James Garner: “the union prevailed”

Yesterday I read the news that James Garner died this past Saturday, and I was saddened. Hence the Tweet:

My dad... er... I mean: James Garner as Maverick
My dad… er… I mean: James Garner as Maverick (from Wikipedia)

I didn’t know him personally, to be sure. But I have many fond memories of watching him on “The Rockford Files.” Not because I was necessarily a huge fan by myself at the time–I was only four years old when the series premiered and nine years old when it ended. But my dad loved the show, and I came to enjoy it to some extent because it was entertaining (to the extent I got it at that age) but primarily because my father thought it was entertaining. (Actually, in similar manner I have my dad to blame for my intense, youthful exposures to British comedy and a number of other television “resources” I’ve come to love/hate which formed much of my sense of humor and comedy tastes, but that is another discussion.) It’s very likely my imagination due to that Dad/”Rockford Files” connection, but I came to think that my father sort of looked like Jim Rockford… er… James Garner, and seeing Mr. Garner, even in his later work, frequently made me think of my dad. While I don’t know that I could argue that Dad would have been considered a handsome fellow (though I’m thankful my mother thought so for a while) and he certainly wasn’t as tall as the six-foot-three actor, maybe I could say that Mr. Garner looked like a Hollywood version of my dad. Perhaps he could have played my dad in the TV movie version of my life. (Regrettably, my own part would be played by Jon Cryer if, after his 1980s “Ducky” days, he had become a much portlier version of his current self, perhaps in an alternate timeline. Or maybe a young Don Rickles with early-onset older Don Rickles looks. Again, a blog post for another time…)

No doubt my association of Mr. Garner with Dad is part, perhaps a big part, of the sadness I felt at the news of the actor’s demise. And no doubt it is part of the fondness I’ve felt for the actor through the years.

I did come to enjoy the easy manner his characters displayed. I didn’t see tons of his work, but in addition to “The Rockford Files” I’ve seen plenty of old “Maverick” episodes, and the “Support Your Local Sheriff!” and “Support Your Local Gunfighter” movies were family favorites (well, at least “me & Dad” favorites). He didn’t exactly play the stereotypically heroic type in those roles, but he was a character I could identify with sympathetically in a number of ways–fun to watch, approachable, OK with his gun but even better at talking himself out of rough spots. Unlike some of today’s action stars with their stoic, fearless faces, when one of Garner’s characters was in a tight spot, he looked like he was in a tight spot–one of the reasons I enjoy Harrison Ford’s acting here and there, as well. When you’d be sweating, it’s sort of neat to see the hero sweating, too. I’ll miss that. (I can’t speak to his other roles some have mentioned, such as in The Notebook, et al., as I haven’t seen those, I’m afraid. A little too “Hallmark Channel” for me, not that there’s anything wrong with that. 🙂 )

James Garner with his wife and family in 1961 (from Wikipedia)
James Garner with his wife and family in 1961 (from Wikipedia)

But what I think is really neat–and what gave this blog post its title–is a paragraph towards the end of Yahoo! News’ publication of the AP story on James Garner’s death. You can read it by clicking on the Twitter link above, but here is the sentence that grabbed me from that paragraph: “In 1957 (sic), Garner married TV actress Lois Clarke, and the union prevailed despite some stormy patches.”

“…the union prevailed…”

I’m sorry, but in today’s world–let alone when it comes to those in the Hollywood culture–those three words are amazing. Wikipedia says that they actually married in 1956, but, regardless, that marriage lasted, apparently through some difficulty, for almost 60 years. And it did not end until one of them died. Through all of its ups and downs, through whatever the “stormy patches” were, the union prevailed.

Those words in the article captured me, and, frankly, it was that statement that moved me enough to write a little about it here.

And “prevailed” is a wonderful word choice. It gives a sense of victory and overcoming. It gives a sense that something should be celebrated. And something certainly should be. Reading the AP article makes for a wonderful review of the life and accomplishments of James Garner, but as far as I am concerned, knowing no more about the man than what I saw on the screen and what these tribute articles have told me, those three words represent the single greatest accomplishment on the list: “the union prevailed.”

While I have enjoyed his performances on the screen and while watching his shows and films with my father are some of my favorite “time with Dad” memories, those three words added something to my thoughts of Mr. Garner that had not been there before: respect and admiration.

His performances in those movies and television shows will ensure that the name and face of James Garner is remembered, at least for a generation or so until the names and faces of newer stars and younger actors finally crowd it out of the cultural synapses. But when the day comes when all things are revealed and the vast multitude of invisible ways in which our choices have truly touched and affected the lives of others, for good or ill, throughout time are clearly made visible to us, I truly believe that the fact that their union prevailed will be seen to have had an impact far beyond what any movie or television series ever has. More than any of those films or shows, I suspect that, in many ways, that marriage will be seen as James Garner’s true legacy.

Good on you, James and Lois. And may all our unions prevail.

5 thoughts on “James Garner: “the union prevailed”

  1. I will miss “Ole Jimmy” and Rockford files is one of my favorite old shows. He was one of the oldies but goodies. I’m sad to hear he died. Another ‘end-of-an-era’. Rest In Peace! James.

  2. Steve

    Couldn’t have said it better than you did. Big James Garner fan myself. Enjoyed the type of characters he played. Read somewhere that he didn’t really care for the Hollywood crowd; more like a regular guy.

  3. The media often raves about how long a couple was together, but usually ignores the fact that when they got “involved” one or both of them were already married and left their families. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn come to mind. It is nice to see someone who actually stayed with his first and ONLY wife.

  4. R.L.

    As I recall, NBC aired The Rockford Files on Friday nights. But you hadn’t reached the “age of accountability” yet about that.

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