgment at  Nuremberg,” which preceded the movie of the same name.

Critics at the time lauded the television drama but overlooked Milner’s and my contributions, focusing instead on the performances of Claude Rains, Maximilian Schell, Melvyn Douglas and Werner Klemperer.

Milner had a walk-on role as an American Army captain, and I … well, let me tell you the story.

One day in 1959, I was sitting in my office at UCLA when I got a call from someone at CBS. The man said he needed someone to act as an English-German translator for an upcoming 90-minute drama and would I be interested.

At that time, my family didn’t even have a TV set and, noticing that the date was April 1, I figured the call was someone’s idea of a joke, but the voice went on to say that I would be paid $500 for a week’s work.

At the time, I was making $450 a month as a full-time science writer at UCLA and figured that none of my acquaintances would make light of something as serious as a $500 check.

So I reported to the CBS studio for my weeklong stint. Truth be told, it wasn’t terribly exciting work. For some 85 percent of the time, we highly paid actors just sat around while the cinematographers figured out the camera angles for the courtroom drama.

One day during a long break, a young man came over to me, introduced himself as Marty Milner, and asked about the professional designation on my contract for this gig.

“Actor with more than five lines,” I answered proudly. “And how much are they paying you?” Milner persisted. “$500 a week,” I said, searching Milner’s face for signs of awe and respect.

“$500?” repeated Milner with a barely suppressed sneer. “You must have a really lousy agent.”

Milner was probably right, because since my path-breaking performance 56 years ago, I haven’t had a single job offer from Broadway or Hollywood.