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Remembering the Legend James Garner

11th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Show
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Movie and TV legend James Garner passed away at age 86 on Saturday (July 19). Garner was one of certain breed of actors who broke into the business in the late 50s and early 60s that included peers like the late Steve McQueen, and Clint Eastwood — regular guys, military veterans (Garner & Eastwood had both served in the Korean War) with street smarts and natural talent.

James Garner was an authentic hero who received a purple heart for his effort during the Korean War.

With leading man looks, charisma and a knack for light comedy Garner first shined on television as Brett Maverick, a western themed show that actually parodied the prevailing westerns on television, with a wise-cracking, card-playing Garner creating a sort of comedic template for many of his future roles.

Garner starred in movies such as “The Great Escapes,” “Skin Game,” “The Americanization of Emily,” “Grand Prix” and “Murphy’s Romance.” He played memorable roles as in-demand A-list Film and TV actor up until his retirement in the fall of 2013.

For me, his perfect role was that of Jim Rockford in “The Rockford Files.” He was the reluctant, laid back private detective. The show ran on NBC from 1974 to 1980, and lives in infamy on Netflix, DVD sets and in the psyche of all of us who loved his style of anti-hero with a comedic twist. He was the cool guy who cracked wise and, when shoved, pushed back.

Rockford had few of the trappings of the traditional TV detective: no secretary, no plush office nor did he live on an estate. Instead, his home and office was located in a weather-beaten trailer, used an answering machine to screen his calls (and avoid bill collectors) and rarely used his gun — which he kept in a cookie jar.

His offbeat pals included a con man Angel Martin, his girlfriend/lawyer Beth Davenport, L.A.P.D. detective Dennis Becker and his dad Rocky, portrayed by Noah Berry Jr., who often tried to persuade Jim to leave the PI business.

Rockford was real, no flash. If he got beat-up in a fight, the next day he was still sore. Unlike the stiff procedural police TV dramas of today that simply steal their stories from the headlines, Rockford parodied the prevailing trends and pop culture of Los Angeles in the 70s.

Essentially, Jim Rockford was “Maverick,” with a tip of the hat to Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe.

Garner performed his own stunts, sued the Universal Studios successfully when they tried to rip him off and was extremely loyal to his cast and crew. He was a real stand-up guy in Hollywood.

Bravo, Mr Garner. And Rest in Piece.

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