Two recent obits of note are those of Judy Carne, that British-born “sock it to me” lass of tv’s Laugh-In in the late 60’s, and of one of Hollywood’s true working actors in recent years, Martin Milner.
Carne, who died Sept. 3 in England at 76, is for this purposes of this blog a marginal figure, a tv personality and occasional movie actress perhaps best remembered as the first wife of Burt Reynolds.
Milner, who died in Carlsbad, Cal. at 83, is another matter entirely.
A product of a show biz family (father a film distributor, mother a dancer), he made his movie debut at age 16 in 1947 as the son of William Powell and Irene Dunne in Life With Father. He went on to roll up a whopping 122 movie and tv credits over the ensuing 49 years.
He was often cast as a young military man (eg., 1949’s Sands of Iwo Jima, 1955’s Mister Roberts) exploiting his wholesome looks complete with red hair and freckles. As befits a true working actor, he turned up in a variety of movie projects.
He was Patty Duke’s all-too-understanding husband in 1967’s Valley of the Dolls; the bashful reporter in 1959’s Compulsion with Orson Welles; and the naive romantic loser to Gene Kelly over the affections of Natalie Wood in 1958’s Marjorie Morningstar.
Milner achieved “household name” status not in the movies but on tv. He appeared in the early Dragnet series, and then scored successfully as the footloose bachelor who drove around the U.S. in his Corvette convertible accompanied by pal George Maharis in Route 66.
The series accommodated from time to time appearances by such classic Hollywood notables as Joan Crawford and Boris Karloff. Route 66 was a rating success, and ran four four seasons on CBS. Milner was the lynchpin of a subsequent tube series, playing a veteran Los Angles police officer in Adam 12, which ran on ABC from 1968 until 1975.
But we regard Milner’s finest outing was in the marvelous 1957 film noir, Sweet Smell of Success. The actor more than holds his own opposite a powerhouse cast headed by Burt Lancaster as monomaniacal New York columnist (said to be based on the antics of Walter Winchell in his prime) and Tony Curtis as a sleazy press agent more than eager to do the columnist’s bidding.
As upright jazz guitarist Steve Dallas in love against the columnist’s wishes with his daughter (played by Susan Harrison; what ever happened to her?), Milner effectively carries his counterbalancing role vis-a-vis Lancaster’s amoral J.J. Hunsecker. He winds up credibly representing the movie’s good guy with guts. A fine performance.
So we say “thank you” in addition to “farewell” to a solid working actor.