George Maharis: A Pop-Culture Sensation via TV's "Route 66"

Herbie J Pilato

George Maharis was cast as one of the charismatic stars of the TV classic, Route 66, and became a pop-culture sensation.

With the premiere of the show in 1960, the handsome actor, who today is a remarkable 93 years old, soon had a significant cult following as Buzz Murdock. The role imbued a James Dean-like appeal, while Maharis had created his own real-life mystique off-screen.

According to, Maharis was "partnered with the more fair-skinned, clean-scrubbed, college-educated Tod Stiles, played by Martin Milner (who later starred with Kent McCord on TV's Adam-12). Murdock and Stiles journeyed across America in supercool convertible Corvette, gaining a massive female audience in the process.

As continues to document, during the show's initial run, Maharis "parlayed his TV fame into a recording career with Epic Records," continues to document, "producing six albums in the process and peaking with the single 'Teach Me Tonight.'

"During the middle of the series' third season peak, Maharis abruptly left the series for a number of reasons cited. Often quoted is that the virile, seductive image of a fast-rising star apparently got to George and he proved increasingly troublesome as he grew in stature. The tabloids reported that George purposely instigated ongoing clashes with both producers and co-star Milner in order to leave the series and seek film stardom while the irons were hot. Maharis denies this and insists that his working relationships on the set were solid and vastly overblown.

"He cited health reasons as the reason for his leaving, claiming that a long-term bout (and relapse) of infectious hepatitis, caught during a 1962 shoot of the series, forced him to abandon the show under doctor's orders. For whatever reason, Maharis left. His replacement, ruggedly handsome Glenn Corbett, failed to click with audiences and the series was canceled after the next season.

In 1970, Maharis returned to television with the short-lived criminologist series, The Most Deadly Game, which co-starred Ralph Bellamy and Yvette Mimieux (who replaced the late Inger Stevens who committed suicide shortly before filming was to begin). documents how producer/director Otto Preminger had "discovered" Maharis for film, "offering the actor a choice of five small roles for his upcoming film Exodus (1960). George chose the role of an underground freedom fighter. One of the episodes George did on the police drama The Naked City series ("Four Sweet Corners") wound up being a roundabout pilot for the buddy adventure series that would earn him household fame."

In between it all, Maharis performed in various Las Vegas nightclubs and summer stock and, in July 1973, became one of the first male celebrities to pose for a nude centerfold in Playgirl. (Actor Burt Reynolds did the same with a photo spread in Cosmopolitan).

Around this time, Maharis had also appeared in several TV-movies including The Victim (with Bewitched star Elizabeth Montgomery in 1972), The Monk (1969), and Rich Man, Poor Man (1976).

As chronicled further on, Maharis (whose original Greek family name is Mahairas) was born in 1928 in Astoria, New York as one of seven children. His immigrant father was a restaurateur. Maharis "expressed an early interest in singing and initially pursued it as a career, but extensive overuse and improper vocal lessons stripped his chords and he subsequently veered towards an acting career."

Later in his career, Maharis was seen periodically in films like The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982), and the horror thriller Doppelganger (1993). He also appeared in TV shows such as Fantasy Island and Murder, She Wrote, while he would then change artistic course, and began focusing on impressionistic painting.

But more than anything, George Maharis will always be fondly remembered as Buzz Murdock who, along with Martin Milner as Todd Stiles, literally "drove the female audience wild" by way of TV's Route 66.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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