James Garner, Rockford Files star, dies aged 86

Published on: Jul 20, 2014


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Sad to say goodbye to a Great Star


James Garner, the US star of hit TV series The Rockford Files and Maverick and films including The Great Escape, has died aged 86, Garner had suffered ill health since a severe stroke in 2008. James appeared on Broadway, in 1954 a friend, Paul Gregory, whom Garner had met while attending Hollywood High School, persuaded Garner to take a non-speaking role in the Broadway production of The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, where he was able to study actor Henry Fonda night after night.

Garner starred in more than 50 films including The Great Escape (1963), Paddy Chayefsky’s The Americanization of Emily (1964), Grand Prix (1966), Blake Edwards’ Victor Victoria (1982), Murphy’s Romance (1985) for which he received an Academy Award nomination, and The Notebook (2004).

Highlights from James small screen career include from Cheyenne (TV Series) 195 5-1957, Maverick 1957-1962, The Rockford Files 1974 – 1980, Bret Maverick 1981 – 1982. During the late 1970s, James was also well know for a popular series of television commercials advertising with Mariette Hartley. The two actors had such on-screen chemistry that it was often (erroneously) believed that they were married in real life. Her biography contains a photo of her in a T-shirt proclaiming: “I am not Jim Rockford’s wife”Hartley guest-starred in a memorable episode of Garner’s TV series The Rockford Files during this period

James Garner (born James Scott Bumgarner; April 7, 1928 – July 19, 2014) was an American film and television actor, one of the first Hollywood actors to excel in both media. He starred in several television series spanning a career of more than five decades which included such popular roles as Bret Maverick in the 1950s western-comedy series, Maverick, and Jim Rockford in the 1970s detective drama, The Rockford Files.

Garner was closely advised by financial adviser Irving Leonard, who also advised Clint Eastwood in the late 1950s and 1960s. After several feature film roles, including Sayonara with Marlon Brando, Garner got his big break playing the role of professional gambler Bret Maverick in the comedy Western series Maverick from 1957 to 1960. Garner was earlier considered for the lead role in another Warner Brothers Western series, Cheyenne, but that role went to Clint Walker because the casting director couldn’t reach Garner in time (according to Garner’s autobiography), and Garner wound up playing an Army officer in the pilot instead.

Only Garner and series creator Roy Huggins thought Maverick could compete with The Ed Sullivan Show and The Steve Allen Show. The show almost immediately made Garner a household name. Various actors had recurring roles as Maverick foils, including Efrem Zimbalist, Jr as “Dandy Jim Buckley,” Richard Long as “Gentleman Jack Darby,” Leo Gordon as “Big Mike McComb,” and Diane Brewster as “Samantha Crawford” (Huggins’ mother’s maiden name) while the series veered effortlessly from comedy to adventure and back again. The relationship with Huggins, the creator and original producer of Maverick, would later pay dividends for Garner.

After his acrimonious departure from Warner Bros., in the 1960s he starred in such films as The Children’s Hour (1962) with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine; Boys’ Night Out (1962) with Kim Novak and Tony Randall; The Thrill of It All (1963) with Doris Day; Move Over, Darling (a 1963 remake of My Favorite Wife also starring Doris Day in which Garner played Cary Grant’s role); The Great Escape (1963) with Steve McQueen; The Americanization of Emily (1964) with Julie Andrews; The Art of Love (1965) with Dick Van Dyke; Duel at Diablo (1966) with Sidney Poitier; and as Wyatt Earp in Hour of the Gun (1967) with Jason Robards, Jr. as Doc Holliday, along with nine other theatrical releases during the decade.

