In all my years as a journalist covering Los Angeles and Hollywood, one of the most charismatic, nicest people I ever met was James Garner. The news of his death yesterday, July 19 sadden me greatly. I met ‘Jimmy’ while interviewing Henry Mancini (Hank) for an article for Los Angeles Magazine. We were in a booth at the commissary at Burbank Studios having lunch when Hank spotted Jimmy and invited him over. The big, tall, handsome actor approached us wearing his winning smile, then took off his signature cowboy hat, sat down beside me and introduced himself. Needless to say, I melted.
After Garner left Hank and I alone at lunch, Hank mentioned that Jimmy was one of Hollywood’s finest and nicest who never made waves and was loved by all. Ironically Jimmy’s and my paths crossed again at the Golden Door Spa in Escondido, California where Lois Garner was among the guests who were spending a week getting their minds, bodies and spirits whipped into shape. I was on my way back to my room after a massage and steam, my hair wrapped in a towel, a robe covering me up when the distinctive figure appeared before my eyes. He had come to pick up his wife and again wearing that million dollar smile on his impossibly good looking face
According to online news sources, Garner died of natural causes at his Brentwood, California home. For those of you too young to remember, his starring role in the 1950s TV Western "Maverick" catapulted him to stardom with follow ups such as "The Rockford Files" and movies like his Oscar-nominated "Murphy's Romance.”
One of the best things about being a journalist living in Los Angeles is the opportunity to meet people like James Garner (and Henry Mancini, who also passed away a few years ago). While most people idolize celebrities, they should realize that they are real people with real lives and personalities. Some are much nicer than others, but they all eat, sleep, live and breathe like the rest of us. Jimmy and Hank were real people, as was the late Phyllis Diller, whom I also had the pleasure to meet, Esther Williams, Steve Allen and cast of maybe a dozen other favorites, who are hopefully resting in peace in the big tinsel town in the sky.