R.I.P. James Garner
July 20, 2014 3:41 AM   Subscribe

James Garner, star of two classic television shows ("Maverick" and "The Rockford Files") and a wide slate of films including "The Great Escape", "The Americanization of Emily" and "Victor/Victoria", has died at the age of 86.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI (149 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

As a child of the '70s, I will always hold dear all the Friday nights I watched The Rockford Files.

Wonderful in every single thing he ever appeared in.

posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 3:48 AM on July 20 [13 favorites]

He's one of those guys you kind of thought had died a few years ago, and then you find out he just died and you feel sad anyway.

The Rockford Files, man. The fucking Rockford Files.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:50 AM on July 20 [3 favorites]


I haven't seen much of Maverick - I need to watch more of that. And, yeah, Rockford Files was a staple of 70's TV. And he was so wonderfully cast in Victor/Victoria.

"Would that be cow's milk, monsieur, or mother's milk?"
"How about your sister's?"
posted by rmd1023 at 3:51 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]

posted by logicpunk at 3:52 AM on July 20 [12 favorites]

posted by Monsieur Caution at 3:53 AM on July 20

RIP Rockfish.
posted by valkane at 3:55 AM on July 20 [12 favorites]

I also have a fondness for the series of commercials he did with Mariette Hartley for Polaroid - I think it was one of the first TV ad campaigns that was done like such a series of little standalone vignettes.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:57 AM on July 20 [18 favorites]

Garner was the man. I even loved the 80's revival of Maverick.
posted by jonmc at 4:04 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]

posted by tzikeh at 4:07 AM on July 20

Another child of the 70's with fond Rockford memories. Bye, Jimmy.

posted by davebush at 4:10 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]

Aw. What a sad thing to wake up to.

posted by MissySedai at 4:12 AM on July 20 [8 favorites]

My favourite role of his is Hendley the scrounger in The Great Escape
posted by GallonOfAlan at 4:22 AM on July 20 [12 favorites]

For a while my outgoing answering machine message was modeled on Jim Rockford's. "Hello, this is TedW. At the tone leave your name and number; I'll get back to you." In the most deadpan voice I could muster. I don't think anyone ever got it, though.

RIP, yet again.
posted by TedW at 4:24 AM on July 20

posted by Cash4Lead at 4:26 AM on July 20

> I haven't seen much of Maverick - I need to watch more of that.

There were two Maverick brothers in the original TV show; Bret (Garner) and Bart (Jack Kelly, imho not nearly as smooth or funny.) I checked whenever the show came on to see whether it was a Bret episode or a Bart episode. If it was Bret I watched happily. If it was only Bart I'd rather go out and play.

Many years of Maverick gave me a little extra kick whenever I saw Garner in anything else. Especially in The Great Escape--it was like suddenly and unexpectedly seeing Perry Mason show up in the old Godzilla. I thought "Oh look, there's Bret Maverick escaping from Nazis! Of course he'll get away!" (Was actually very relieved when he was one of the few who did make it out alive. "Spain?" "Espania.")
posted by jfuller at 4:26 AM on July 20 [4 favorites]

posted by condour75 at 4:34 AM on July 20

This is Jim Rockford. At the tone, leave your name and message. I'll get back to you. [Beep]
"Jimmy, it's Angel. Don't pay no attention to my other message. You're out of it. You're clean, no trouble at all. Just ignore the first message."
posted by mikelieman at 4:36 AM on July 20 [23 favorites]

I guess we'll all just have to leave a message.

posted by Old'n'Busted at 4:36 AM on July 20 [2 favorites]

The Rockford Files was the anti of a lot of sexy Black and White detective stereotypes. And it was fun to watch. James Garner was a likeable down-on-his luck character. Clint Eastwood meets Captain Kangaroo.

From the wiki: Rockford had served time in California's San Quentin Prison in the 1960s due to a wrongful conviction. After five years, he was pardoned. His infrequent jobs as a private investigator barely allow him to maintain his dilapidated mobile home (which doubles as his office) in a parking lot on the beaches of Malibu, California.

As much as I loved the Rockford Files I will never forgive that tune though.

posted by vapidave at 4:37 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]

I started watching The Rockford Files on Hulu recently, so this news is very relevant. RIP old boy. You were a cool dude.
posted by rmmcclay at 4:38 AM on July 20


jfuller, don't forget Roger Moore as the Maverick's English cousin Beau. (As much as we would all like to.)
posted by dannyboybell at 4:40 AM on July 20

posted by Thorzdad at 4:42 AM on July 20


I loved the Rockford Files as a kid, Garner was just so right for the role, he was so believeable as the down-on-his-luck PI. And that theme tune, oh man, so perfectly 70s and awesome.