The Americanization of Emily with Julie Andrews, a literate anti-war D-Day comedy, featured a screenplay written by Paddy Chayefsky and has remained Garner’s favorite of all his work. In 1963 exhibitors voted him the 16th most popular star in the US. The cult racing film Grand Prix, directed by John Frankenheimer, left Garner with a fascination for car racing that he often explored by actually racing during the ensuing years. The expensive Cinerama epic did not fare as well as expected at the box office. In 1969, Garner joined a long list of actors to play Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe in Marlowe, a detective drama featuring an early karate scene with Bruce Lee. The same year, Garner scored a hit with the comedy Western Support Your Local Sheriff! featuring Walter Brennan and Jack Elam.

In the 1970s, Roy Huggins had an idea to remake Maverick, but this time as a modern-day private detective. Huggins teamed with co-creator Stephen J. Cannell, and the pair tapped Garner to attempt to rekindle the success of Maverick, eventually recycling many of the plots from the original series. Starting with the 1974 season, Garner appeared as private investigator Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files. He appeared for six seasons, for which he received an Emmy Award for Best Actor in 1977. Veteran character actor Noah Beery, Jr. (Wallace Beery’s nephew) played Rockford’s father, Joseph “Rocky” Rockford, while Gretchen Corbett portrayed Rockford’s lawyer and sometime lover, Beth Davenport, until she left the series over a salary dispute with the studio.

During the 1980s, Garner played dramatic roles in a number of TV movies, including Heartsounds (with Mary Tyler Moore), Promise (with Piper Laurie) and My Name Is Bill W. In 1984, he played the lead in Joseph Wambaugh’s The Glitter Dome for HBO Pictures, which was being directed by his Rockford Files co-star Stuart Margolin. The film generated a mild controversy for a bondage sequence featuring Garner and co-star Margot Kidder. He was nominated for his first Oscar award for Best Actor in a Leading Role in the movie Murphy’s Romance opposite Sally Field. Field, and director Martin Ritt, had to fight the studio, Columbia Pictures, to have Garner cast, since he was regarded as a TV actor by then (despite having co-starred in the box office hit Victor Victoria opposite Julie Andrews two years earlier). Columbia didn’t want to make the picture at all, because it had no “sex or violence” in it.


In 1991, Garner starred in Man of the People, a television series about a con man chosen to fill an empty seat on a city council, with Kate Mulgrew and Corinne Bohrer. Despite reasonably fair ratings, the show was canceled after only 10 episodes. In 1993, Garner played the lead in another well-received TV-movie, Barbarians at the Gate, and went on to reprise his role as Jim Rockford in eight The Rockford Files made-for-TV movies beginning the following year. The powerfully frenetic opening theme song from the original series was rerecorded and slowed to a mournfully funereal pace, and practically everyone in the original cast of recurring characters returned for the new episodes except Noah Beery, Jr., who had died in the interim. For the second half of the 1980s, Garner appeared in several of the North American market Mazda television commercials as an on screen spokesman.

For his contribution to the film and television industry, Garner received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (at 6927 Hollywood Boulevard). In 1990, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He was also inducted into the Television Hall of Fame that same year. In February 2005, he received the Screen Actors Guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He was also nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role that year, for The Notebook. When Morgan Freeman won that prize for his work in Million Dollar Baby, he led the audience in a sing-along of the original Maverick theme song, written by David Buttolph and Paul Francis Webster. In 2010, the Television Critics Association gave Garner its annual Career Achievement Award.

