One of my favorite actors has left us. James Garner, handsome, wry, effortlessly masculine, all-purpose leading man for decades on television and in movies, has died at age 84. He had consummate skill in comedy, drama, and romance, and even in selling cameras in television commercials. He will be sorely missed.
Born James Baumgarner in 1926, he was from Norman, Oklahoma. He named his production company Cherokee Productions in honor of his grandfather. He had a difficult childhood and was left on his own at age 14. He had a number of jobs and went into the military, where he received two Purple Hearts.
Early in his career, he had a non-speaking part as a juror in “The Caine Mutiny” on Broadway. He said it was superb training to be on stage for the entire show, watching the lead actors up close each night. His early film roles included parts in the classic “The Great Escape” with Steve McQueen and “Sayonara” with Marlon Brando.
He was superb at light comedy, often showing an off-beat cynicism that was a refreshing change from the earnestness of the 1950’s and early 60’s. When television was filled with laconic Western heroes, his “Maverick” was true to the name as a easy-natured gambler.
He played similar roles in the delightful Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunfighter. He co-starred with Doris Day in two of her most sparkling comedies, The Thrill of it All! and and Move Over Darling. And he was the laconic private detective Jim Rockford in ‘The Rockford Files.”
Two of his best films co-starred Julie Andrews. He was a cynical American soldier in The Americanization of Emily and an amiable gangster in love with a cross-cross-dressing performer in Victor/Victoria. He was nominated for an Oscar for the bittersweet romance Murphy’s Romance, with Sally Field.
He continued to create unforgettable performances into his 70’s, with films like The Notebook. No actor half his age could have played a sweeter love scene.
We bid a sad farewell to this most graceful and appealing of actors. May his memory be a blessing.