James Garner

July 24th, 2014 19 Comments

james garner

 

James Garner was one of the most underrated actors ever and I think the reason had much to do with his acting. He made it all look so easy, so effortless, his personal brand of charm and humor always showing through, so that it was hard to believe he was really doing anything. His first acting job was apparently a non-speaking role in the Broadway production of The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, starring Henry Fonda, and if you have any interest at all in acting, and if your IQ is bigger than your hat size, it would be impossible to watch Henry Fonda night after night without learning a lot. No one ever accused Jim Garner of being stupid, and you could say he had some interest in acting.

Darleen and I fell in love in part because of James Garner. This is one of those tricky series of coincidences, so follow me closely here.

Around 1978 (I don’t remember the exact year; dates and I have never gotten along too well) I quit the soap opera One Life to Live and got cast in a movie that started filming literally the day after my last day as OLTL’s Brad the Cad. The movie was an ambitious project, an unsuccessful film version of Sylvia Plath’s famous autobiography, The Bell Jar. In keeping with my bad boy persona back then, I was cast as the narcissistic, preppy, predatory college Lothario, Buddy Willard. The star of that movie, the lady playing Sylvia Plath, was Marilyn Hassett.

In 1980 (give or take a year or so; damn dates), James Garner filmed a pilot for a new series called Bret Maverick, based on his highly successful late-fifties series, Maverick. The lady who co-starred opposite him in that pilot was Marilyn Hassett. Garner got injured doing a stunt, took some time off, looked at the footage for his pilot, and decided he didn’t like Marilyn’s work, or that they didn’t work well together, and decided to re-cast her and re-shoot the pilot. One of the girls who auditioned for the replacement role was an exceptionally pretty, sexy little redhead by the name of Darleen Carr.

The problem was the “little” part. Darleen claims five-two, but I think five feet is closer to actual fact. Garner, on the other hand, was six-one or two and taller still in cowboy boots. Garner liked what he saw in the filmed audition scenes, but everyone kept telling him it would never work because of the height difference.

In the meantime, also in 1980 (again, that date is more or less) Simon & Simon was filming its first season, showing in a disastrous time slot, and earning ratings somewhat lower than the test pattern. We were filming an episode that had something to do with a zoo, and the lady chosen to play the head zoo keeper was an exceptionally pretty, sexy little redhead by the name of Darleen Carr. She had already filmed two auditions for Bret Maverick, and they asked her to film a third one with Garner. She refused, saying it would interrupt her shooting schedule on Simon & Simon.

We were filming at the zoo in Griffith Park, and Darleen was sitting in a car, going over her lines, when out of nowhere a limo pulled up, James Garner got out, took her hand and helped her out the car, spun her around once, and said “You’re not too little,” got back in his limo and drove off. That was her third and final audition, and as soon as she finished filming with me and Mackie, she went to work playing photographer M. L. Springer on Bret Maverick.

Darleen and Garner

(Above: Darleen as M.L. with James Garner. I know that look well and my heart goes out to poor Bret Maverick.)

The show was an instant hit and got excellent ratings. Simon & Simon, on the other hand, sank down lower than the local Chamber of Commerce airings and was cancelled. Over on Bret Maverick, the writers had decided to add a love interest for M. L. Springer, and I was cast as that potential love interest in the very last episode of that season. It turned out to be the very last season, period, the only season. A lot of varying reasons for the show’s demise were trotted out, none of which made a lick of sense, given that it was the highest-rated new show of the year. The truth, which was hushed up for obscure reasons, was that Garner—nobody’s fool, as I said—had discovered that one of the producers had been stealing from his production company (an incident I later incorporated into Return to Laughter) and in disgust he pulled the plug. That turned out to be fortunate for me, because the creator and producer of Simon & Simon had been waging a very successful PR campaign to have us aired at a better time during summer re-runs, our ratings had suddenly sky-rocketed, and CBS decided to give Simon & Simon another chance. In the meantime, I had gotten to know the exceptionally pretty, sexy little redhead and decided I liked her. Nothing more than that: we were both married to other people, but I thought she was definitely okay. Quite alright. Fun. Intelligent. Talented. A lot of fun. Not to mention exceptionally pretty and very sexy.

