My Day With James Garner

‘Rockford Files’ Star James Garner Dies at 86

The amiable actor also starred on TV in “Maverick,” in such films as “Victor Victoria,” “Murphy’s Romance” and “Space Cowboys” and in popular Polaroid commercials.

James Garner, the charming leading man from Oklahoma who made it look easy on NBC’s The Rockford Files and in films opposite Doris Day, Julie Andrews and Sally Field during more than a half-century in show business, has died. He was 86.

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I grew up watching James Garner.  “The Rockford Files” were a favorite in our house, and we were all convinced that he was married to Mariette Hartley (except for my Dad) – they just seemed like such a couple in those Poloroid ads. So, in the mid-90’s when I was working background and featured extra parts to pay off my SAG card, I was thrilled to have to chance to work on one of those “Rockford Files” movies they did in the 90’s. We shot at the old Renmar Studios (which originally began in 1915 as the home of Metro Pictures, before they merged to become MGM, was the home of “I Love Lucy” in the mid-50’s, and currently operates as Red Studios) – funnily enough, the studio lot is around the corner from my current office. I only ended up working on the show for one day – but it was quite a day.

We were shooting a scene that was supposedly taking place on a talk-show set. Geraldo Rivera had recently had his infamous “chair throwing” episode, and they were mocking that in this “Rockford” movie. I was there with my friends, Sue and Diane, and they had all of us background mixed in with the actors and several stunt people. It was supposed to look like a melee – and they had the whole thing choreographed. There was a lot of action going on around us, but we were just supposed to run out of harms way. Well, when we went to go shoot it, there was some confusion – and one of the stunt people mistook me for a fellow stunt person – and smashed a chair over my head. To make matters worse, he didn’t grab one of the breakaway chairs, but used a real folding chair by mistake. So, in the middle of the take, there you see me – crumpling to the floor – completely knocked out unconscious. When I came to, I had a huge lump on my head, but otherwise seemed to be fine. And that’s where the real fun began.

They brought a paramedic over, and he was concerned that I might have a concussion. So, despite the fact that I wasn’t going to work the rest of the day, they wanted me to stay there, so they could keep an eye on me. (Nowadays, they’d probably take me to the hospital right away.) And because I think they were afraid that I might sue (or just felt bad about what happened), they plopped me down in a directors chair right next to James Garner!! They told him I was the kid who’d gotten injured (and probably told him to make nice, so I didn’t complain) – and so I got to sit with him in between all of the takes that day, and talk about all sorts of stuff. He was exactly what you’d expect from all of his film & TV roles – friendly, nice, charming, and very down-to-earth. We talked about how he got injured on a horse early on in his career, about acting and what I was up to, about shooting the show – all sorts of stuff. Unfortunately, I was a bit out of it from the head-thumping, so I don’t really remember all of the conversation. But we talked for many hours that day – everytime he didn’t have to be on set. It was a lot of fun, and the thing I recall the most is just how nice he was to me – way above the call of duty of just appeasing the injured kid – he was genuinely friendly and interested in what I had to say, and talked with me as a fellow actor, which is amazing.

What sounds like it would have been an awful day, turned out to be one of the best! The day I got to spend talking with a true gentleman of the silver screen – and one I won’t ever forget.

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