Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"Two Hundred Dollars a Day, Plus Expenses..."

Today is the birthday of my favourite actor of all time, James Garner. So I thought I'd draw up a new caricature of him to mark the occasion. Fortunately, I have plenty of great video reference to work from, but I really felt compelled to depict him in his most famous role of Jim Rockford on "The Rockford Files". I'm so happy that the entire series has been coming out on DVD and I've been enjoying the five seasons released thus far. 

"The Rockford Files" was one of the shining examples of the type of cop shows that were quite prevalent back in the 70's. Shows like "Kojak", "Cannon", "Mannix", and many others were built around the charisma of their central stars rather than the nastiness of the crimes as in so many of today's series. "The Rockford Files" and Peter Falk's "Columbo" were my particular favourites of that popular 70's genre. James Garner had first found success on TV in the role of "Maverick" and, after then going on to prove himself as a leading man in the movies of the 60's, he was lured back to TV to create the role of Jim Rockford, who really was in many ways the continuation of the same lovable con man, Bret Maverick, only this time as a private detective. Not too long ago, I read where writer and series creator, Stephen J. Cannell, had also been inspired by the character of "Travis McGee" in the series of detective novels by John D. MacDonald. Since I'm a big fan of those stories, I guess that's why I also find Jim Rockford so appealing.

James Garner had created an onscreen persona of himself as the "reluctant hero" - the guy who would do his best to avoid trouble, but would ultimately come through when he found himself and others in the thick of it. He'd perfected the character in the wartime film, "The Americanization of Emily" opposite Julie Andrews, where in a very key scene in the film he makes no bones about being a coward rather than a hero, as he contends that cowards live longer while heroes get themselves killed in the folly of war. He went on to play the same type of character in another of my favourite films, "Support Your Local Sheriff", before continuing it as the private detective Jim Rockford, who didn't like to carry a gun unless absolutely necessary and didn't even have a permit to own one anyway.

Back in 1982 when I was just 22, I was in LA visiting my friend, director Bryan Stoller, who, before I'd flown out there, had told me he was going to try and get us both onto the set of "Bret Maverick", Garner's then current TV series, as he knew I was a big fan of Garner's. On the chance that Bryan would be successful, I drew up a caricature of Jim Garner in that role and painted up two originals - one to give him as a gift and the other for him to autograph for me. Sure enough, Bryan got us in there through his Warner Brothers connections and I was able to meet Jim Garner in person! I'm happy to report that Jim was as charming and amiable in real life as he'd appeared onscreen. He was tall and ruggedly handsome even in his mid-50's, and looked every bit like a larger-than-life movie star. The whole cast and crew were very nice to us, and even invited us back to watch the next day when they would be shooting the exterior scenes out on Warners' western street set. To the left is that artwork that he'd signed for me. Though James Garner is getting on and old stunt wounds have taken their toll on his knees, he will always remain my favourite leading actor. They just don't make them like that anymore. Happy Birthday Jimbo!

PS: Here's some happy nostalgia for my fellow boomers!...