While I knew none of this until many years later, after Darleen and I had gotten married, Garner won my loyalty by his treatment of Darleen. Her son was dying slowly of an undiagnosed illness and she had notified Garner and the producers that her three year old was in the hospital and that things were not looking good. She would check in multiple times every day, calling the hospital from the stage, and it just so happened she had just finished rehearsing a final scene with Garner, her last of the day, when she made one of her calls and was notified that her boy wouldn’t last the night. She turned around, intending to film the scene and rush to the hospital, but Garner took one look at her face and pulled the plug on that day’s shooting. She protested, saying they had to finish and then she could go. He replied, “We’ll get it when we get it,” and steered her to the door.

Darleen as M.L.

(Above: Darleen as M.L. You can see why I fell in love.)

Garner was nominated for an Academy Award and countless Emmys, Golden Globes, and a slew of other awards over the years, many of which he won, and he deserved them all. He had a reputation for being extremely loyal to his friends and all the people who worked for him, and while some of his friends were household names, just as many—perhaps more—were just anybody he happened to like.

Garner had, by all accounts, an appalling childhood, and he could have taken any one of the myriad doors for good or ill that open to us all. He chose to became a gifted actor, a great star, a good and loyal friend, and from what I read, a devoted husband and father. He was an easy-going affable man, but not one who would tolerate anyone trying to take advantage of him. His multiple lawsuits against multiple entities in Hollywood are famous. Less famous, because he didn’t make a big deal about it or gloat publicly, was the fact that he won every single one. Also less well known is the story of his cornering the president of MCA, Sid Sheinberg, at that time the most powerful man in Hollywood and one of the defendants in Garner’s lawsuit against that company. Mr. Sheinberg had very publicly said some very uncomplimentary things about Garner, and when Garner trapped him in a hallway at Universal Studios, Sheinberg had a pretty good idea of what going to happen and called out to a security guard:

“Stop him! Stop him! He’s going to hit me!”

Garner turned around and looked at the guard. “Are you watching?” Then he slowly and deliberately raised one fist and decked Sheinberg. Easily. Effortlessly. With his own brand of charm and humor.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, I really liked James Garner. Of course I never knew him, but I really enjoyed watching him act, and was always pleased to hear other people mention nice things about him. Tom Selleck, another stand up guy from what I have heard, has always said wonderful things about James Garner as well. I remember seeing Tom Selleck do an interview and was asked that he always seemed to be a gracious leading man and where he had learned it from – Selleck answered it was from Garner and having seen how he worked with people on the Rockford Files. Just recently over the weekend Selleck mentioned some nice words yet again about Garner.

    Two of my favorite Garner movies of all time: THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY, and SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF. Of course I liked watching him in most acting jobs he had, bot those two for me stood out. I really like watching his facial expressions and more importantly his eyes when he was being talked to in a scene…he always gave his countering actor something to play off of… you could really see it.

    I heard somewhere Vince Vaughn was doing a remake movie of the ROCKFORD FILES. Would have liked to have seen Garner in that movie maybe doing something similar like he did with Mel Gibson in the Maverick movie.

    TD Bauer
    WI

  2. Anonymous says:

    My heart goes out to Darleen. I can’t bring myself to imagine the pain of losing your child.

    I didn’t discover James Garner until “Murphy’s Romance.” And I still get sucked in every time I stumble across it–even in the wee hours. That last whole speech that leads up to “… and I’m in love for the last time in my life.”–best line from a movie ever. It was an amazing job of writing and an amazing job of acting.

    It’s nice to know he was a good guy in real life too. I’ll miss him.

