James Garner, veteran movie and television star, died yesterday at his home in Los Angeles. He was eighty-six. Over the years James Garner starred in many very good movies, but he will be best (and forever) remembered for two characters that he played on television.
My first memory of James Garner comes from the late 1950's when he was starring as Bret Maverick, one of two card-playing, con-artist, skirt-chasing brothers trying to make an easy dollar in the Old West. (The other brother was Bart Maverick, played by Jack Kelly.) The early television show was called simply Maverick. The character was reprised two decades later in the television show, Bret Maverick, and was again portrayed by James Garner. Finally, in 1994, came the movie, Maverick, which featured Mel Gibson as Bret Maverick and James Garner in a co-starring role.
The other Garner show which formed a staple of my television diet was The Rockford Files, a 1970's show in which he played a fast-talking and hard-driving beach-bum-of-a private-investigator by the name of Jim Rockford. Rockford lived in a rusty old trailer right on the beach, drove a Pontiac Firebird in a manner that would have made Steve McQueen sit up and take notice, and rarely carried a gun. Jim Rockford was quick-witted and charming - much like Bret Maverick.
James Garner, a native of Norman, Oklahoma who dropped out of school to join the Merchant Marine, eventually graduated from the University of Oklahoma. He was awarded the Purple Heart for a wound he received while fighting in the Korean War. Garner, like his two alter egos - Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford - was a larger than life character who knew no limitations.
All three will be missed.