Sunday, July 20, 2014

RIP James Garner (1928-2014)

The New York Times, among other outlets, is reporting that actor James Garner passed away Saturday night in his home in California. He was 86.

Garner got into acting almost by accident, as he was cast in a non-speaking role in a production of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial by an old friend. On set, he learned how to act by running lines with the stars, including Henry Fonda. With a rugged handsomeness and a cutting sense of humor, Garner first made his name in television, starring as gambler Bret Maverick in the western Maverick (1957-1962) and as grumpy detective Jim Rockford on The Rockford Files (1974-1980). It was for the latter role that he won a Best Actor in a Drama Series Emmy, in 1977.

Garner's film career found him playing a number of flawed heroes, his good looks being undercut by his sharp wit. He played a number of soldiers, cowboys, and detectives, earning his first big breaks in movies such as The Americanization of Emily (1964) and The Great Escape (1963). He would appear in over 50 films, though he acted less after the 1980s. Later in his career, he would reprise his role as Jim Rockford for a series of TV movies based on The Rockford Files, as well as appear in films such as The Notebook (2004) and The Ultimate Gift (2006), the latter being his last on-screen role.

Garner's lone Oscar nomination came from what is certainly my favorite film of his: Murphy's Romance, Martin Ritt's 1985 romance co-starring Sally Field. Garner plays Murphy Jones, a widowed druggist who helps divorced Emma (Field) get her horse-training business off the ground. It's a role marked with all of Garner's best qualities: easy warmth and friendliness, wry humor, and roughnecked handiness.

There's no doubt that his presence on screen will be missed.

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