And he will never be home right now, so all we can do is leave our messages.
posted by marienbad at 4:42 AM on July 20 [4 favorites]

posted by Smart Dalek at 4:47 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]

Among Garner's other accomplishments, he drove the pace car at the Indianapolis 500 three times...1975, 1977, and 1985.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:49 AM on July 20 [5 favorites]

They'd be enough for any actor's resume, but he did a long list of things besides Maverick, Rockford, The Great Escape and Victor/Victoria: the man could do comedy or drama equally well. Try Space Cowboys, A Man Called Sledge, Grand Prix, The Americanization of Emily, Support Your Local Gunfighter or Support Your Local Sheriff, any of the comedies he did with people like Doris Day....

Thanks, Mr. Garner, for all you've given us.
posted by easily confused at 4:55 AM on July 20 [4 favorites]

I thought "Oh look, there's Bret Maverick escaping from Nazis! Of course he'll get away!" (Was actually very relieved when he was one of the few who did make it out alive. "Spain?" "Espania.")

Sad to say, that was James Coburn's character who made it into Spain. Garner was captured and sent back to the camp.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 4:59 AM on July 20 [3 favorites]

posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 5:00 AM on July 20

Support Your Local Gunfighter is one of my comfort movies. Garner was a cool, funny dude. RIP.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:05 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]

I grew up watching Rockford files reruns with my dad who watched it when he was a teenager. Recently binged it on Netflix and it really held up well.

posted by lownote at 5:06 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]

posted by KingEdRa at 5:16 AM on July 20

He was a favorite of both my childhood households. Rockford was one of the few things both my father and stepfather loved. And My Fellow Americans is one of my favorite 90s comedies.

posted by DigDoug at 5:17 AM on July 20

I watched The Rockford Files.

posted by infini at 5:21 AM on July 20

Aw, I am so bummed. He was great in everything he did...he certainly made Grand Prix watchable (everyone else was overacting).

His daughter is very active on Twitter btw.
posted by Calzephyr at 5:22 AM on July 20

posted by Renoroc at 5:25 AM on July 20

The Americanization of Emily.

posted by allthinky at 5:26 AM on July 20

So many remember him as a wonderful actor. He was also a very decent human. He came from a down-on-his-luck background, an Okie in the dust bowl days. He prided himself on remembering the names and families of all of the laborers who worked on the set. He considered himself one of them. He was married to the same woman for almost 60 years.
He risked everything and fought corrupt Hollywood in the late 70s, standing up to a producer who was robbing him and others.
He was one of the few persons I wanted to emulate.
And Support Your Local Sheriff best captures his essence.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:29 AM on July 20 [34 favorites]

posted by tommasz at 5:29 AM on July 20

I wanted to add this, reading some of the above. James Garner was my comfort actor, the one I went to feel good about the world.
From Wikipedia: On August 28, 1963, Garner was one of several celebrities to join Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom."
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:35 AM on July 20 [21 favorites]

I love The Rockford Files. The set pieces that make up Jim Rockford's universe are so damned quirky and charming that they make the whole thing seem real; his answering machine message, the trailer in the parking lot, his Firebird, his gun in the cookie jar. Jim eats Oreos and has tacos with hot sauce for breakfast. He has a printing press in his back seat for making fake business cards for pretext. And his ongoing relationships with his father, Rocky, and his friends, Angel, Dennis, Beth Davenport, and on occasion Gandolph, Richie Brockleman, and of course, Lance White, illustrate a man who is willing to take the bad with the good.

Rockford makes his way through the world using his wits balanced with a huge dose of tolerance. Jim spent five years in prison (receiving a pardon of course, because he really didn't do anything, um, wrong) so Rockford knows what it is to be oppressed, to be the other, downtrodden, unbelieved, disrespected. And so he treats everyone with the knowledge that even though they are not perfect, they are human beings deserving of kindness (or at least a grudging respect).

Again and again, his clients, even his friends and family do him disservices, and display ignorance, intolerance and bigotry, yet he continues to work towards a best solution and continues to love them. It's not a black and white world, and Rockford knows this. Even the guy that just punched him in the mouth, or used Jim's credit cards to charge up a bunch of silly investigative equipment gets treated with understanding. He does not dismiss folks out of hand because of certain negative aspects of their personality. Because to do so would be hypocrisy, as he recognizes his own limitations and prejudices. Jim is a colorful rogue, willing to lie and cheat his way to the sources of information that enable him to solve whatever case he happens to be working on, usually for little or no reward, his fee of "Two hundred dollars a day, plus expenses" notwithstanding. For Rockford, "the end justifies the means" is a rule of life.

I'm not saying he doesn't get irked and frustrated with folks, as well as the petty problems that crop up in real life. I love the fact that Rockford's sink is always stopped up, or his fridge is on the fritz, or Rocky has eaten the steak he was saving for dinner. Rockford is a decidedly blue-collar detective and James Garner's immense talent and ability to portray these aspects of Rockford's personality is what makes him so damned likable. For a show broadcast in 1974 it was groundbreaking, and holds up well to the test of time.
posted by valkane at 5:41 AM on July 20 [21 favorites]


What an actor! Rockford Files was some of the best TV ever made. The scripts and acting were always great. And Garner had a strong hand in the production. Although he would sometimes grab his gun out of the cookie jar, I think Rockford might have fired it one time.