Filmography – James Garner


1956 Toward the Unknown Major Joe Craven
1956 The Girl He Left Behind Preston
1957 Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend Sgt. John Maitland With Randolph Scott
1957 Sayonara Capt. Mike Bailey, USMC With Marlon Brando
1958 Darby’s Rangers COL (BGen, posthumous) William Orlando Darby With Stuart Whitman
1959 Up Periscope Lt. JG. Kenneth M. Braden With Edmond O’Brien
1959 Alias Jesse James Bret Maverick (cameo)
1960 Cash McCall Cash McCall With Natalie Wood
1961 The Children’s Hour Dr. Joe Cardin With Audrey Hepburn
1962 Boys’ Night Out Fred Williams With Kim Novak
1963 The Great Escape Flight Lieutenant Bob Hendley DFC RAF, “The Scrounger” With Steve McQueen
1963 The Thrill of It All Dr. Gerald Boyer With Doris Day
1963 The Wheeler Dealers Henry Tyroon With Lee Remick
1963 Move Over, Darling Nick Arden With Doris Day
1964 Action on the Beach (short subject)
1964 The Americanization of Emily Lt. Cmdr. Charles E. “Charlie” Madison With Julie Andrews
Written by Paddy Chayevsky
1965 36 Hours Major Jefferson F. Pike With Eva Marie Saint
1965 The Art of Love Casey Barnett With Dick Van Dyke
1966 Grand Prix: Challenge of the Champions (short subject)
1966 A Man Could Get Killed William Beddoes With Melina Mercouri
1966 Duel at Diablo Jess Remsberg With Sidney Poitier
1966 Mister Buddwing Mr. Buddwing With Jean Simmons
1966 Grand Prix Pete Aron With Eva Marie Saint
1967 Hour of the Gun Wyatt Earp With Jason Robards, Jr.
1968 Once Upon a Wheel (documentary)
1968 The Man Who Makes the Difference (short subject)
1968 How Sweet It Is! Grif With Debbie Reynolds
1968 The Pink Jungle With Eva Renzi
1969 The Racing Scene (documentary)
1969 Support Your Local Sheriff! Jason McCullough With Walter Brennan
1969 Marlowe With Bruce Lee
1970 A Man Called Sledge Sledge With Dennis Weaver
1971 Support Your Local Gunfighter! Latigo Smith With Jack Elam
1971 Skin Game With Louis Gossett, Jr.
1971 Nichols Sheriff Jim Nichols With Margot Kidder
1972 They Only Kill Their Masters With Katharine Ross
1973 One Little Indian With Vera Miles
1974 The Castaway Cowboy With Vera Miles
1980 HealtH With Lauren Bacall
1981 The Fan Jake Berman With Lauren Bacall
1982 Victor Victoria King Marchand With Julie Andrews
1984 Heartsounds With Mary Tyler Moore
1984 Tank Sgt Maj Zack Carey With Shirley Jones
1985 Murphy’s Romance Murphy Jones With Sally Field
1985 Promise
1988 Sunset Wyatt Earp With Bruce Willis
1989 My Name is Bill W. (TV)
1990 Decoration Day Albert Sidney Finch
1992 The Distinguished Gentleman Jeff Johnson
1993 Fire in the Sky
1993 Barbarians at the Gate F. Ross Johnson (TV)
1994 Breathing Lessons (TV) With Joanne Woodward
1994 Maverick Zane Cooper With Mel Gibson
1995 Streets of Laredo Woodrow F. Call (TV) With Sissy Spacek
1996 Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick (documentary)
1996 My Fellow Americans With Jack Lemmon
1997 The Hidden Dimension (documentary) (narrator)
1997 Dead Silence (TV film version of the Jeffery Deaver novel A Maiden’s Grave)
1998 Twilight With Paul Newman
1998 Legalese (TV)
1999 Century of Country Host: 13 episodes
1999 One Special Night With Julie Andrews
2000 The Last Debate With Peter Gallagher
2000 Space Cowboys With Clint Eastwood
2001 Atlantis: The Lost Empire Commander Lyle Tiberius Rourke (voice)
2002 Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood Shepard James Walker “Shep” with Ellen Burstyn
2003 The Land Before Time X: The Great Longneck Migration Pat (voice) (direct-to-DVD)
2004 The Notebook Old Noah Calhoun “Duke” With Gena Rowlands
2004 8 Simple Rules (2002-2005)
2004 Al Roach: Private Investigator (short subject) (voice)
2007 The Ultimate Gift Red Stevens
2007 Battle for Terra (voice)
2010 Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam Shazam (voice)
Holding the Man on DVD Here