  3. Anonymous says:

    He sounds like a true gentleman. I bet there are other actor and directors who would not stop shooting even if Darleen had a sick and dying child. I never saw the “Maverik” show, The Bret Maverick show or the Rockford files. I did see him when he was much older in the movie called “The Notebook” He played an elderly gentleman who was caring for his wife with Alzheimer’s. In the move he stays with her in the nursing home and tells her stories of how they met and their life together even though she does not know who he is. He had some very emotional scenes in that movie and you can see the depth of his acting when you see the man’s sorrow.

    http://youtu.be/ielkiD8w-M8

    “Good Night. I’ll be seeing you”

  4. Anonymous says:

    http://youtu.be/9e34xqedCjc

    “I’ll be seeing you” “The Notebook”

  5. Anonymous says:

    Damn. Another great one gone. I guess my favorite Garner movies are also “Support Your Local Sheriff”, and “The Great Escape”. I got dragged to see “The Great Escape” at the THEATRE, because my older brother was a humongo Steve McQueen/motorcycle afficiondo, and I often got stuck doing what HE wanted to do, since I was considered too juvenile to have an opinion yet…. Come to think of it, a lot of people STILL think that about me…..Anyway, I ended up LOVING that movie, despite my young age and the rather adult themes–a kick-arse escape thriller that, for most of the characters, wasn’t so GREAT! But a classic, for sure. And that certainly dates me!…..L.B.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Wasn’t Darleen in an episode of Simon and Simon? I think it was the one about the sixties.

    I am sorry to hear about her son. I can’t imagine what would be like to lose a child especially one at that young age. She must have some strength of character to be able to work during that and after that. I do not know how anyone could continue working after a child dies without having time off. I think a lot of people would have fallen to pieces after that. It would be difficult for anyone to keep it together after suffering that kind of loss.

    • Anonymous says:

      Actually she was in 4 different episodes of Simon and Simon the one you referred to “Who Killed The Sixties?” was in season four. She was in an episode in season one titled “The Least Dangerous Game” and in season two an episode titled “Red Dog Blues” and in season six “The Case Of Don Diablo”

      • Anonymous says:

        Almost forgot while was listing the episodes of “Simon and Simon” Darleen had been in there was also a tv movie “Simon and Simon: In Trouble Again” released around 1993 that she was in as well. Of course she had at least five tv series where she had a principal role in, as well as her recurring role in “Streets of San Francisco” along with movies she made and many guest appearances on other tv shows as well.

        Nancy Darlene

  7. Anonymous says:

    And if that decking he gave Sheinberg in front of the security guard were to happen today, he would have been sued and most likely have lost.

    • Anonymous says:

      Well now(anon July 24, 3:53) I wouldn’t be so sure. Depends who had the best lawyer. Or maybe I should say the worst lawyer. You know, sue that dang Sheinberg for breaking one’s knuckles with his face! With lots of further compensation for the stress and trauma caused. And getting blood on one’s wedding ring. Yeah, lots of litigation possibilities in these marvelous modern times……L.B.

    • Anonymous says:

      This very appropriate response from Mister Garner also reminds me of a favorite quote of mine(bear with me if you’ve already heard me quote it, as I often do)–from one of Robert Howard’s “Conan the Barbarian” tales–“The Tower Of the Elephant” which goes….”Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.”…..L.B.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Jameson and Darleen

    I used to watch that version of Bret Maverick religiously and part of the reason was Darleen was on it as well as James Garner who I used to follow on “The Rockford Files”. I have been watching Darleen since I was about 5 or 6 years old when she starred in “Monkeys Go Home” and “The Smith Family” 4 years later but have caught her in almost every work she has done. I guess there was just something magnetic about her talent that made me remember her name from the first time I saw her act as there was about Mary Tyler Moore.
    He was a talent that will be missed but left behind a huge legacy of work whether you are a fan or not a fan you had to admire his ability. I knew about her little boy being sick back in 1982 and dying but did not know that about James Garner doing that so she could leave that much sooner. That says a lot about his character and makes me admire him even more.
    I had wondered why “Bret Maverick” only lasted one season because it was an excellent show I thought, thanks for telling us the reason now. I can’t say I blame James Garner for wanting to pull the plug with that going on. I keep watching for them to put that out on DVD set so far have only seen the original series, hopefully some day.
    Take good care.
    Nancy Darlene

