Thursday, July 26, 2007

George Maharis: “Man of Courage”

Over at the excellent Gay Species blogsite, D. Stephen Heersink continues his “Profile of Courage” series with a tribute to American actor George Maharis.

Heersink’s tribute is a very insightful examination of the important role Maharis played in “breaking through much of [Hollywood’s] homophobic mold.”

Heersink’s very honest sharing of his own struggles as a teenager to overcome “the stereotype of effeminate, emasculated, pathetic” gay men is also very moving and instructive. He notes, for instance, that: “It was not my sexuality and preference, but [this] ‘stereotype’ that was the single greatest barrier.” For as Heersink reminds us, this particular stereotype embodies “the false presumption” that “gay equals effeminate, dysfunctional, and unhappy.”

George Maharis, however, wasn’t afraid to “trounce [such] monolithic stereotype caricatures.” He was, says Heersink, “a pioneer. A legend. A hunk. A man of courage. A man of his convictions. A man [to whom] many of us are proud to pay tribute [for] his . . . courage to buck the powers that be, to give voice to authenticity, to prefer honesty rather than duplicity, and accept no double-standards.” Maharis, continues Heersink, “gave many of us who came of age at the time and thereafter the courage to stand proudly on a pioneer’s shoulders, to be an honest, out, virile, openly gay man, to reject all stereotypes, especially the dreadful monolithic anti-gay caricatures and stereotypes, to reject the reviling mockery of emasculated weak men portrayed on the silver screen, and to accept ourselves for who we are, regardless of who disapproves, regardless of who approves, despite the costs.”

Above: George Maharis, at left, as Buz Murdock and Martin Milner as
Tod Stiles
in the 1960 premiere episode of Route 66.

Following is an excerpt from Heersink’s tribute to George Maharis. Enjoy!


Concealment has been part-and-parcel of Hollywood homophobia for generations.

Which affords me the opportunity to again acknowledge the two most important “public figures” instrumental in breaking-through much of that homophobic mold: talk-show host Phil Donahue and actor George Maharis. The entire gay community has largely ignored their enormous influence, salutary contributions, their impetus to Gay Liberation, and [the] courage [they showed] that . . . led to events like Stonewall, White Night Riots . . . etc.

When responding to my own sexual interests, in my early teens, it was not my sexuality and preference, but the “stereotype” that was the single greatest barrier: the stereotype of effeminate, emasculated, pathetic man – the Liberaces, Paul Lyndes, Truman Capotes – that was the barrier. It was the hyper-emasculated stereotypes portrayed by the likes of Rex Harrison and Richard Burton in their homophobic caricature Staircase (1969) followed by the despairing travesty of Boys in the Band (1970), which initially served to inhibit many gay men from “coming-out.” The false presumption was: gay equals effeminate, dysfunctional, and unhappy.

It was not that the effeminate men existed, it was the presumption that all gay men are necessarily effeminate, dysfunctional, and miserable, presenting an intense self-image barrier to many gay men in the nascent days around Gay Liberation. Perhaps, the effeminate characteristic is so stereotypical because it is impossible to conceal, or perhaps gender-bending made them caricatures for straight audiences to mock in smug depreciation. But for many, it was these very stereotypes that created barriers for gays to “come-out.” Not that the stereotype was itself a problem, but the presumption that all gays were perceived in that light, creating a self-image that many gay men did not perceive as their own. . . . Maharis [with his] honest openness [was one of the first] to trounce those monolithic stereotype caricatures boldly.

First and foremost, Maharis may be a tad bit older, but he’s still damn sexy. Secondly, he is unquestionably manly. Third, his “spread” in Playgirl showed all his virile gorgeous Greek manhood to anyone who desired to look (and many of us looked).

Above and below: George Maharis at age 45
in the July 1973 issue of

Fourth, his open and honest sexuality, sensitivity, and artistic temperament were unlike the stereotypes hoisted on the masses by the Hollywood “arbiters of homophobia.” Fifth, his “being busted” for “doing” a L.A. undercover cop in the Sixties was a badge of honor he wore proudly (not the “bust,” per se, but the reason for it). Sixth, he chose honesty and openness to “closets” and “concealment,” encouraging others to follow suit.

Watching Maharis next to Rock Hudson on McMillan & Wife (1974) brought-out the difference in character not confined to acting. Most Southern California gay-guys knew both were gay, Maharis openly. Every L.A. queen knew Hudson was an insatiable “bottom.” And every L.A. queen speculated on every other “actor” as if it really mattered in the final analysis. But few had the courage of his convictions to be “open, out, and proudly a gay man.” Not Hunter. Not Perkins. Not Hudson. Not Chamberlain. But, George Maharis was one actor who had that courage in spades. That honesty. And no one questioned his manhood, manliness, or virility, much less his honestly handsome good looks.