I read his autobigraphy a few years back. A really fun book. A lifetime liberal, he described playing a conservative supreme court judge sarcastically: "Acting!"
posted by Ironmouth at 5:42 AM on July 20 [4 favorites]

posted by tdismukes at 5:44 AM on July 20

posted by localroger at 5:45 AM on July 20

Yeah. Did not enjoy waking up to this news. I'm older, officially.

easily confused, thanks for reminding me of Victor Victoria--hilarious film!
posted by xtian at 5:45 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]

posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:47 AM on July 20

What charisma and style he had. One of my few fond memories from my brief time in university is my daily Rockford dose from those midday reruns on A&E.

Aw, and I just saw he outlived the author of his obituary:
The late AP writer Bob Thomas contributed to this report.
posted by evilcolonel at 5:48 AM on July 20 [8 favorites]

One other thing--to a young boy growing up in the '70s, Garner's Rockford character was "how to be a man." Helping people, doing the right thing, being tough only when absolutely necessary.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:51 AM on July 20 [21 favorites]

posted by Mister Bijou at 5:54 AM on July 20

I will never forgive that tune though.

I love that tune! Singing it now in my head.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:54 AM on July 20 [2 favorites]

Man, this makes me so damn sad.

My dad allowed us to have a television in the house just in time for me to catch Rockford Files as a teenager (he still hates tv with a passion). James Garner reminded me strongly of my dad, looks-wise, and I think I always favored Garner initially for that reason, although RF was a delightful show. I have the theme music playing in my head now.
posted by Janissa11 at 5:54 AM on July 20

I think I might rewatch Murphy's Romance today in his honor. That's a great, charming little movie about grownups falling in love.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:56 AM on July 20 [9 favorites]

For those of you who haven't seen Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunfighter, go see them immediately. They are absolutely perfect parodies made by people who deeply love the thing they're parodying.

posted by Etrigan at 5:56 AM on July 20 [5 favorites]

James Garner has always been a personal favorite of mine. He just seemed to project an everyman humanity in everything he did. He also specialized in a kind of hangdog, sardonic wit that I find appealing. I always said that if I had a product to sell I would want James Garner to be the spokesman.

It's a real bonus that he was a decent man behind the acting.

posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:05 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]

posted by iviken at 6:06 AM on July 20

Also, don't forget Barbarians At The Gate.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:09 AM on July 20 [5 favorites]

posted by How the runs scored at 6:13 AM on July 20

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:16 AM on July 20

Ah damn. One of the most instantly likable actors ever. As Ironmouth mentioned, he was a lifetime liberal and you can really see how he worked to bring his social and political beliefs into his work, but without ever being preachy or didactic. Especially in the first couple of seasons of The Rockford Files the fact that he's done time and the difficulty of reintegrating into society after spending time in prison is a major theme; it's a pity that as the show went on that backstory most got dropped.

Any of you who remember The Rockford Files fondly might want to check out Donal Logue's Terriers. It only lasted for one season, but it is clearly strongly indebted to The Rockford Files and is very engaging.
posted by yoink at 6:27 AM on July 20 [9 favorites]

Another good ass gone under. Bummer.
posted by Pudhoho at 6:27 AM on July 20

posted by kinnakeet at 6:29 AM on July 20

posted by you must supply a verb at 6:36 AM on July 20

posted by crush-onastick at 6:40 AM on July 20

Julie Andrews has a story about the day she and James Garner had to shoot a scene for The Americanization of Emily that involved them rolling around on a bed together, kissing. This went on for quite awhile as they did close-up after close-up. She tried to take an "all in a day's work" attitude towards it, but when they were done and she tried to get up and walk away, her knees buckled and she fell to the floor.

Go in peace, James Garner. You made us all weak in the knees, when you weren't making us experiment with a Rockford Turn, and what was inside you was just as attractive as what was outside.
posted by orange swan at 6:40 AM on July 20 [15 favorites]

As a teenager in the 70's I loved The Rockford Files. A few years ago I spliced together a recording of the answer phone message and an MP3 of the theme tune using Audacity to create a ring tone for my phone. Think I'll switch over to that for a while.

posted by PippinJack at 6:45 AM on July 20 [2 favorites]

posted by Iridic at 6:47 AM on July 20

. Spent a lot of time in college watching Rockford re-runs in the afternoon when I should have been studying.