  9. Anonymous says:

    Darleen et vous, vous étiez vraiment faits pour vous rencontrer. Vous vous soutenez dans les moments difficiles et on ressent votre bonheur d’être ensemble !!!!! J’espère vraiment que ce bonheur dure longtemps, très très longtemps……
    Anita

  10. Anonymous says:

    My husband is 5’9 and I am 5’2. My son is 6’0. Even my daughters are taller then me and they like to remind of that fact. “Hey, look mom we are taller than you.” “Yes, I know” I have been in elevators where I ended up looking at the backs of people instead of the back of their heads. I have called short stuff on occasion and one time someone patted me on the head like I was kid. I didn’t appreciate that.
    My mother is 4’9 so I am taller than her. I have been in the grocery store and have seen an item on the top self. Of course I can not reach so I ended up staring at and wondering why they put these items were some people can reach them.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I won’t say I have ever known the pain and heartbreak from losing a child as Darleen did and always felt really bad for her. I know though the pain of loss and found the lyrics to this song that really seemed to help me cope a bit better when we lost our mom and when our nephew was murdered as well as when my sister died in more recent years.. Even now sometimes I still put it on to listen to it when am having a bad moment. Take good care of yourselves, Jameson and Darleen.

    Nancy Darlene

    The Escape Club – I’ll Be There Lyrics

    Artist: The Escape Club

    Genre: Rock

    Over mountains
    Over trees
    Over oceans
    Over seas
    Across the desert
    I’ll be there

    In a whisper on the wind
    On the smile of a new friend
    Just think of me
    And I’ll be there

    Don’t be afraid, oh my love
    I’ll be watching you from above
    And I’d give all the world tonight
    To be with you
    Because I’m on your side
    And I still care
    I may have died
    But I’ve gone nowhere
    Just think of me
    And I’ll be there

    On the edge of a waking dream
    Over rivers
    Over streams
    Through wind and rain
    I’ll be there

    Across the wide and open sky
    Thousands of miles I’d fly
    To be with you
    I’ll be there

    Don’t be afraid, oh my love
    I’ll be watching you from above
    Then I give all the world tonight
    To be with you
    Because I’m on your side
    And I still care
    I may have died
    But I’ve gone nowhere
    Just think of me
    And I’ll be there
    Just think of me
    And I’ll be there

    In the breath of a wind that sighs
    Oh, there’s no need to cry
    Just think of me
    And I’ll be there

    Don’t be afraid, oh my love
    I’ll be watching you from above
    And I’d give all the world tonight
    To be with you
    Because I’m on your side
    And I still care
    I may have died
    But I’ve gone nowhere
    Just think of me
    I’ll be there
    Just think of me
    And I’ll be there
    Just think of me
    I’ll be there

  12. Anonymous says:

    Growing up we always watched “The Rockford Files” so James Garner was a television staple during my growing up. He was always spoken of as a kind and giving man by others and I found many of his film roles so memorable. I actually believe his role in “Space Cowboys” was my favorite. He was a legend and has left a beautiful legacy in television and film. His work will be around for future generations to enjoy and for us to look back and enjoy again.
    Alexandra Elaine Michaels

  13. Anonymous says:

    I finally remembered what other movie I saw James Garner it was called “Victor/Victoria.” It alas started Julie Andrews and Robert Preston. James Garner played an associate of the mob looking for new talent for their club. Julie Andrews with the help of Robert Preston’s character pretends to be a man who pretends to be a female impersonator. James Garner feels an attraction to her and spends part of the movie trying to prove ‘Victor” is a fraud and really a women. Alex Karas is in also and he plays James Garner’s character’s body guard. This leads to a lot of confusion and is it pretty funny.

  14. Anonymous says:

    …..and interesting, regarding this subject of James Garner. Apparently we ARE being closely monitored in the world of computers, or it is an amazing coincidence? I had not said or discussed anything else about James Garner except this commentary on this blog. In a coupla days I got an Amazon advertisement for a slew of James Garner movies! Which I haven’t, specifically, before. perhaps it was simply a general advertisement since his recent passing. That could be it, of course, as whatever you do in life always seems to go up in value when you kick-the-bucket…..L. B.

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