– D. Stephen Heersink

NOTE: Since the December 29, 2009 death of Stephen Heersink,
his blog, The Gay Species, has been off-line.

Above: George Maharis with Judy Garland in 1963.
As well as being a respected actor, Maharis is
also an accomplished

Above: George Maharis in 2006.

George Maharis, Star of Route 66, Dies at 94
– Mike Barnes and Duane Byrge
The Hollywood Reporter
May 27, 2023

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Dirk Bogarde (Part I)
Dirk Bogarde (Part II)
Dirk Bogarde (Part III)
The New Superman: Not Necessarily Gay, But Definitely Queer
Alexander’s Great Love
A Simple Yet Radical Act


Anonymous said...

Nice piece on George Maharis.

I watched him and Martin Milner on "Route 66" every Friday night in the early 1960s. I was mainly waiting for the "Twilight Zone" which came on afterwards. But even then those two in their Corvette motoring across America together caught my interest. He left the series before the final season for reasons never explained. He did star in a fairly good big budget biological warfare thriller, "The Satan Bug," in 1965.

His appearance on the Garland show was most likely because he was starring in "Route 66" at the time, both on CBS.

He also turns up as one of the Israeli freedom fighters in "Exodus."

He's so "shy" in the centerfold. He should stand forward and proud.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Rick, that is a nice piece on George--at least from as much as I can see at that angle!

Anonymous said...

There is no way in the world to say how very much I love George Maharis. I was young when I watched Route 66, but feel head of heels in LOVE with That Man. I swore someday I would be his wife. My mom bought me his album and I played it when I was allowed. My mother in law, years later, bought me the playboy that had his picture in it. I had a scrap book filled with pictures of George. I lost it in a fire afew years ago!!!I love this piece on George. It's wonderful. And brings back such wonderful memories!!!! WONDERFUL!!

Thank you for your writing!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments AND unrealized information on George. I had such a crush on him when I was a teenager watching ROUTE 66 that my friends started calling me the "Buz Girl". I took the moniker as my own and still go by the name of BUZ. Now retired, I have traveled "66", tho', unfortunately, NOT in Corvette. Thank you for the wonderful tribute to my namesake...B

Anonymous said...

I adore the photo of George Maharis in 2006..he is still a beautiful man. I lived in the Bronx when Buzz and Todd were traversing ROUTE 66 on TV and looked up and down University Avenue for that Corvette (that was our portion of 66) I was always hoping I could grab a lift and maybe suggle up to Buzz. Ahhh memories..I just turned 58 a couple of weeks ago and this is one of my favorite memories. My late husband and I had the pleasure of meeting Glen Corbett at a local bar in Manhattan years ago and yes, I asked him all about George Maharis. My husband thought I was nuts but I think Glen who was a real sweetie, understood. Watch out George, one kiss from me and you may change your kidding. Hugs and thanks for letting me stroll down memory lane.

buff said...

WOOOOOOOOOOOOF, such a fantastic tribute of a fantastic man.

A hottie with balls of steel.

Mega hairy muscle hugs. Your blog rocks!!!

Unknown said...

Good times back then, I was a teenager living in Mexico City when he came to present his show,I still have my picture taken with him and a glass with his image. My first love, who could know it would last all these years. Thanks for giving me the chance to remember and also for taking a look at the today still very handsome George

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your piece on George M.When I was 16yrs old, as a matter of fact, it was my 16th birthday and George called me to wish a HB. We didn't know one another personally. Only through letters as I was a big fan and had a crush on him as many girls did in those days. It doesn't make any difference to me what his preferences in life are, I just know he is a very caring and thoughtful person. I was having a hard time in my teens and he helped me through it with suggestiions and kind words. I also wanted to pursue a singing career and he helped me do this. Just wanted you and everyone else to know, George is a great person and artist. I hope to talk to him again someday. I last recieved a Christmas card from him about 7 yrs ago. Lost his Ca. address.

Skyeblu said...

Great article...I fell in love with George when I was 9 years old watching Route 66. I bought his albums and followed his career. He is a gorgeous man both inside and out. The reason he gave for quitting Route 55, before the final season, was his health. He suffered a couple of serious bouts with hepatitis. There are no words to thank you enough for the updated pictures of Maharis. He looks amazing. I admire his courage to be himself in a time which made it difficult. He deserves more recognition than he gets for just that. Thanks for your article and the picture.

Anonymous said...

That beautiful smile! I am delighted to see my old crush is still alive and gorgeous.

Anonymous said...

