Ok, so tell me you don’t feel older, now that James Garner has passed away.
Someone once said that the cultural things you love most throughout your life – music, art, TV, movies – are the things you loved first as a child, and then again as a young adult. For those of us Over-60-types, James Garner was the bridge between the ‘50s and the ‘70s, when so many of us were kids, and when so many of us finally came of age.
Starting in 1957, when on Sunday nights we huddled in front of the TV, begging our parents to switch to this new show on ABC, about a guy who played cards, drew slow, and always tried to avoid a fight. For our parents, it meant giving up on Ed Sullivan, who in a similar way was their Bret Maverick, someone they’d grown up listening to on the radio, then watched on TV.
But because we were so adorable, millions of American families eventually made that switch. And shortly thereafter, “Maverick” became first among equals in the stable of Warner Bros-produced TV Westerns that dominated the small screen. But of all of them, it was “Maverick” that endured, in large part because it didn’t want to be like all the others. At times, making great fun of the very genre it represented. Check out an episode called “Gun-Shy”. A hilarious, but affectionate take on “Gunsmoke”, complete with a bumbling “Matt Dillon”, a mumbling “Doc”, and a gimpy “Chester”, who limped on one leg in one scene, then on the other in the next.
Then time went by, the ‘50’s became the ‘60’s and the TV Western made its slow ride into the sunset, replaced by the Sit-Com. But that was OK, at least we got Andy Taylor, Rob Petrie and Mary Richards in the bargain.
And then the ‘70’s arrived, and with it the TV detective. But first among equals was James Scott Rockford, of 23 Cove Road in Malibu. He made living in a trailer trendy. It helped, of course, that the rig was parked at Paradise Cove, with the ocean just steps away.
At the time, I was living in the western San Fernando Valley and it was quite the cool thing to drive through Malibu Canyon, then up Pacific Coast Highway, to the Sandcastles restaurant on the other side of the parking lot. Of course, devoting an hour every Friday night at 9:00 to watch “The Rockford Files” on NBC, meant changing the mating habits of us young, twenty-somethings. But that’s OK, date nights could just as easily be Saturday nights, too. Right?
Both Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford were the children of Roy Huggins, one of the legendary producers in all of television. A man who, in the decade in between, also created yet another of TV’s most memorable characters, Dr. Richard Kimble of “The Fugitive”.
I was thinking about James Garner just a while back, when much of the national conversation was about the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. One of the iconic photos of the era that reshaped our national conscience was taken a year before, at the March on Washington. Out front was Dr. Martin Luther King, surrounded by other civil rights leaders of that time. But right behind them were three of Hollywood’s biggest stars, three white guys: Paul Newman, Burt Lancaster…
…And James Garner.
In character and in life, he was larger than the rest of us.
Thank you, Mr. Garner.
About the blogger: Don Marsh is a professional speaker and marketing consultant. He is also a child of the ‘50s who is still not quite sure what he wants to be when he grows up…