James Garner April 7, 1928 - July 19, 2014

James Garner April 7, 1928 - July 19, 2014
James Garner April 7, 1928 - July 19, 2014 He wanted to be remembered with a smile.

The Garner Files

The Garner Files
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Monday, March 22, 2010

You Can't Remake The Rockford Files!

Big Hollywood » Blog Archive » You Can’t Remake ‘The Rockford Files’

You Can’t Remake ‘The Rockford Files’
by John Nolte

This is Jim Rockford. At the tone, leave your name and message, I’ll get back to you.

Here’s the message: You can’t remake “The Rockford Files.” You can call a television show “The Rockford Files.” Hell, you can call your parakeet “The Rockford Files,” but that doesn’t mean it’s “The Rockford Files.”

That show was James Garner, and if you’ve recently watched any of the episodes you know that the thirty-years that have passed since the program went off the air in 1980 have only served to cement its timelessness and status as a true classic. Sure, the sports coats might be a little loud and the sideburns too long, but Mike Post’s iconic theme, that awesome gold Pontiac Firebird and some of the best writing ever seen on television have kept the series as entertaining, compelling and fresh as anything produced today.

Nothing against Dermot Mulroney and Beau Bridges, both are fine actors but they aren’t James Garner and Noah Beery Jr. No one is. And no offense to anyone involved in the creation of the remake, but they aren’t Stephen J. Cannell, Roy Huggins, Chas. Floyd Johnson, David Chase, and Juanita Bartlett — the geniuses involved in creating and sustaining the best example of a television show built around an established star as I’ve ever seen.

The original “Rockford Files,” which ran on NBC from 1974 to 1980, was not just another hour-long detective/crime/mystery show. It was lightning in a bottle, the perfect mix of smart producers and talented writers who understood the unique quality of their star, James Garner, a man who could take an off-beat line of dialogue and make magic from it like no other.

Jim Rockford was also a character Garner had been perfecting for over a decade in films like “The Great Escape, “The Americanization of Emily,” and under-appreciated classics such as “Skin Game” and “Support Your Local Sheriff” — not to mention the television show “Maverick,” which was essentially Rockford on the frontier.

And what a delightfully interesting and endlessly fascinating character he was. On the surface, Jim Rockford was cheap (”I have expenses.”), always looking out for number one, ready to quit whenever threatened, rarely carried a gun (”Because I don’t want to shoot anyone!”), demanded his civil rights at the drop of a hat, and had no ambition beyond covering his monthly nut and going fishing with his dad, Rocky (Beery).

If the former con man and jailbird (for a crime he was innocent of) was ever the hero in any of the 122 mostly self-contained episodes, he was a reluctant one due to a complicated code of honor that somehow managed to remain consistent even as it kept surprising. Unlike his 1970s contemporaries such as Mannix, McCloud, Cannon, and Barnaby Jones, Rockford frequently failed to come out on top (his clients had a way of stiffing him), hated hitting people (it hurt the hand) and most of all, despised The Man: anyone in authority from police captains who forever threatened his license to lazy government bureaucrats who gave off attitude.

Rockford was cynical, glib, petty, a dirty fighter, had a temper, a smart mouth, a non-TV star waistline (tacos and Oreo cookies were a weakness), and chose to retain his fierce independence even though it meant barely scraping together a living in a rusty house trailer that uglied up a beachside Malibu parking lot. Rockford could also be intimidated (temporarily) and though he was always the smartest person in the room, it was surprisingly easy to catch him off guard.

But beneath those flaws and quirks was James Garner, a one-of-a-kind talent who gave this character what he gave all his characters, an unmistakable undercurrent of warmth and competence that kept us on his side. Boiled down to essentials, Jim Rockford was – unless he was running a game on some deserving scoundrel – an honest man who couldn’t help but offer the world a running verbal commentary on life as he saw it. Nothing was sacred, either. Government bureaucracy, pious hypocrites, and Hollywood celebrity would all come away with blisters after any confrontation with the working class PI .

We loved Rockford because he hated stupidity, insecurity, laziness and phonies as much as we did. And we loved him because even though he had led a life that had time and again made clear that there was no profit in doing the right thing, by the time the credits rolled – though he bitched and moaned the whole way there — Jim Rockford always did the right thing. He was also loyal to his friends, sometimes to a fault, and would risk his livelihood and even his life to get them out of a jam.

Much credit is also owed to the show’s creators for assembling an outstanding supporting cast of characters who were as key to the show’s chemistry and success as its star. Even though they bickered as much as anything else, the affection between Rockford and his father was one the best elements of every episode. As Rockford’s best friend, Joe Santos was memorably prickly and funny as put upon L.A. Sgt. Dennis Becker, and as the PI’s on-again off-again girlfriend/lawyer, Gretchen Corbett’s Beth Davenport was as tenacious and intelligent as she was beautiful.

And then there was The Mighty Stuart Margolin who won two well-deserved Emmys for his brilliantly funny portrayal of the hapless and disloyal Angel Martin, whose sole reason for being born must have been to exasperate his former cellmate, Rockford. Usually on the run from a hitman after devising some hare-brained get-rich-quick scheme even Ralph Kramden would’ve rejected, it inevitably fell to Rockford to save Angel’s skin.

Guest appearances were frequently just as memorable. My two favorites were Dennis Dugan as boy-faced Richie Brockelman, a PI/con man wannabe who idolized Rockford; and Tom Selleck’s unforgettable portrayal of Lance White, a handsome, wealthy PI who lived the fabulous life of a television detective in a world where clues were found just in time, wild hunches always paid off, and Rockford could only look on shaking his head at the absurdity of it all.

