The AP reported on Sunday that James Garner, star of the small and big screen, has passed away apparently of natural causes. He was 86, having retired from acting for the past several years. He was found dead at his home in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles Saturday evening and was identified by family members.
Garner was best known for playing charming, wise cracking rogues who always seemed to stumble into doing the right thing in TV shows like “Maverick” and “The Rockford Files.” But he also shown on the big screen, starring in both comedies and in more serious dramatic turns. He worked well into his seventies.
Garner was able to parlay his Bret Maverick role into a number of light hearted westerns. They included “Support Your Local Sheriff,” “Support Your Local Gunfighter,” and “Skin Game.” In the 1990s he appeared in the big screen version of the TV series that made him famous “Maverick” that starred Mel Gibson as the iconic western rogue and Garner as Marshal Zane Cooper, who turned out to be more than what he seemed. In “Sunset” he played an aging Wyatt Earp in 1920s Hollywood opposite Bruce Willis as western actor Tom Mix.
Garner could do dramatics as well. One notable role was in the Lillian Hellman lesbian drama, “The Children’s Hout” that also starred Audrey Hepburn and Shirley Maclaine. He was also noted in the World War II psychodrama, “36 Hours,” as an American officer who is captured by the Germans and is convinced that it is several years after the war in an attempt to get him to reveal details of the D Day invasion.
Garner was in three movies with singer/actress Julie Andrew with whom he had a unique chemistry. In “The Americanization of Emily” Garner plays a cowardly naval officer in World War II who romances a British war widow played by Andrews. In “Victor/Victoria” he is an American nightclub owner who is connected with the mob visiting 1930s Paris who falls in love with a singer played by Andrews whose act involves pretending to be a man. Their last film together was a TV movie called “One Special Night.”
Garner was known for his pugnaciousness, fighting with the studio over just compensation for the “Maverick” TV show, a physical altercation with at least one obnoxious fan, and a tendency to give direct opinions. He was a life-long Hollywood liberal, though not given to being too alarming about it as too many younger actors are. He did seem to get along with Hollywood libertarian Clint Eastwood with whom he appeared in “Space Cowboys,” in which he played one of a crew of aging astronauts sent on an emergency space shuttle mission.
The world has thus lost a great screen presence. Garner was someone who could always make one smile. Occasionally he could make one think. Both were marks of greatness.