It’s not often that I have a moment like this. Tears in my eyes and a flood of memories about a fictional television character tearing at my insides. But today is a day for mourning and sadness. Martin Milner passed away this weekend.
As a little boy growing up in the sixties, I didn’t miss an episode of Adam-12 (WARNING: Auto-play sound). Not one. Every week it was part of my life. I loved the stories. I loved the action. I loved the characters. They were people I admired. I grew up in a neighborhood full of cops, and those guys on the television were my heroes and friends. I wanted to be like them one day. I got to live that dream.
The dream was better than reality, but Martin Milner (as Pete Malloy) was the role model for me. Handsome, fair, kind, … well, he had it all. I never lived up to the role model, but I think that each of us could do a little bit better in our lives if we emulated officer Pete Malloy.
Two years ago I went on a quest to watch every Adam-12 and Dragnet. Over the course of the months I discovered that my memories were spot-on about the comportment of these men in the series. I didn’t watch them because they were a part of forming me as a youth, but as a writer I suspected that the 30 minute frame would provide some insight to moving a story along.
I got more than I bargained for in both shows. But the take-away was similar, perhaps a bit stronger with Adam-12 as it played out on the streets versus in the detective squad room. Here’s what I learned:
For it’s time, Adam-12 was far more ethnically diverse than other shows on television. It also featured many characters with physical limitations and mental health problems. In every case the characters were dealt with with respect. Malloy (for Martin Milner will always be Malloy to me) went out of his way to teach the rookie that people were individuals and he refused to group them.
Policing was a servant task. More than once the role of the officers was not as enforcer of the law but doer of good deeds. In particular, making sure that their informants were keeping healthy and staying out of trouble. Going the extra couple of yards that might turn a life around. And providing gifts for little kids on Christmas.
Children were treasured. Malloy was a tender man without children of his own. But the hurt and anguish were palpable when a child was hurt. He was their guardian and he knew it.
Brotherhood. All of the officers were there for each other. Skin color, age, and gender were not factors. You were blue. It didn’t mean that they covered up for bad cops, or concealed their own mistakes. Part of it was taking your lumps so as not to tarnish the brotherhood.
God has a role. It is probably because of my faith, but God clearly had a role in the lives of the people in this series. Malloy never got on his knees and spun a rosary, but there was something there that told me he was a man of faith.
The right thing is the right thing, even when it costs extra. This is the hardest lesson from the series for the simple reason that it takes a chunk out of you when it happens. Cutting corners, cheating, lying, all of it is for naught. At the end of the day you have to live your life one way, and one way only. If not, you’re not in the next episode.
Loyalty. Not in the scripts, but in the casting. Jack Webb was loyal to his ensemble. A character was a witness this week, a criminal next week, and three months later a victim. He kept his friends and older actors/actresses working. Lots of roles in his shows for people who wouldn’t get the time of day in modern television. I admire that in Mr. Webb.
I’m sure that some will say that I live in a dream world still. Perhaps. But Mr. Milner shaped that world, and the man I became. I’m not Pete Malloy, but I would be proud to think that people see some of those traits in me. I can honestly say that his performance helped make me the man I am today.
Thank you, Martin Milner. You will be missed.
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