Over six seasons a caustic, complicated, paunchy, middle-aged Los Angeles PI managed to give almost as good as he got as he eked out a living filled with betrayals, disappointments, reversals, beatings and many a trip to jail. Through it all, though, James Rockford persevered, never once giving up an inch of his dignity or sharply observant sense of humor. This premise brought to life by geniuses and a creative alchemy even they had difficult recreating in a series of “Rockford” television films in the 90s, gave us one of the best one-hour dramas ever created.

So to those involved in this coming remake, I wish you nothing but success and a long run and the vast wealth that comes with syndication. May your show meet with critical acclaim and a shower of Emmys.

Whatever that show is.

Because no matter what you call it, it won’t be “The Rockford Files.”

Tags: "The Rockford Files", Beau Bridges, cbs, Dermot Mulroney, James Garner, Noah Beery Jr.
Posted Mar 19th 2010 at 12:40 pm in Television | Comments (142)

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  1. I have mixed feelings about the new "Rockford". I know I will watch out of curiosity but James Garner is a tough act to follow..

  2. Jim is indeed a tough act to follow! Since I was a Garner fan years and years before Rockford, I doubt I'll watch at all. I'd probably get sick LOL!

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. What I love about Garner's Rockford is you never know what he's going to do if he's up against the wall - he might run, take a swing at you and kick your butt, or get his own butt kicked. I don't know if another actor could pull that off.

  4. Of course, you know MY opinion about that! ;o)

  5. "The Rockford Files" is one series that took on such a life of it's own that I don't think anyone should touch it. And the actors all OWNED their roles, especially James Garner. Why try to copy something that can't be improved upon? I say mimic the formula, but create something new. I'm glad I have my DVD collection of the classic series.

  6. I gotta agree, Anon. I've begun to wonder if the writers/producers just can't think of anything new!

  7. I agree. No one can touch James Garner's Rockford. It doesn't matter how gifted an actor, there are some roles that aren't about the character but the actor that played him first. James Garner isn't Jim Rockford - Jim Rockford is James Garner.


    New York, N.Y., Wednesday, March 30, 2011 – Simon & Schuster will publish legendary actor James Garner’s memoir THE GARNER FILES on November 8, 2011.

    One of Hollywood’s great leading men, James Garner boasts a career that spans six decades. Whether known as Bret Maverick, Jim Rockford, or Noah Calhoun, Garner’s mass appeal transcends generations, but few know the true story of his life, now told in his intimate memoir of growing up in Depression-era Oklahoma and making it in Hollywood.

    After suffering physical abuse at the hands of his stepmother, Garner left home at fourteen. He went on to become Oklahoma’s first draftee of the Korean War and was honored for his bravery with two Purple Hearts. Garner eventually returned to Los Angeles where his acting career took off. Working alongside some of the most renowned celebrities – among them Julie Andrews, Marlon Brando, Clint Eastwood – Garner became a star in his own right. Despite struggles with stage fright and depression, he threw himself into his work and was known in the public eye as one of the most revered actors of his generation. James Garner’s memoir explores the deeply personal and professional relationships that have helped shape his life.

    Written with Jon Winokur, THE GARNER FILES offers a compelling portrait of the life of a true Hollywood legend and household name as he navigates the turmoil and unpredictability of a life on screen.

    James Garner commented: “I’ve avoided writing a book until now because I’m really pretty average and I didn’t think anyone would care about my life. I’m still a little uncomfortable, but I finally agreed, because people I trust persuaded me that people might be interested, and because I realized it would allow me to acknowledge those who’ve helped me along the way. I talk about my childhood, try to clear up some misconceptions, and even settle a score or two.”

    Jonathan Karp said, “This book is charming and disarming and always entertaining – just like James Garner, or Jim Rockford, or Bret Maverick. And it’s the story of a big American life, from growing up in Oklahoma during the Depression to the Korean War and to Hollywood stardom.”

  9. Yes! I just blogged this here too. I never thought he would do this since he is so embarrassed to assume people would be interested. ;)

    I've never even READ - much less purchased - a celeb bio/autobio before, but I've already pre-ordered this one from Amazon. Jimbo is indeed one of a kind.

  10. Jim Rockford will live forever. Mr. Garner was a very fine lad. As a German I am somewhat proud of the fact that Mr. Garner was half German by birth. Mr. Garner I will miss you.

  11. Great show. Watched some of it in the 70's with mom and Dad. I watch it now. My wife loves the show also. He says what he means but sometimes lies to get us way. Knows a threat and knows when to fight and when to gt outa there, love it. But, let's not get carried away, it is a good show for most of Americans.
    The first year I think it ranked 13 and went down each year. The last two years or the next to last two years, I don't know which off hand, the show was ranked in the late 40's and 51st respectively, I think. That's a lot of shows ahead of it and it didn't win that many awards (not that is a proving point but it helps for extended seasons and contracts). But I still love the show.
    Oh yeah, in season 1 episode 14, "Profit and Loss: Part 1" at the 9:20 mark on Netflix, Jim calls Becker and asks for lieutenant Becker. So Joe Santos was a sergeant then a lieutenant (according to Rockford) and then a sergeant again, all in season one. I'm going to watch season one again and pay close attention to the interactions between Rockford and Becker. By the way Becker is great, he should have been the choice as the cop in all the seasons in Magnum P.I. Joe is outstanding.