Sunday, July 20, 2014

RIP James Garner

Great actor, great guy, consummate class act.
Married to the same woman for 48 years, which tells you how much of Hollywood rubbed off on him.
You likely wouldn't know his politics without digging, because he had the good grace not to wear them on his sleeve 24/7.
And he was generally gracious about his moderate success.
I'm happy to say I literally bumped into him once, in 1996, got to tell him in person I'd been a fan forever, and he thanked me and walked over towards his set, and I went about my business. I've missed that opportunity with so many others who are gone now, so I'm glad to have had that chance.
He made a perfect unit scrounger as Hendley, one of three American fliers, in The Great Escape, in no small part because he'd been exactly that for real in the Army in Korea in 1951. He was wounded twice in combat in Korea, once by the enemy, and once by "friendly" strafing, but wasn't awarded his Purple Hearts until 1983. Apparently being Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford got him more pull after asking about his missing awards than he might have obtained as former Pvt. James Bumgarner, but to their credit, the Army came through, 32 years later.
IMHO, Support Your Local Sherrif is the best comedy Western ever made, with Blazing Saddles a raunchy distant second. (Sorry Mel, but that's the truth.)
And The Rockford Files was the quintessential must-see TV detective series of the 70s-80s, and literally launched Magnum P.I. and Tom Selleck's career, along with boosting those of about 100 other contract actors at Uni in the late 70s. He was rightfully nominated for Best Actor for 1985's Murphy's Romance, though Columbia hadn't even wanted him in the picture. (Co-star Sally Field reported later that her on-screen kiss with Garner was the best cinematic kiss she had ever experienced.) The series Maverick was iconic, to the point that making the movie version without Garner was unthinkable, and was yet another star turn for him at age 66.
He died at home in his own bed, at peace, and had a helluva run to get from Oklahoma to Brentwood, and while he's gone, it won't sting as much as long as his movies and TV shows are on the shelf to enjoy.

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