In honor of the complete series of the classic television series Route 66 being released on DVD this past month, I offer this replay blog from my book related to the show, and written at a time I was seriously fed up with L.A. and wanting to get the hell out.
April 16, 1986
My Route 66 story…
I’ve been watching the old Kerouac-inspired show every night on Nickelodeon with a passion. Stirling Silliphant, the principal author, is a brilliant character writer and scenarist with a poet’s heart. He always writes about people on the edge; alcoholic women drowning out their failed loves, children suddenly forced to grow up faster than they deserve, adventurers beginning to feel vulnerable to the presence of the grim reaper – people walking on tightropes at critical turning points in their lives.
Young bucks Tod (Martin Milner) and Buz (George Maharis) cruise into a new town each week and sweep us into the story. One’s a preppie (conscience and reason), one’s a street kid (instinct and volatility), and they act as a catalyst to the story, but quickly recede into the background for the telling. Silliphant used to go to some town, hang out for a week and get the feel of it, then hole up in some cheap motel for two days and write a script. The production crew and cast would follow the next week and, presto, a series is made with hip episode titles like “Hell is empty, all the devils are here,” or “Bird cage on my foot,” (with Robert Duvall as a heroin addict), and lines from children’s poems, etc.
So I get hooked on this vicarious traveling to the point where the show is really helping me through a dull period. I’m craving to leave L.A., but I’m trapped by economics, so this show becomes my way out. It inspires me. I start writing again. I’m 64 pages into a new script but, dammit, I still hate living in L.A. at this time. One night after work, I agree to meet a couple buddies in a new chi-chi bar/restaurant near the beach in Santa Monica. I get there at eight, my buddies don’t show up – but who does instead? … Buz (George Maharis), 25 years later.
I can’t resist but to go over and talk to him. We get into a cool conversation about the show. I’m asking him about the writing of particular episodes and he’s getting off remembering and wondering about the actresses’ names – “What was her name… Audrey… something…” I go, “Totter.” His eyes light up. “Yeah!”
I ask him how old he was when he did the series. He says 25. I tell him he must have been on top of the world. He smiles and tells me he’s 59 now (which, I got the feeling, was my cue for me to say, “Wow, you look great for 59 – he was obviously very vain with a finely-coifed toupee and a fancy-trimmed sailing jacket). Then I realized the ages didn’t tally. If he were 25 years old when he did the show, which is what the character was supposed to be, he’d only be 49 now. But why would he lie ten years UP? Then I realize he must’ve lied ten years DOWN for the age he was doing the show at the time. The conditioned lie was that, when he was 34 and doing the show, he told everyone he was 25. Danette and I figured out from his physique that he was definitely in his 30s for the show. That’s an odd twist for Hollywood vanity; tell the truth about your current age and lie about something 25 years past.
Anyway, he goes to dinner, I go home to catch the 11 p.m. episode. I’m driving home feeling pretty excited. I ask myself what this encounter meant – what this was an omen of – the one night I go out in weeks I run into this particular character. The answer was obvious; this couldn’t have happened anywhere else. Only in L.A. can you have an experience like this. I felt glad to be here again. It was so simple. Little triggers. Big results. The following Sunday I saw John Mellencamp at the Forum and danced my ass off for three hours.
I mailed my writer buddy John a postcard from Sante Fe less than a month later – a black & white shot of lightning striking over the high New Mexico desert. The postcard simply said “Lightning has struck.” I had just sold my new Voodoo thriller script Trance to Paramount Pictures.
I gave the first 30 pages of the script to a studio Vice President (Lindsay Doran) who had been a fan of my Recess script when she was with another studio. She liked the pages of the new script and asked me to come in and pitch her the rest of the story. When I was finished, she simply told me that she would contact my agent and make the deal. Paramount wanted the script.
Trance is a humorous-but-scary detective story of a down-on-his-luck radio disc jockey who gets mired into love and Voodoo intrigue in New Orleans. He’s hired by a rich, paranoid media magnate Ted Turner character to find out if his beautiful Creole wife is using black magic to slowly kill him. The detective, Michael Dove, of course becomes romantically involved with the woman, who turns out to be a Voodoo queen. The story builds to a point where Dove has to believe or not believe that Voodoo is real. When he rejects the notion and tosses the effigy doll of the husband out the window and, coincidentally, the husband suffers a fatal fall at the same time, he is sucked into the reality of it with no chance to turn back.
Lindsay liked the “fish out of water” premise to the story, which was a studio trait (they recently had tremendous success with the Eddie Murphy Beverly Hills Cop film), but she most of all liked the twists and turns and surprises. The only other script she was devoting as much time to developing was a little thing called, Ghost.
Despite getting a green light from the team of Vice Presidents at Paramount, Trance never made it to the screen when the studio president at the time nixed the go ahead because another picture with voodoo elements from competitor Warner Bros. was coming out called Angel Heart. Nevermind the two films could not be more remotely different in tone or topic (Angel Heart was a very dark tale involving a deal with Lucifer); those are the whims upon which films and fortunes turn.
— A. Wayne Carter