I'm a big fan of Gran Prix too. That movie was done without blue-screen or rear-projection so if you see Garner's face in the shot, then he was actually driving the car. It's a movie to watch on Blu-Ray with a big TV and the best sound system to get the full effect.
posted by octothorpe at 6:48 AM on July 20

Point of Reference: The Rockford Turn
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 6:48 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]

posted by Flood at 6:50 AM on July 20

Hey, I just found out that Nichols--Garner's own favorite of his TV shows--was made available on DVD last year. It only lasted a year; it's a deliberate subversion of many of the tropes of the TV Western and viewers resisted having their "Maverick" in such a role. Well worth checking out.
posted by yoink at 6:52 AM on July 20 [2 favorites]

As much as I loved the Rockford Files I will never forgive that tune though.

I will never forgive it...FOR BEING AWESOME.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:56 AM on July 20 [26 favorites]

My ring tone on my phone has been The Rockford Files theme music for months. I don't think I'll be changing that anytime soon.
posted by COD at 7:13 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]

It's the truth, every word of it... give or take a lie or two!

posted by bjgeiger at 7:13 AM on July 20

posted by Mittenz at 7:15 AM on July 20


Here's the New York Times obituary. You can see a 1999 interview with him here. Charlie Rose 2002 interview, part 1, part 2. (Garner's mother, who died when he was young, was half Cherokee, and Garner had a difficult childhood, let alone growing up in Oklahoma at a time when it was not so easy to be Native American.)
posted by gudrun at 7:16 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]

posted by marimeko at 7:21 AM on July 20

By all accounts a great guy and certainly a great actor. I love his role as "The Scrounger" in The Greatest Film Ever Made: The Great Escape.
posted by marxchivist at 7:31 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]

posted by Cookiebastard at 7:34 AM on July 20

posted by petebest at 7:42 AM on July 20

posted by dbiedny at 7:48 AM on July 20

posted by XMLicious at 8:00 AM on July 20

posted by theora55 at 8:15 AM on July 20

I love James Garner.

posted by winna at 8:20 AM on July 20

Aw, damn. I've been vaguely dreading this news ever since he fell ill a few years ago. The adoration of James Garner was a multigenerational thing in our family. Mom met him as a star-struck teenager when he was on Maverick (she said he was incredibly nice, even though she was so tongue-tied she could barely say anything) and always carried a torch for him from that point on. Then I crushed on him every Friday night watching Rockford Files at my grandparents house, and I'm pretty sure my grandfather's intense brand loyalty to Polaroid had more than a little to do with his commercials.

I've always been glad that by all accounts, he was as terrific a human being as he was an actor. So long, Mr. Garner, and thanks for all the happiness you brought us.
posted by scody at 8:20 AM on July 20 [3 favorites]

posted by Mitheral at 8:28 AM on July 20

1969 24-hours-of-Daytona with James Garner

A documentary called The Racing Scene was made there.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, the article confirms reports that he was a pretty decent guy.
posted by petebest at 8:31 AM on July 20

Darn. This is the one obituary I've been both dreading and expecting to read. I kept meaning to make a comprehensive front-page post on Garner while he was still around, but I never got to it.

I've never considered Garner to be a great actor, but he seems to be a great character on film who always plays a likeable version of himself--or at least his public image. Despite that, his movies and TV shows have been a big part of my media-consuming life. I don't know which came first, watching the Rockford Files after school or being excited when the Support movies showed up on Sunday afternoon TV, but no matter the order, I loved both experiences.

The first (and only) movie I ever sneaked into was Victor/Victoria. I seem to recall it being rated 14A here, which meant you couldn't see it unaccompanied if you were under 14, which was an age a friend and I hadn't reached yet. But that didn't deter us. We tried to make ourselves look and act as grown-up as possible, but we were still terrified when we got to the ticket window, expecting to be turned away for being under-age. But the thought of James Garner with a pencil moustache dressed in formal evening wear co-starring in a jazz-age musical with Julie Andrews (yes, I was already a fan of the pair in Emily) set in one of the most beautiful historical periods of recent times was a siren song we couldn't avoid. Fortunately the guy behind the ticket booth either bought our act or didn't care, so we got to see the movie.

Garner was also one of the biggest draws for me when I first started reading the TV listings and staying up way past my bedtime to watch late-night movies. I know I fell asleep on the chesterfield more than once trying to watch films like Move Over, Darling, Grand Prix and They Only Kill Their Masters.

Before the 80s revival of Maverick came on, I would have sworn that I had never seen Garner in that role, but years later I realized that I must have caught the TV pilot for The New Maverick at some point, again likely on Sunday afternoon TV. Of course I watched the revival, featuring some long time Garner working pals (like Stuart Margolin/Angel) and his brother Jack Garner (the bartender). That was one of those shows I hated to see cancelled, even if it wasn't the greatest thing on TV.

Along the way, if Garner was in it, I usually ended up watching it: the cartoon God, The Devil and Bob, Sunset, Space Cowboys, Murphy's Romance, My Fellow Americans, First Monday, the Mel Gibson Maverick movie, etc.

