George Maharis, Eternally Handsome ‘Route 66’ Star, Dies @ 94

May 27, 2023

George Maharis, who played Buz Murdock on Route 66 from 1960-1963, died Wednesday, May 24, at 94.

Maharis never lost his trademark looks. (Image via handout)

His death, according to ExtraTV, was confirmed by a close friend.

Maharis was a sensation on the series opposite co-star Martin Milner (1931-2015), but departed after three seasons and an Emmy nomination (1962), citing fatigue — a story producers doubted.

Maharis playfully signed my centerfold! (Image via Playgirl)

Another sensational move for which he is remembered was going nude in the July 1973 issue of Playgirl, showing off quite a bit more than the celebs who had come before him.

He told me in my piece about the history of Playgirl, "A friend of mine knew [first EIC Marin Scott Milam] and she put it out to me would I do her a favor? It was the second issue. She asked me whether I’d do a centerfold for her; she told me the magazine was geared to more mature women and they wanted to have more mature men. Nobody told me it was a nude centerfold! Nobody mentioned it. We were doing the shooting and [the photographer kept saying] to me, 'Well, you can’t show that.' I said, 'For Christ’s sake, man, if it’s gonna be a nude centerfold, that’s what I was born with.'”

He also campily noted, "A lot of guys came up to me with [my centerfold] and asked me to sign it for their 'wives.'"

Unfortunately, a third sensational issue in Maharis's life and career did not work out to his advantage — glass-closeted but gay, Maharis and a hairstylist named Perfect Telles were arrested on "sexual perversion" charges for allegedly having sex in an L.A. gas station's men's room. It was an embarrassing story for Maharis, who never discussed it. Cruelly, Arrested Development in a 2013 episode had its character George Michael complain about being named for a guy famous for being arrested for bathroom sex — so he changed it to George Maharis. (The same series used the character name Perfecto Telles.)

Born September 1, 1928, in NYC, the Greek American served in the Marines ahead of devoted studies at the fabled Actors Studio.

His earliest work as an actor was on the stage, most prominently in an off-Broadway production of The Zoo Story by Edward Albee (1928-2016) in 1960.

Maharis made his TV debut on an episode of The Philco Television Playhouse (1953). He played Marlon Brando on Brando's buddy Wally Cox's series Mister Peepers (1955) and appeared on Playwrights '56 (1955), Goodyear Playhouse (1957), The investigator (1958), The Phil Silvers Show (1958), Brenner (1959), Deadline (1959), Alcoa Theatre (1960) and on episodes of Naked City (1959-1960).

One of his appearances on Naked City set things up for Route 66, making the latter a de facto spin-off.

His first film appearance was in 1958's The Mugger, which he followed with work in the acclaimed Exodus (1960).

After becoming a household name with 82 episodes of Route 66, and a hit record in 1962's "Teach Me Tonight," his future work was more low-profile.

Maharis's departure had ostensibly been about his exhaustion, but it is thought he really just wanted to focus on films. He did so at first, acting in Quick, Before It Melts (1964), Sylvia (1965), the fondly remembered The Satan Bug (1965), A Covenant with Death (1967) and The Happening (1967).

Movie stardom eluded him, but he continued making guest appearances on shows like The Danny Thomas Hour (1967), Journey to the Unknown (1968) and Love Story (1968).

Surprisingly, Maharis did return to a regular series, playing Jonathan Croft on the 13-episode run of The Most Deadly Game (1970-1971).

Some of his later TV work included on Night Gallery (1971), Medical Center (1971), Cannon (1972), Mission: Impossible (1973), Shaft (1974), Marcus Welby, M.D. (1974), The Snoop Sisters (1974), McMillan & Wife (1974), Ellery Queen (1976), The Bionic Woman (1976), Kojak (1977), Police Story (1973-1977; 3 episodes), Logan's Run (1978), Fantasy Island (1978-1982; 6 episodes), Matt Houston (1984), The Master (1984), Superboy (1989) and his last TV work, on two 1990 episodes of Murder, She Wrote.

He also appeared in the '76 miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man and in TV movies that included Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby (1976), among others.

Other film work included The Sword and the Sorceror (1982) and his last work in any medium, Doppelganger (1993).

He had no survivors.

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