by Maria Schulz
This morning, my daughter burst out of her room with the news I’d feared for quite some time: James Garner passed away at the age of 86.
She hugged me and said, “I’m sorry for your loss. I really liked that man.”
I thanked her and hugged her back. “Thank you.”
My phone has been buzzing with texts, emails, and even the old landline has been ringing. All of my family and friends are calling since everyone who knows me at all knows that this celebrity loss will sting a little bit more than the many others I’ve written about.
I was sad when Dick Clark, Davy Jones, Jean Stapleton, Roger Ebert as well as the Professor from Gilligan’s Island and Reuben Kincaid from The Partridge Family passed away. But James Garner? This one really got to me.
I logged on here to write about him, and I discovered that 331 people (so far) have viewed my blog posts, James Garner and Fruit Pie: Perfect Together and My Fan Letter to James Garner in just the past hour.
So what was it about James Garner? Maybe it’s the fact that he played every part with a sense of humor; you have to love a person who can make you laugh. That, and he never seemed to be like those egomaniacs you read about in Hollywood. Mr. Garner just seemed like a regular old Oklahoma boy who happened to be a movie star, and that came through in every movie, show, or TV ad he ever made.
James Garner’s movies bring me back to those happy, carefree days of my childhood. I looked forward to seeing him whenever the 4:30 movie played The Great Escape. Since it’s a long movie, you really had to dedicate days to it, since the movie was broken up to fit the small time slot. Whenever it was on, my brothers and I would run to watch it every day, because maybe this time, things would turn out differently.
Some people may have watched it for the motorcycle scenes with Steve McQueen, but give me the scene in the Scrounger’s room where he lifts the wallet that belonged to Werner the Guard every time. I always cheered when the Scrounger showed everyone what he’d gotten; without those identification papers, the group could have never run away. Then, when he insisted that he’d help the Forger (Donald Pleasance) escape, I spent the rest of the movie rooting for the both of them to make it to safety.
Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunfighter also brings back lots of happy memories munching on chocolate chip cookies or brownies with my childhood pal, Marianne, by my side. Sundays at her house, enjoying those funny movies and munching on her mother’s hot-from-the-oven goodies, were all about good people and good times.
Murphy’s Romance featured James Garner’s portrayal of the perfect hopeful romantic lead (even as an older man). Throughout, he quietly, persistently, and patiently waited for Sally Field’s character to realize that he’s the right man for her. “Take another tack, Emma,” Murphy tells her when she’s just not getting it right. My mother and I saw this in the movies when it came out, and I don’t know who enjoyed it more–her or me. I can still see her sitting beside me, laughing and enjoying this quiet, thoughtful, and yes, romantic movie.
Then, of course, there were the years he played Jim Rockford on The Rockford Files. Every Friday night, I would sit down with my parents and watch this show. From the opening scene with the answering machine (different every week, and always a hilarious message just for Jim) to the action-packed very end, we enjoyed every second of each episode. I can still hear the theme song from the show in my head, and it’s one of the happier sounds in there.
Jim Rockford was surrounded by a legion of quirky characters who made the show fun and unique, and we grew to love them and wait in anticipation for them to appear. In his memoir, James Garner said that he created his own production company, and his workers remarked that they loved coming to work every day because he was the kind of boss that everyone wanted: fair, fun, honest, and willing to work just as hard (if not harder) than he ever asked you to.
I know that James Garner was sick for some time now, and I feel for his wife of almost 60 years and his two daughters. I’m really grateful to him for all the years of entertainment he brought into my life and all of the happy childhood memories he helped create for me. Besides my father, grandfathers, uncles and brothers, I like to think that James Garner’s characters helped me identify all of the traits I hoped to find in a good man: handsome, funny, smart, and capable. I’m lucky to have found all that and more in my husband.
So, thank you James Garner for all the invaluable life lessons, and for filling that part of my childhood with years of laughter, adventure, and amusement. From The Scrounger to Jim Rockford and beyond, you were the best.
Cool Summer Recipes
I wanted to salute James Garner with a recipe that was cool and retro–and a Wedge Salad seemed to fit the bill. If you try it, I hope you enjoy it.
Here are 14 more great summer recipes, including one for chicken salad, pasta with zucchini and ham, squash and orzo salad and more choices that are light, delicious, and definitely cool.
So…who was your favorite celebrity? Do you have a favorite James Garner movie or TV show? Do you like wedge salad? Please leave a comment and let us all know. Thanks!