I never got to see the original Maverick episodes until I discovered torrenting. As much as I would have gladly purchased a box set, it just wasn't available, but thanks to people who had taped the program in repeats, I finally got to see the original versions. They were well worth putting up with low seed numbers, slow downloads and fuzzy VCR transfers.

I had also never seen Nichols either, but did manage to view a couple of episodes the same way (before the DVD came out).

As I said, I had been contemplating a FPP, and a while ago I fell down one of those YouTube rabbit holes watching James Garner interviews. While I don't have them all before me here are a few (minus the Charlie Rose one previously posted):

On Steve McQueen and Brando

On Emily
On getting into acting

Unfortunately I don't have the one at hand where he laughingly tells the story of advising a young Mariette Hartley to stick it to Polaroid and demand a suitably high amount of compensation when she first signed on to do commercials for the company. Apparently she did.

As a personal aside, I always kept hoping that at some point the powers the be at DC Comics would have cast him in the role of old Bruce Wayne in a Batman Begins project. I mean who else would be better as an aging, dashing, hero (Garner had two purple hearts from Korea) with bad knees and joints (taking down bad guys on Rockford with flying tackles wasn't easy on him)? But sadly that will never happen now.

One of my favourite Garner-related stories was told to me by a relative. A few years ago, he was teaching high school kids script writing. For the exercise, the students were to watch most of The Great Escape, but he was going to stop the film before the ending, so they could write the final scenes themselves. Of course he got a lot of pushback because what high school kids these days want to watch old, boring movies where there is lots of talking and no giant robots beating each other to death?

He said one of the first points where he noticed a shift in the room of the kids being interested was when Garner first appeared on-screen. At that point, all of the girls in the class started to stare. Their jaws dropped and they practically started drooling. He said it was the funniest thing in the world to watch, but what made it better was that eventually one of the girls figured out who the actor was and asked him if the guy on the screen was the "old guy" from TV. When he told her yes, he said watching her try to absorb and reconcile the information that the hot young guy and the old guy were the same person was just comical.

R.I.P Mr. Garner.
posted by sardonyx at 8:46 AM on July 20 [11 favorites]

Theme from The Rockford Files; long version, complete with guitar solos and nitrous oxide.
posted by TedW at 8:58 AM on July 20 [4 favorites]

posted by lapolla at 9:00 AM on July 20

posted by rtha at 9:00 AM on July 20

posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:07 AM on July 20

Sardonyx, my wife had a similar experience. She teaches high school English and was recently covering A Streetcar Named Desire. She showed the kids the movie and several of the girls were swooning over the young Brando. My wife blew their minds by explaining that he was 'that old man' from the Godfather.
posted by jonmc at 9:07 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]

posted by Majorita at 9:12 AM on July 20

My brother and I watched Rockford Files repeats every weekday after school for years in the 70s. I remember feeling more connected with my Dad when he mentioned that he has been a big fan of Maverick in the 50s.

I think Garner used to a lot of his own driving and stunts too, until it got to be to much for him.

And if anyone's thinking about checking out the Support Your Local .... films, I'll just mention that Gunfighter co-start Suzanne Pleshette.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:12 AM on July 20

He said one of the first points where he noticed a shift in the room of the kids being interested was when Garner first appeared on-screen. At that point, all of the girls in the class started to stare. Their jaws dropped and they practically started drooling.

On top of everything else he has going for himself in that film, the man had a great head of hair.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 9:17 AM on July 20

1969 24-hours-of-Daytona with James Garner

A documentary called The Racing Scene was made there.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, the article confirms reports that he was a pretty decent guy.

and as a I recall hearing, the only one of the leads from Grand Prix who could actually drive a car FAST.

good man, good life by all accounts.

posted by philip-random at 9:29 AM on July 20

RIP. Now he and Robert Mitchum can get to work on my dream project.....
posted by ergomatic at 9:37 AM on July 20 [4 favorites]

R.I.P. old soul. I'm watching more of my historical wallpaper being stripped off the wall every day.

I don't remember when first I became aware of James Garner. Probably it was when he was still Brett Maverick. I liked him as Rockford, and every other thing I saw him do: possibly because (unlike such great actors as Dustin Hoffman and Michael Caine) he seemed to be just another aspect of himself, and that was more than okay with me.

I saw "The Americanization of Emily" in the autumn of 1965, projected onto the side of a short cargo van. We sat on benches made of PSP (perforated Steel Planking--interlocking strips of metal about 16 inches wide and maybe 15 feet long), that was laid across ammo boxes. The far side of the van was next to the double-aproned barbed wire fence, which was heavily mined, and the near side, painted white, for use as a movie screen, faced outward, toward the perimeter. Our benches were located on more or less the same spot where the Viet Cong had set up their mortars when they attacked the air base, a few weeks earlier.

