RIP to one of my favorite actors, James Garner (1928 – 2014).
I happen to have a great Father, and I’m glad I have him. But if I hadn’t had him… James Garner’s most popular roles and characters have represented, to me, the kind of guy whom I would’ve wanted my father to be like. Garner played my surrogate dad, the Man’s Man Par Excellence.
There are actually a few similarities between James Scott Bumgarner‘s life and my dad’s, interestingly enough: Family struggles, a lot of ball playing with a shot at the pros, military, all conspired to make Garner a strong, confident, capable and popular guy. Garner was a hard worker, but people loved working with him. He had health issues, but worked gamely through them and constantly amazed others with his work ethic, dedication and refusal to avoid hard work. He was also a staunch defender of his work and rights, regularly going up against the TV studios to make sure he was getting his due and compensation for his work.
I knew Garner best for his portrayal of Jim Rockford on The Rockford Files, discovering later that his character was similar in bent to his character of Bret Maverick from his earlier Maverick series. Rockford/Maverick were men who had overcome shady pasts to become comfortable (if not greatly successful) in their chosen professions. Rockford, as a private investigator, was the epitome of the American private detective: Sharp, strong, brave and shrewd, with a quick wit, a love of his family and friends, and an easy tolerance for their dalliances. He wasn’t perfect, and he was okay with it. He took what life dished out, and made sure he found a comfortable spot within it for him. He wasn’t a fan of violence, but he could dish it out when he had to. And he was a master of the iconic American muscle car, getting free of scrapes and catching bad guys with the help of his steel steed every week.
Many of the movie characters he played were variations on the same theme, the easygoing guy whom you could depend on in the clutch, and who was more likely to save your ass with his quick wit than with a gun or fist. Being a child of the 1960s, this was the kind of hero I grew up with; Jim Rockford would have stood proudly next to the James T. Kirks, the Doctors, the Joe Fridays, the Richard Kimballs and the John Robinsons of the day (though he would have been the one sitting in the back, holding a beer, and enticing the rest of them to lighten up a bit. I figure Kirk would’ve been the first to sit down with him). Garner represented the modern American man that would be taking us all into the optimistic future.
And if you want to know why I, as an author and a person, don’t favor the modern rough-and-tumble characters who shoot first and don’t bother to ask questions later, it’s because of men like my Father and James Garner, and the way they raised me to be (in person and by proxy). They knew how to take the lemons and make lemonade… and they made damn good lemonade. And today, I only wish I could make lemonade a tenth as good as they did.
We’re gonna miss you, Jim.