When I was a kid, I wanted to be Jim Rockford.
I also wanted to be Rob Petrie (a writer with a beautiful wife) and Carl Kolchak (a writer who battled monsters), but I never actively did anything to become those fictional people (beyond becoming a writer, of course – but no wife or monsters yet). But I actually tried being Jim Rockford (minus the times he got beat up). When I was around 9 I opened up a private investigator’s office in my bedroom. It didn’t last long, though I did find my sister’s gloves one time when she lost them (they had fallen behind a table near the front door). When I was a teen and looking for a used car, I looked all over the place for a Pontiac Firebird. I didn’t find one, but I did get a Camaro that kinda-sorta passed for one if you didn’t think about it too much. And when I got my first answering machine I tried to make a message that sounded a lot like Rockford’s: a little weary but quick and to the point.
James Garner died over the weekend at age 86, another reminder that all of the people we grew up with are going away. He was one of those actors that was always good no matter what he was in, with an easy-going, unpretentious charm that not many actors can pull off. He seemed like a normal, good guy who just happened to star in several iconic roles (and from what I hear from people I know who worked with him that’s what he was, normal and good). You got the sense that Garner was in on the joke. He took the work seriously but not himself.
NBC tried to remake The Rockford Files a couple of years ago (with Dermot Mulroney – that’s just weird) but no one liked the pilot so it was scrapped. There might even be a big screen version with Vince Vaughn as the star. But we all know it won’t be the same. It just won’t be the same.
Update: TCM is going to have an all-day tribute to Garner next Monday, July 28, starting at 6am. Here’s the schedule.