I was in the process of being introduced to the joys of the SE Asian monsoon season, a thing one must experience to truly appreciate. On nights when it rained, we draped our military ponchos over us while we watched the movies. They don't really keep you dry, but they do give you some comfort for at least making an effort.

We were the first unit of American boonie rats to hold this ground--we arrived in May. Our theory was, by facing the screen toward the perimeter--that Charlie wouldn't attack until after the movie. That seemed to work well enough for a while.

James Garner told Julie Andrews that he thought he'd just sit out the war without killing anyone. It seemed like a very sane thing to say. I was nineteen years old at the time, and under the impression that the grownups were wiser than I was about most things. I was new to the notion of honorable opposition to American Warfare, and the idea didn't yet make much sense to me. (the anti-war effort back home was not a big priority for the Stars & Stripes, our official news source, or AFRS, the radio station available to us...we lived in a Bizzaro continuum that, eventually, was barely explored by the likes of Vonnegut and such. Saigon Sally, with her go-go boots, sweet talked us, told us we were her dear brave soldiers; she even described her mini-skit and tube tops for us, and told us how she wore her hair. Tuning around the dial, we could hear Hanoi Hanna talk about us as if she knew us personally: we learned, for example, that some 4000 gangsters from the 173 had been killed in combat operations in the Michelin Plantations. I was in that battle, and I was dubious about her numbers. Anyhow, we amounted to only about 3500 paratroopers, if you included the support battalion. And so it went. I don't know for certain that her name was Hanna, and I'm pretty sure she wasn't broadcasting from Hanoi.

I remember only one other movie "It's a Mad Mad...World." I couldn't follow the plot, and I didn't understand the humor, although I did get it, that it was supposed to be funny. Anyhow, I'd been a soldier for over a year by that time, and civilian things gradually were becoming less actual and more theoretical to me.
posted by mule98J at 9:47 AM on July 20 [12 favorites]

[answering-machine beep]

posted by echocollate at 9:47 AM on July 20

Thanks to James Garner, I won $100, a t-shirt, and got my name in the National Enquirer for spotting a blooper on "The Rockford Files".

posted by mogget at 9:49 AM on July 20 [5 favorites]

I was too young when The Rockford Files originally aired, but when I was in college I happened to catch an episode on cable between classes and was hooked. After that I watched it every day during my break. It was like a little ritual for me. Wake up, go to class in the morning, head back to my dorm and watch Rockford Files, and then leave for my afternoon classes. Thanks, James Garner. I have fond memories of those days.
posted by downtohisturtles at 9:57 AM on July 20

I was born a little too late to see him in Rockford until late 80s syndication, so to me he'll always be the dad from 1984's Tank. Even there, he gave a weight and gravity to the somewhat flimsy material that made him just a joy to watch.

Rockford Files was cool. But there's a few things I'd change. If it were up to me.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 9:59 AM on July 20 [2 favorites]

posted by tyllwin at 10:12 AM on July 20

So long, fellow Aries, and thanks for the hours of entertainment you provided while I was growing up. A very classy guy. RIP.
posted by Lynsey at 10:27 AM on July 20

Ah fuck. This is just what it's going to be like from now on, isn't it? A slow grinding process of everyone I grew up liking and admiring gradually leaving the world. Every few days another post like this and another "damn it" moment.

And they'll all be replaced by new people I've never heard of and don't know if I like or not. Like Macklemore. Who the fuck is Macklemore?
posted by Naberius at 10:31 AM on July 20 [9 favorites]

So long Rockfish/Maverick/God, it's been great knowing you.
posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 10:32 AM on July 20

posted by drnick at 10:38 AM on July 20

Noted for the record: Mariette Hartley was not James Garner's wife.

Jim Garner, one of the good dead ones.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:47 AM on July 20 [5 favorites]

posted by maryr at 10:48 AM on July 20

and as a I recall hearing, the only one of the leads from Grand Prix who could actually drive a car FAST.

Most of the actors had driving lessons -- their very first, for some. Garner did all his own driving, and was quite good. IMDb says "During breaks in filming there were several mini races in which Garner either tied or bettered the professional drivers hired for filming." Others were less good, and some had to be towed (at high speed!) behind a modified GT40. (Grand Prix has the best car-racing footage ever shot for a movie. Director John Frankenheimer reused many of the techniques years later for Ronin.)

Always liked James Garner. RIP.
posted by pmurray63 at 10:49 AM on July 20 [3 favorites]

There was another interview (maybe the Charlie Rose one) where he spoke about being too tall to properly fit in the cars being used in Grand Prix, so they had to rip out the seats and Garner had to sit on the floor. But despite that, he still loved being behind the wheel.
posted by sardonyx at 10:57 AM on July 20

Hold it!
posted by bac at 11:31 AM on July 20 [2 favorites]

I've never considered Garner to be a great actor

Here's where the good/great distinction comes into play. Garner was about as good as an actor can be, day in and day out.

posted by in278s at 11:39 AM on July 20

By the way, if Mike Post's Rockford Files theme is now stuck in your brain, The Americanization of Emily has an excellent theme by Johnny Mandel. Here's Bill Evans.
posted by in278s at 11:43 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]


I think it's pretty obvious I'm a fan. I just never really considered Garner to be one of those actors who disappeared into a part. Instead he always seemed to be playing a comfortable, likeable, easy-to-watch version of the James Garner persona. Sure he made it look easy. His performances were never laboured. Effortless is a word easily applied to him.

