I'm of the opinion that The Rockford Files did nothing less than save James Garner's career. I yield to no one in my admiration for this man as an actor. I read somewhere that it was said of him he makes every thing he's in just a little bit better by being there.
But it was clear that his movie career at the time he was offered The Rockford Files was waning, he was not getting the good parts he once had on the big screen. What to do, but go back to television where Maverick had made him a big star.
Though Garner's character and personality were certainly an integral part of the show, what I think set The Rockford Files apart was the terrific writing of each and every episode and the creation of some indelible characters. The best of course was Stuart Margolin as Angel Martin who was con man. Margolin did four or five episodes a year with The Rockford Files and he pulled Garner into one of his crazy schemes in every episode and Garner had to be resourceful to get them out.
Garner was an ex-convict who apparently took a fall for some other people. His prison experience certainly toughened him and he went into the private detective business when paroled.
Naturally the LAPD as do other police agencies don't like private eyes as a general rule and ex-con PIs really gets their collective backs up. Jim Rockford had a running battle with Lieutenant Chapman played beautifully by James Luisi who was never convinced Garner was on the up and up. Rockford had a good friend in Joe Santos as Sergeant later Lieutenant Dennis Becker who ran interference for him.
He also had the support of his dad, Noah Beery, Jr. who was a retired truck driver and who occasionally got roped into some of Garner's cases as well. And he had a pretty lady lawyer Gretchen Corbett and with his relations with the cops, Garner had to have her on speed dial.
Gretchen Corbett got a great career role in Beth Davenport. I'm not sure why she's not mentioned more as a feminist icon, a successful female professional if there ever was one on television.
And other semi-recurring characters were folks like Isaac Hayes as Gandolf Finch another prison buddy, a man of few words and a demeanor that made Mr. T look like a friendly tour guide. Tom Selleck was here also as another private eye, Lance White, who kept getting credit for some of the grunt work Garner put in. This part led him to his own television series Magnum which in fact was patterned a lot on The Rockford Files. The show was rich with characters.
The Rockford Files to me is perfect series television, entertaining without condescension to the lowest common denominator. After physical problems forced the cancellation, James Garner came back in the nineties to do several Rockford television films. They were good, but face it Garner was getting old and tending to the gut a bit more.
With his recent stroke and the fact he's now 80 years old, I don't think another Rockford Files is in the cards. I wish it weren't so
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