George Maharis intentionally blinded himself for this episode of 'Route 66'
Eat your heart out, Jared Leto.
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Among the actors of his generation, Jared Leto takes the most pride in his method acting. Perhaps to an extremely level. He gained 67 pounds to portray Mark David Chapman. He lost 30 pounds for Dallas Buyers Club, a role that earned him an Academy Award. He reportedly sent his costar a rat when playing the Joker in Suicide Squad. Most recently, we went blind for his few appearances in Blade Runner 2049. He wore custom contact lenses that made his eyes opaque.
"That, for me, was insane. But he really created something," director Denis Villeneuve said.
Well, we have news for Leto. It is not a novel idea. In fact, another actor did the same thing 55 years ago.
In some ways, George Maharis was akin to being a Jared Leto of the 1960s. Both actors found success in pop music careers. Both at heart aspired to be painters. Both were handsome teen idols. Both landed breakthrough television roles in their early 20s.
Maharis was one of the two stars on Route 66, the drama of two young men wandering America in a beautiful Corvette convertible. With its literary episode titles, artful blue-collar portraits and philosophical musings, the series was heavily inspired by the Beat Generation. Late in the second season, in "Even the Stones Have Eyes," the itinerant Buz (Maharis) and Tod (Martin Milner) find themselves in Austin, Texas.
The beauty of Route 66 was that the show did not merely shoot on some Hollywood backlot. The production hit the road. In the opening scene of "Even the Stones Have Eyes," Buz and Tod are working atop the unfinished John H. Reagan State Office Building, which was indeed under construction in 1962. The Texas Longhorns football stadium, the UT–Austin campus and other recognizable buildings can be spotted in the background.
After a beam conks Buz on the head, he loses his vision. Tod then drives his buddy out to Kerrville, Texas, where Buz will stay in a facility for the blind. As the two pull up in their Vette, Tod describes the lovely scenery.
"The way you describe it, it's a wonder more people don't poke their eyes out," Buz dryly says.
As this is a weekly TV drama, Buz naturally falls in love at the compound… and eventually regains his vision. The episode was mostly shot on location at the Texas Lions Camp, a facility that continues to help children with special needs. At the time, around when Buz visited, the Lions Camp also fuctioned as a training site for adults with vision impairment issues, much as you see in the episode.
In fact, there's a scene in which Buz and his love interest, Celia (Barbara Barrie), touch a small-scale model of the Lions Camps, to familiarize Buz with the layout of the buildings. The 3-D model was part of the camp, and has remained on site in the decades since, in a small museum.
Anyway, the point of all this is Maharis' performance itself. The actor asked a doctor for a special pair of contact lenses that would impair his vision. You will note how his irises appear darker in close-up shots. It goes to show how dedicated this cast was to realism.