Personally I would have loved to have seen him stretch his range a bit more. More Garner is always better than less Garner. But I'm more than happy he left us with the roles he did.
posted by sardonyx at 11:54 AM on July 20

posted by glhaynes at 12:08 PM on July 20

The Scrounger is gone and we're all the less-supplied for it.

posted by Spatch at 12:19 PM on July 20

Dammit, I used to love the Rockford Files when I was a kid. I wonder if they have aged well.

I think Support Your Local Sheriff and the Skin Game are the two Westerns I have seen most often. I would watch anything with James Garner in.

posted by antiwiggle at 12:26 PM on July 20

I saw an interview with him once where he has asked about his military service. He had been wounded in the Korean War, and the interviewer asked him where he had been shot. He answered, "Well, let's put it this way, we were fighting the North Koreans and I was heading south." Even the camera crew broke up.

posted by hawkeye at 12:43 PM on July 20 [4 favorites]

A fellow I know lives in Malibu (movie stars, blah, blah, etc.) Besides all the OTHER
elements of his life that bring me perilously close to soul-death, he told me
a story about one time "The Colony" suffered a wind storm and several residents
were out back in the alley checking damages, including him. He looked across
the way and there were three bent-overish old folks pointing up at a detached
cable hanging across the telephone lines, making clucking noises amongst themselves.
He told me that he did a cartoon double-take when he realized that it was Sean Connery,
Lauren Bacall, and James Garner. People get old, die. These guys never will.
posted by Chitownfats at 12:49 PM on July 20 [5 favorites]

Most recently saw him in The Only Kill Their Masters, a movie definitely of his time. I always loved him in anything he did.
posted by fleacircus at 1:04 PM on July 20

When asked if he would ever do a nude scene, he replied "I don't do horror movies."

posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:23 PM on July 20 [1 favorite]

And if anyone's thinking about checking out the Support Your Local .... films, I'll just mention that Gunfighter co-start Suzanne Pleshette.

And Sheriff has Joan Hackett! Plus, they both have Harry Morgan. I've never sorted out which one is my favorite.
posted by worldswalker at 1:57 PM on July 20

Oh my god. I'm still watching James Garner on a regular basis, as I slowly go through DVDs of Maverick and Rockford Files. (One or two a month, for a few years now.) It's hard to believe he's gone.

He's like the epitome of cool. Never an outright action hero, Garner always had to think his way out of situations. And no matter how complicated the schemes got or how badly the odds were stacked against him, he always prevailed.

posted by Kevin Street at 2:21 PM on July 20

posted by Vibrissae at 4:10 PM on July 20

Thanks Mr. Garner for sending me off to dreamland during all those years of late night Rockford Files reruns. I found you and your show soporific as all get out and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Just cued up a rerun and check out the street scenes with all the mid-70's cars! My eyelids are beginning to droop....

posted by telstar at 4:30 PM on July 20

posted by pt68 at 6:03 PM on July 20

Jim Rockford's answering machine messages: season 1, season 2
posted by oneirodynia at 7:15 PM on July 20 [3 favorites]

James Garner Changed What a Hero Could Be Like:
Garner... effortlessly combined strength and humility, humor and capability, frankness and empathy to create an ideal Alpha-male, of the sort that hadn't existed before, at least not in drama. He constructed a new kind of hero, one who would much rather be playing cards or going fishing. But all right, if no one else was going to save the girl, or solve the case, or prevent the crime, well, then — here, hold this for a second — he'd do it.

When he brought this persona to life in "Maverick" and then again in "The Rockford Files," he all but rebuilt an archetype. Before Garner, heroes were heroes, which meant, nine times out of 10, they were boring. After Garner, they could be funny, irritating, lazy, fearful and complicated. Without James Garner there would be no Indiana Jones, no Starsky and Hutch, no Gregory House, no Patrick Jane, certainly no Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes. Without James Garner, adventure heroes would be no fun at all.
posted by scody at 7:28 PM on July 20 [8 favorites]

My mom loves James Garner. I did not want to tell her when I read this.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:38 PM on July 20

The great thing about Rockford, aside from teaching a generation of kids about how awesome j-turns are, is that the character could be irritable, petty, and a bullshitter, for sure, but underneath it all there was always compassion, even for the clients who were lying to him, even for the bad guys. Just a general decency to him, not a rigid moral code or a bruised romanticism, but a kindness, that wasn't necessarily native to the Private Detective archetype before that.

