I was saddened to hear of the recent death of James Garner (on 19 July 2014 aged 86). I grew up watching Garner’s charismatic and charming performance as private eye Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files (1974-80). Garner was one of those actors who got by on the mere presence of his personality – although he was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in 1985’s Murphy’s Romance. He had been a regular on the big screen through the 1950s and 1960s with his best known credits including Darby’s Rangers (1958),The Great Escape (1963), Grand Prix (1966), Hour of the Gun (1967) and Marlowe (1969).
Despite this he will be best remembered for his small screen starring roles in Maverick(1957-62) and the aforementioned The Rockford Files. During the 1970s he would have increasing problems with his knees, requiring surgery on a number of occasions. Finally he had to quit The Rockford Files when the demands of filming became too much.
His later career saw him resurrect his signature roles of Bret Maverick in the TV seriesBret Maverick (1981-2) and the film Maverick (1994) as well as Jim Rockford in a series of eight TV movies between 1994 and 1999. He also starred in the TV mini-series Streets of Laredo (1995) taking on the role of Woodrow Call from Tommy Lee Jones who portrayed Call in 1989’s Lonesome Dove. In 2000 he appeared with Jones alongside Clint Eastwood and Donald Sutherland in Space Cowboys.
Garner’s self-deprecating humour is summed up in this quote about his performance as Bret Maverick: “I’m playing me. Bret Maverick is lazy: I’m lazy. And I like being lazy.”
An actor from an increasingly distant generation, the likeable Garner will be sadly missed, but his legacy lives on through his work, which is widely available on DVD.