James Garner Of 'Rockford Files' And 'Maverick' Dies At 86

Garner was known for wise-cracking, tough-guy characters who were not afraid to bend the rules. NPR's Arun Rath talks with biographer Jon Winokur about the actor's prolific career.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ARUN RATH, HOST:

James Garner died last night at the age of 86. The actor was known for his wise-cracking, tough guy characters who were not afraid to bend the rules.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: "Maverick," starring James Garner and Jack Kelly.

RATH: As cool cowboy Bret Maverick, Garner quickly became an icon of the Hollywood Wild West.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES GARNER: (As Bret Maverick) Burt (ph) tells me you put him up to it. Why?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I can't talk upside down.

GARNER: (As Bret Maverick) You can't talk right side up but you're going to talk even if it's inside out.

RATH: After rocketing to fame on the small screen, James Garner became a movie star in films like "The Great Escape" and "The Americanization of Emily." After 11 years on the big screen, Garner returned to TV for a few more turns as Western sheriff types, then in 1974 got the role for which he's best known.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE ROCKFORD FILES")

GARNER: (As Jim Rockford) This is Jim Rockford. At the tone, leave your name and message. I'll get back to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (Spanish spoken).

RATH: James Garner earned an Emmy for his portrayal of private eye Jim Rockford in "The Rockford Files." And when that show wrapped in the '80s, Garner went back to the cinema and earned even more accolades. We're joined now by author Jon Winokur, who worked with the actor on his autobiography, "The Garner Files: A Memoir." Jon Winokur, thanks for joining us.

JON WINOKUR: Thank you.

RATH: So we just mentioned an impressive variety of roles that Garner tackled. And really, it was kind of scratching the surface - by no means a complete list. What legacy does James Garner leave?

WINOKUR: I think he'll be remembered as a guy who made it look very easy. You know, he was once asked by an interviewer how he wanted to be remembered, and he said, with a smile. And I think he's achieved that.

RATH: Garner fell into acting by coincidence. Can you tell us the story?

WINOKUR: Yes, he was pumping gas and there was a soda jerk in the drug store across the street named Paul Gregory who said that he was going to be a producer some day and that Garner should be an actor. Of course Garner just laughed at him. Time went by. He forgot about it. And he came back from Korea only to find that Paul Gregory was now a very successful producer. Garner was working as a carpet installer and looking for a better job. And he sees a sign over a building, Paul Gregory and Associates. And the rest is history.

RATH: Wow, sounds more like fate than coincidence.

WINOKUR: It sure does.

RATH: Now, you mentioned how he kind of made it look easy. And it was almost so effortless you almost feel like you could just walk up and talk to the guy, like he was your buddy. But I imagine there was probably some real work behind that.

WINOKUR: I think there was. He never did let you catch him acting. He was what he seemed to be. Behind that good guy image, there was an even better guy.

RATH: Jon Winokur co-wrote James Garner's autobiography, "The Garner Files: A Memoir." James Garner died last night at the age of 86.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.