July 20, 2014

RIP James Garner [Darleen Click]

One of my favorite actors — from the movies he did with Doris Day to the still watchable Rockford Files — James Garner has passed away.

Few actors could register disbelief, exasperation or annoyance with more comic subtlety.

James Garner had a way of widening his eyes while the corner of his mouth sagged ever so slightly. Maybe he would swallow once to further make his point.

This portrait of fleeting disquiet could be understood, and identified with, by every member of the audience. Never mind Garner was tall, brawny and, well, movie-star handsome. The persona he perfected was never less than manly, good with his dukes and charming to the ladies, but his heroics were kept human-scale thanks to his gift for the comic turn. He remained one of the people.

He burst on the scene with this disarming style in the 1950s TV Western “Maverick,” which led to a stellar career in TV and films such as “The Rockford Files” and his Oscar-nominated “Murphy’s Romance.”

The 86-year-old Garner, who was found dead of natural causes at his Los Angeles home on Saturday, was adept at drama and action. But he was best known for his low-key, wisecracking style, especially on his hit TV series, “Maverick” and “The Rockford Files.”

His quick-witted avoidance of conflict offered a refreshing new take on the American hero, contrasting with the blunt toughness of John Wayne and the laconic trigger-happiness of Clint Eastwood.

There’s no better display of Garner’s everyman majesty than the NBC series “The Rockford Files” (1974-80). He played an L.A. private eye and wrongly jailed ex-con who seemed to rarely get paid, or even get thanks, for the cases he took, while helplessly getting drawn into trouble to help someone who was neither a client nor maybe even a friend. He lived in a trailer with an answering machine that, in the show’s opening titles, always took a message that had nothing to do with a paying job, but more often was a complaining call from a cranky creditor.

Through it all, Jim Rockford, however down on his luck, persevered hopefully. He wore the veneer of a cynic, but led with his heart. Putting all that on screen was Garner’s magic.

Posted by Darleen @ 12:05pm

Comments (14)

  1. I think his best role in recent days (defined as the last few decades) was 1994’s Maverick, opposite Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster. The final scene with the big reveal was one of the funniest he has done.

  2. I continue to enjoy the ’57-’62 Mavericks.

    Godspeed, JG.

  3. I was too young for “Maverick,” but I remember “Nichols” as the first series I saw him in. Given how little it’s remembered it seems an odd start for a fandom, but it primed me to enjoy “Rockford” and other things I saw him in.

    I confess that Murphy’s Romance seems to me his last really good role; I didn’t as much enjoy his later work, though I was always glad to see him when he turned up in something.

  4. Here I’d been seeing this man on screen most of my life and never knew until I learned yesterday that he was born Bumgarner — a Germanic name for orchardman, tree-grower or some such. ‘Course, time may have been when a more starkly Germanic name than Garner didn’t lend a hand to pseudo-intimate popularity — or maybe “bum” just doesn’t carry sufficient “baum” connotations with most people, I dunno. On the other hand, the simple alteration adding an “a” to “bum” would seem to fix that problem as easily as dropping poor “bum” altogether.

  5. My favorite Garner film is “Support Your Local Sheriff.”

    Bruce Dern was hilarious as the not-to-bright son.

    Jack Elam was, well, Jack Elam.

    RIP Mr. Garner.

  6. In 1957, Garner married TV actress Lois Clarke, who survives him.

    There was a time that fact would not have been remarkable.

  7. Blockquote fail.

  8. cranky

    fun fact about their marriage — they married two weeks after they met. Garner said they went out to dinner 14 days straight and he was crazy about her.

  9. Mr. Garner was from Norman, OK. They probably have the flags at half-staff.

    I always loved his rumbly voice.

  10. leigh, they have a statue in James Garner Park in Norman’s city square; my aunt worked in one of the office buildings there and went to see the ceremony when it was unveiled a few years ago.

    I love the “Rockford Files,” and I love James Garner. It sounds so silly, but this is the only celebrity death that’s actually affected me.

  11. Re: the answering machine, my favorite message was one with Angel calling in. He sounded kinda harried, and he said, “Jimmy, remember that thing I told you about? Well, forget it. You’re out. You’re clean.”

    Just cracks me up.

  12. That’s pretty neat, sunny. I’ll have to check it out next time I’m there. Thanks!

  13. I remember one scene in “Nichols” where JG punches someone in the face and he acted as if it hurt his hand (which he stuck in a pitcher of beer).

    Good attention to detail; if not him, then the script writer.

  14. Check Mr. Garner out in Barbarians At The Gate – it’s one of his best comedic performances and a fun movie.