James Garner Gracefully Bore the Weight of Stardom

James Garner Gracefully Bore the Weight

Tom Selleck is fond of saying that every actor should take “star lessons” from James Garner. Having worked with Garner on “The Rockford Files” very early in his career, Selleck noticed that Garner realized the star’s demeanor had a ripple effect on the set, establishing a tone for everyone else’s behavior.

Whatever his personal qualities, the actor – who died over the weekend at the age of 86 – was the quintessential star on screen, someone who moved with apparent ease between comedy and drama, film and television, before that was quite as fashionable as it is today.

This was exemplified by signature TV roles like “Rockford” and “Maverick,” but that barely scratches the surface of the Garner persona, which combined square-jawed, matinee-idol looks with self-effacing qualities and easy-going charm.

SEE ALSO: James Garner of ‘Maverick,’ ‘Rockford Files’ Dies at 86

Small wonder Garner remained in demand long after the phone normally stops ringing for many leading men, sliding into senior citizen and grandpa roles, a la “The Notebook.” More than anything, Garner gave off the impression of someone who was comfortable in his own skin – good company, even when the parts and programs weren’t especially interesting.

Beyond the series that will surely be mentioned in appreciations, his work in a few splendid TV movies shouldn’t be overlooked, including “Promise,” co-starring James Woods; and “Barbarians at the Gate,” a brutally funny and acerbic account of the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco, written by Larry Gelbart for HBO. As for films that might otherwise be forgotten, Garner cut a dashing figure as Wyatt Earp and Philip Marlowe in the late ‘60s in “Hour of the Gun” and “Marlowe,” respectively.

For whatever reason, major movie stardom eluded Garner, despite no shortage of opportunities, which explains why his TV work came to professionally define him. Yet whatever projects one chooses to remember from a career that spanned more than 50 years, the thought of Garner’s passing leaves an oversized pair of shoes to fill – if only because so few performers, past or present, have appeared to share his knack for bearing the weight of stardom quite as gracefully.

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  1. funny post says:

    Gonna admit now: I HATE cardio, usually over do it with weights, and can find every excuse under to to not do what I have to do to be healthy.

  2. Richard March says:

    A fine tribute, Brian. Jim was a class act… authentic, unassuming, loaded with talent…invite him to your house for dinner & I know he’d come…always felt comfortable & relaxed when watching him perform…..you know the line from Hamlet about flights of angels, well. they took him & he ‘s checking on us all from up there….what a guide he was !

    • Tim Anderson says:

      Like the day John Wayne passed, I wept when I heard the news on the radio of James Garners passing. The world does not feel the same. Thank you for your heartfelt tribute. Like so many of my vintage he was an idol for generations. Thanks for the memories James. Rest is peace.

  3. Cathy says:

    I loved James Garner for all of the reason you stated, and so much more. Of all of the articles I’ve read about his passing, this is my favorite. Because it talks about the man and his gifts, and that is what he probably would have wanted to read. RIP, dear Mr. Garner. And thanks for everything you brought to us on and off the screen.

  4. Marsha Newman says:

    At a time when the “bad boy” image was gaining popularity, James Garner was charmingly clean cut – a guy a girl knew she could count on. He is one of those screen personalities you love to watch just for the pure joy of it. Good travels, James. May you be borne up on angel’s wings.

  5. Carol Goodall says:

    Thank you for mentioning Tom Selleck’s remarks. Like many other young girls, I too had a crush on James Gardner since first seeing him on “Maverick”. What a way he had. You felt his “real” personality was close to the roles he played as “Maverick” and “Rockford”. Someone you would want to know. He was married for 60 years and no scandals! How many actors can we say that about? Condolences and prayers to his family. Know that he brought great joy to his many, many fans.

  6. Mellie says:

    James Garner was a wonderful man and I think Tom Selleck learned his “star lessons” very well.

  7. Lori L. says:

    So……………going to miss James Garner, he was truly a very ….very good actor, a true gentleman a rare gem!….. Wish there were more men in this world like him!…. he was a great example we did not get to see enough of …….Rest In Peace James Garner…This world will miss you ……..

  8. It was his non-verbal expressions that were most enjoyable. Loved his con schemes with Angel Martin. Rockford was my absolute favorite PI during the ’70’s, where there was a glut of t.v. PI’s. Maverick was my favorite ’50’s t.v. western as well, when there was a glut of t.v. westerns during the ’50’s. Yet, it was James Garner who made the difference – a class act. Thanks for so many laughs, Jimbo.

  9. Piera says:

    I am very sad upon hearing that James Gardner is not in our lives any more, I have always had a huge crush on this fabolus man , he personified the debonair, qwinsantial, handsome leading man ,a la another handsome man Gary Grant , who was still handsome older , funny and a wonderful actor to boot.I will miss him lots , my condolences to his family .he will be sorely missed. much love Piera–an adoring fan

  10. James Garner was my first love.

  11. Salvatore J. Mirabile says:

    RIP ROCKFISH…You will be sorely missed…You were one of the GREATS and will be remembered fondly for ALL OF YOUR WORK…Thank you so much for your more than 50 years of tantalizing variety of work…Loved every single bit of it…Now you can Di ally…RIP!!!!!

  12. Harley Leiber says:

    Rest in peace Jim.

  13. Chris says:

    My dad loved James Garner movies. We watched them a lot growing up, so The Great Escape and Support Your Local Sheriff were foundations of my early cinema education. Mr. Garner was always a joy to watch because he was honest, authentic, and charming. I’m grateful he became an actor and shared his charisma with the world.

  14. Well he was a major star to me. So sad to see this happen.

  15. Ross Vachon says:

    Very funny, very likeable, very talented actor. It was his non-verbal acting that impressed me the most, just very. human, non-actorish expressions. He did make it look like a snap. James Garner, one of the greats.

  16. Lynnacworth says:

    When the notebook came out in theaters I cornered my niece to see the movie with me. She was only twenty two at the time but she became enthralled with James Garner and began checking into his past movies “Murphy’s Law” became a favorite of hers which goes to the point that even then with everything else Mr. Garner brought to the screen, he still had “It” as well as grace. Always giving us a strong performance, his light will be missed.

  17. Goodbyenoway says:

    Nice tribute but I’ll disagree about major film stardom eluding him. He was a big movie star in the 1960s. Look at the titles. Some amazing classics in there. God Bless him, he was the best.

  18. Steve Zeoli says:

    Thank you for the lovely tribute to one of our truly great actors. I’ll always remember him as Jim Rockford, of course, but his work in The Great Escape stands out among all the terrific actors in that film. James Garner will be missed, certainly.

  19. tim marshall says:

    young “men” have lost the trail set out for them by guys like jim and tom. watch rawhide,maverick, and quigley to see how best to continue the tradition of fair play and the rulebook. being a sissy is no way to go through life!

  20. Huelya says:

    James Garner was always one of my favorite actors. No matter what role he played, he always delivered and he always seemed so likeable. He was a reason to watch a movie. I’m happy, that he had a long and happy life, because he brought so much joy to mine.

  21. anniebooker says:

    A wonderful tribute to my all time favorite actor.

    • DeDe says:

      He always came off as a nice guy. No one ever wrote anything bad about him. It was always a joy to watch his TV shows or go to see a movie of his. Today there are very few movies or TV shows that I’m anxious to see. The movies and TV shows have too much violence, profanity or their just too similar. I long for the shows and movies where you could and not be assaulted by what’s on the screen. I miss the hero’s like James Garner.

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