Always loved George Maharis in Route 66. Had the privilege of meeting him at a Public Appearance in Montreal, Quebec at the old Eaton's department store. He was very entertaining and charming and everyone ADORED him. Thank-you for this biography and most recent photo. Hope that he is in good health and enjoying life. <3

Unknown said...

the 2006 picture of him looks much younger than he actually is. I just found out he was gay. I guess I never read the gossip about him. I loved Route 66. I like Martin Milner, but loved George Maharis. Still looks great and just as handsome as ever.

Anonymous said...

Also met him in Montreal at Eaton's. Wish that photo-ops had been a part of personal appearances in those days. ALWAYS loved him in "Route 66". Hope that he is well and enjoying life. Many thanks for a great article.

Unknown said...

I have always adored George Maharis & was so proud of him when he came out especially seeming towards Hollywood was/is so unnecessary biased towards gay people more so when he came out.
Does anyone know if he still does the odd bit of acting?
Take care Coreen

Anonymous said...

I liked Martin too, I'm sure he's a great guy too. I loved George. He has an awesome face and I liked his character. He had a lot of emotion, and a lot of heart. I Didn't know he was gay. I Have to say I was a little disappointed, like a lot of the female population, I'm sure. Too bad he felt he had to sneak off, thus getting bad publicity, for doing things that weren't acceptable. We are what we are. I guess it's been pretty cool for him to watch the changes over the years and to feel free to be himself.

Unknown said...

I always liked George Maharis although I was just a child in the early '60's when he was on Route 66. I saw him later in a few things. I did not know he was gay until today. He looks so much like Eric McCormack of Will and Grace, or I should say that Eric McCormack looks so much like George Maharis. Thanks for the article.

Dlevi said...

I loved George Maharis when I was growing up and I even got his autograph after seeing him in a summer tour of "Company" . I was a gawky teenage gay theatre freak and he was patient and spoke to me for a few minutes. But I wanted to pick up on your mention of Phil Donahue and his importance in the 60's and 70's in terms of gay politics. When I came out to my mother in the mid-70's she wasn't pleased but one of the first things she said was:" I know what I'm feeling is wrong, I mean, I watch Phil Donahue and I know I have to change, I'm just not ready yet. " In the early 90's I happen to have been at a fund raiser that Phil and Marlo were hosting in Ct and I went over to him and told him the story. He smiled, and said that one of the things he's proudest of is the fact that my story about my mother wasn't unusual. That gay men of a certain age when they meet him tell him variations of that story and that its a happy reminder to him of the social impact of his show.

Mary Beth Brewer Kifowit said...

I always was in love with George Maharis. Martin Milner was a sweetheart and I liked him too, but love was with George. Does anyone know what he is doing today? I just read where he is 90.
6-19-19 7:00 pm

Michael J. Bayly said...

Writes “Dyneslines” about the late Stephen Heersink, 1953-2009 . . .

It is with great regret that I report the death on December 29 of my dear Internet colleague Stephen Heersink, who conducted a remarkable website at Curiously enough, we had never met in the flesh, since I was living in New York City and he in San Francisco, and we traveled little in recent years, We were virtually soul mates. While we had similar interests and views, we were both forthright – unafraid to voice disagreement with the other's opinions. By showing that “we could take it,” we honed our own arguments. Stephen showed incredible energy in producing, sometimes, three or four postings in a single day, most of them festooned with helpful hypertext references (including not a few to my work). I find it hard to imagine getting up in the morning and not looking at the latest post at The Gay Species. He was also a “top 1000 reviewer” at Amazon, where his insightful comments may still be accessed.

Stephen was a brilliant thinker and writer. He will be greatly missed.

Stephen Heersink was born in Central California on February 21, 1953 to a family of Dutch Calvinists. Recognizing that this background was somewhat narrow, in his senior year in college he sought instruction in Roman Catholic Scholasticism at a seminary in Berkeley. While resolutely secular in his mature views, Stephen knew a lot about the history of Christianity. In this way he was able to offer useful pointers concerning my ongoing manuscript on the Abrahamic religions.

At UC Berkeley and Mills College Stephen deeply immersed himself in analytic philosophy. While we disagreed on the value of that discipline, we both acknowledged a profound indebtedness to Karl Popper and Friedrich Hayek. A little later Stephen became a successful banker (a position from which he had retired). This background lent his analyses of the current economic crisis particular authority.

He was, of course, an unyielding defender of gay rights. It is appropriate, then, that his last posting was to felicitate the first gay marriages to achieve legal status in Latin America – in southern Argentina.

Antonio said...

I had forgotten all about him,but I remember that handsome face now,and the pic of him older and grey...WOW! Such a beautiful man