Film and TV legend James Garner is dead
TV and film icon Janes Garner died on Saturday. He was 86.
In a career that spanned more than 60 years, Garner became one of the few actors of his generation to move smoothly between TV and film. In the end, he made his mark in both media with a couple of hit TV series ("Maverick" and "Rockford Files") and some magnificent films like "The Great Escape," "Darby's Rangers," "The Americanization of Emily," and "Victor Victoria."
Equally adept at comedy and drama, Garner made everything look easy - even when it wasn't.
Although he was adept at drama and action, Garner was best known for his low-key, wisecracking style, especially with his hit TV series, "Maverick" and "The Rockford Files."
His quick-witted avoidance of conflict provided a refreshingly new take on the American hero, contrasting with the steely heroics of John Wayne and the fast trigger of Clint Eastwood.
Well into his 70s, the handsome Oklahoman remained active in both TV and film. In 2002, he was Sandra Bullock's father in the film "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood." The following year, he joined the cast of "8 Simple Rules ... For Dating My Teenage Daughter," playing the grandfather on the sitcom after star John Ritter, who played the father, died during the show's second season.
When he received the Screen Actors Guild's lifetime achievement award in 2005, he quipped, "I'm not at all sure how I got here."
But in his 2011 memoir, "The Garner Files," he provided some amusing and enlightening clues, including his penchant for bluntly expressed opinions and a practice for decking people who said something nasty to his face -- including an obnoxious fan and an abusive stepmother. They all deserved it, Garner declared in his book.
It was in 1957 when the ABC network, desperate to compete on ratings-rich Sunday night, scheduled "Maverick" against CBS's powerhouse "The Ed Sullivan Show" and NBC's "The Steve Allen Show." "Maverick" soon outpolled them both.
At a time when the networks were crowded with hard-eyed, traditional Western heroes, Bret Maverick provided a fresh breath of air. With his sardonic tone and his eagerness to talk his way out of a squabble rather than pull out his six-shooter, the con-artist Westerner seemed to scoff at the genre's values.
After a couple of years, Garner felt the series was losing its creative edge, and he found a legal loophole to escape his contract in 1960.
His first film after "Maverick" established him as a movie actor. It was "The Children's Hour," William Wyler's remake of Lillian Hellman's lesbian drama that co-starred Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine.
He followed in a successful comedy with Kim Novak, "Boys Night Out," and then fully established his box-office appeal with the 1963 blockbuster war drama "The Great Escape" and two smash comedies with Doris Day -- "The Thrill of It All" and "Move Over Darling."
His turn as "The Scrounger" in "Great Escape" is my favorite Garner dramatic role. But his portrayal of the Chicago mobster in Blake Edwards" Victor Victoria" who falls in love with Julie Andrews - a woman, playing a man who is impersonating a woman - knocks me out every time I see it. An incredibly difficult role to pull off successfully given all the sexual subtext involved, Garner nails it with ease.
Garner's versatility came naturally to him. He never tried to make acting more than it was. “I was never enamored of the business, never even wanted to be an actor, really,” he told The New York Times in 1984. “It’s always been a means to an end, which is to make a living.”
We're thankful that he did.