“This is Jim Rockford. At the tone, leave your name and message, I’ll get back to you.”
When I talked to daughter #1 on Sunday, she told me that James Garner had died.
“You’ll have to break it to dad gently,” she said. Then we chuckled because it has been a family joke for years that the OM has a bit of a thing for old James Garner. I always thought this man-crush was odd because JG always reminded me a lot of the OM’s pater and their relationship was, shall we say, less than familial. But let’s not get too Freudian about it all…
James Garner, you will recall, was the star of the hit TV series The Rockford Files and Maverick and some good films including The Great Escape (1963), The Thrill of it All (1963) and The Children’s Hour (1961). He was only nominated once for an Oscar–for Murphy’s Romance (1985)–and, of course, he didn’t win. (William Hurt won that year for Kiss of the Spider Woman! Remember that one? Me neither.) He was miscast a lot–he played Philip Marlowe in Marlowe (1965) and Ira Moran in Breathing Lessons (1994). Frequently you had the feeling he was the second or third choice for a role.
But you had to hand it to him for being a working actor for all those years–1956-2010–that’s impressive. He didn’t seem to care if he had top billing; he just wanted the work. He gave the impression that he didn’t take his profession too seriously–he knew he was no Olivier–but it paid well and, despite the physical trauma of stunt-work, it wasn’t too hard.
“I’m a Methodist but not as an actor,” he wrote in his autobiography The Garner Files. “I’m from the Spencer Tracy school: Be on time, know your words, hit your marks, and tell the truth. I don’t have any theories about acting, and I don’t think about how to do it, except that an actor shouldn’t take himself too seriously, and shouldn’t try to make acting something it isn’t. Acting is just common sense. It isn’t hard if you put yourself aside and just do what the writer wrote.”
A refreshing attitude, to be sure. He had “exasperated” down to a “T”. You can read all about his career here.
My mother was a fan of those Polaroid commercials he did with Mariette Hartley in the ’70s. Remember those classic commercials? (Remember those cameras?!) She thought they were great and I’m sure she bought at least one Polaroid because of them.
Anyway, I settled in and watched several episodes of The Rockford Files–Season One on Sunday night.
I find it very comforting to watch The Rockford Files with its car chases through the banal southern California scenery and the really bad ’70s apparel, home decor and hairdos, because I can imagine my parents watching it. It was one of their favorite shows. The 1970s (worst decade ever!) was the decade of my youth after all–when I graduated from high school and went to college. So The Rockford Files is nothing if not familiar.
So rest in peace, James Garner. We’ll miss you. And the walk down memory lane with the The Rockford Files just may continue tonight…I highly recommend it.
Into paradise may the angels lead thee; and at thy coming may the martyrs receive thee, and bring thee into the holy city Jerusalem.
–BCP, Burial of the Dead, Rite I