Even when he was getting his ass kicked, his main reaction seemed to be that it hurt his feelings that people were acting that way.

And- does the show hold up? Remarkably well, I'd say. From a recent rewatch, I recall the David Chase-written episodes - and there were a lot of them- as being standouts, but the series is pretty consistent throughout.

posted by hap_hazard at 7:44 PM on July 20 [6 favorites]

And- does the show hold up? Remarkably well, I'd say.

I agree -- I started catching random episodes now and then about a year ago, and aside from the occasional obviously goofy/awesome '70s-ism, I was really happy to see how engaging it still is. The writing's great, and he's just... oh man. Garner is just so handsome and funny and sly and cool. Kids, if you haven't watched The Rockford Files before, watch it now. One of the great shows, for real.
posted by scody at 7:54 PM on July 20 [3 favorites]

The Rockford Files intro is burned into my deep memory, a part of me, thanks to my dad watching it.

posted by detachd at 8:42 PM on July 20

I grew up watching The Rockford Files pretty much throughout the 70s it seems (yeah, even before the first episode was produced - amazing, what?) I associate that show with a darkened childhood home living room with my brother Macky's cigarette smoke hovering around the level of the TV screen - that and the classic theme song.

Godspeed, Jim.
posted by metagnathous at 8:47 PM on July 20


Anybody remember the tv series he did with Margot Kidder back in 1971 called Nichols? I watched it when I was in high school and absolutely loved it.
Now I want have to see it again.
posted by dougzilla at 9:14 PM on July 20

Man, this saddens me. When I heard this I sat down and found a Garner film on Netflix, "Support Your local Gunfighter". I knew about it but had never seen it. He was such a fun actor to watch. I used to watch the Rockford files, and Maverick all the time. and yes, dougzilla, I remember Nichols.
Didn't he drive a Stutz Bearcat in that?

posted by evilDoug at 9:33 PM on July 20

Now I have to go find Support Your Local Gunfighter and Support Your Local Sheriff on disc somewhere.

Godspeed, Mr. Garner.
posted by magstheaxe at 9:53 PM on July 20 [1 favorite]

I've been gaga over Jim Garner from his Bret Maverick days. Maverick was one of the best shows ever on television IMHO, but especially the episodes with Bret - Bart was kind of a dud. Jim Garner was gorgeous then - yes, jaw-dropping gorgeous - and he stayed that way through the Rockford Files and beyond.

Most of the women in America adored him for his gentle nature, his dry humor, his sexy ways with the women lucky enough to share film time with him, and the confirmation from his friends and peers that he was a down-to-earth, nice guy kept our secret crush on him alive.

Thank you, Jim Garner, for putting a quiet smile on the face of so many women over so many years. And thank you for standing up for the right stuff in your off-camera life, also.

I have the disks for Maverick - see you tomorrow.
posted by aryma at 9:54 PM on July 20 [3 favorites]

posted by misha at 11:34 PM on July 20


Great actor (yes, great), even better human being.
posted by grubi at 8:46 AM on July 21

The thing that stands out the most for me, especially in Rockford, was how strongly the women characters were written. None of them were shrinking-violets or ditzy in any way. I like to describe it as women who know how to lean into a man's energy rather than dominating it or being subsumed by it. To me characters like this are very appealing to children. Male or female, I think Garner was someone you wanted to lean into. I think that is what he brought to the table to as an actor.

This was written yesterday by a poet/friend. She had no idea of who he was so I described his character from Victor Victoria. You should have seen the look on her face when she tried to figure out what I meant when I said, "He was in love with a woman claiming to be a man claiming to be a woman.

This is what came out....

Via Con Dios, Jim Rockford

To sit as proof
for us all to access
that men can be more
than thick charm.
They can hold merit
and inspire others
to surround themselves
with strong women,
to take in wisdom and know
the worth of modest
approach, a revision
of the once bright
symbol that is male
posted by goalyeehah at 11:52 AM on July 21

I do dearly love my dad, and he taught me so much, but I really thought Rockford was cool. I have been whistling the theme song for two days now. *deep sigh*

posted by wenestvedt at 8:08 PM on July 21

I always so enjoyed the Rockford dad/son interplay between Noah Beery Jr (an equally relaxed actor & the nephew of Wallace Beery) and James Garner.

Garner excelled - as ever - in Marlowe. (With a great cast, by the way.)

RIP, good sir, and thanks for all the work. "Beep beep!"
posted by On the Corner at 2:25 AM on July 22

I watched The Americanization of Emily last night — I had previously seen only a few very brief clips.

"I'd like you to remember the last time you saw me, I was unrepentently eating a Hershey bar."

Now that's an exit line.
posted by orange swan at 11:35 AM on July 25 [1 favorite]

posted by Halloween Jack at 2:07 PM on July 29

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