Monday, July 21, 2014
RIP James Garner
But James Garner was the actor every comedy writer coveted. A handsome fella who was charming, could play comedy with ease, was self-deprecating, smart, and could act. Every TV sitcom pilot has that guy. I’m looking for that guy for my play. And there are sadly, very few. They’re harder to find than white truffles. And they make all the difference in the world.
Imagine CHEERS without Ted Danson. Imagine MASH without Alan Alda. Imagine any Cary Grant movie without Cary Grant.
And Jim's talent extended to commercials too. You have to be of a certain age, but in the late ‘70s he was the pitchman for Polaroid cameras. He had such warmth and sincerity that those cameras were flying off the shelf. He did the same as the spokesman for beef but was dropped from the campaign after he needed open heart surgery.
James Garner made it all look effortless. Probably because he was that guy. He was well-intentioned, supported causes for the public good, and was awarded two Purple Hearts in the Korean War.
He is best known, of course, for his roles in THE ROCKFORD FILES and MAVERICK. But he also appeared in quite a few movies. Since comedy is never taken seriously, Garner was only nominated once for an Academy Award – for the 1985 movie, MURPHY’S ROMANCE. Some of his movies worth seeing are THE GREAT ESCAPE, DUEL AT DIABLO, SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERRIF, and VICTOR/VICTORIA.
But there’s one movie he starred in I’d like to recommend. If you haven’t seen this movie, rent it or stream it tonight. THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY from 1964. He gives the performance of a lifetime as a wheeler-dealer in the Navy just before D-Day. The screenplay is by the great Paddy Chayefsky. He delivers a powerful speech on the idiocy of glorifying war that says in three minutes what we took eleven years to say in MASH. Here it is:
James Garner was very self-effacing. On acting he once said: “I’m a Methodist, but not as an actor.” In his memoir he wrote: “I’m from the Spencer Tracy school: be on time, know your words, hit your marks, and tell the truth. I don’t have any theories abut acting, and I don’t think about how to do it, except that an actor shouldn’t take himself too seriously, and shouldn’t try to make acting something that it isn’t. Acting is just common sense. It isn’t hard if you put yourself aside and just do what the writer wrote.”
From that last line alone you can see why I loved him.
The legacy of James Garner will live on. At least in my writing. I generally create two types of characters – one who is similar to who I am and the other is someone I wish I were. That’s James Garner.