Sunday, July 20, 2014

So Long, Jim...

This blog has been dormant for awhile now, and it is with some irony that my last post was my annual tribute to James Garner on his birthday last April. For today I woke up to the very sad news that he has now passed away at the age of 86. I knew he'd been in poor health for some time now, and when someone reaches that age you know that the day they'll no longer be around is inevitable, it's just a matter of when. Yet somehow it still remains difficult to imagine this world without them in it. On previous occasions, I'd felt that way upon the passing of Audrey Hepburn in 1992 and of Frank Sinatra in 1998. That's the way I feel about Jim Garner too.

For me, Jim was more than just my favourite actor. It wasn't merely that I appreciated his considerable skills on the movie or TV screen. There was something more that he had - a quality that went beyond his celebrity. He was a genuinely nice man, exuding a warmth, charm and friendliness that just naturally engaged people. As a result, his numerous fans were extremely loyal and dedicated to him, as evidenced by the Facebook site set up by his friend, Robert Howe, The Official James Garner Fan Page. We had all grown up enjoying watching Jim in his movies, and especially his two long running TV series, Maverick and The Rockford Files. To all of his finest roles, he brought a special element of self-effacing humour. He was the "reluctant hero" - the man who would rather avoid trouble if he could help it, but would stand up for himself and others when push came to shove.

I am grateful that I got to meet Jim back in 1982 on the set of his series, Bret Maverick, a sequel to his original series that featured him still as a sly yet conscientious gambler, but now 20 years older and looking to settle down from his roving ways. The visit to the set at Warner Brothers had been arranged by my good friend, Bryan Stoller through a studio contact, and it was just wonderful to meet Jim himself that day. I'll never forget shaking his hand, then him saying, "Come on over here, son", in that distinctive voice of his, as he motioned me over to one of the tables in the show's Red Ox saloon set they were filming on, so he could look at the drawing I did of him and autograph another one for me. He was as tall and handsome a man as could be, with that warm manner and engaging smile that I'd grown up watching on the movies and TV. A real square-jawed, silver screen hero in the flesh!

Me and my friend Bryan gathered with Jim Garner and cast on the set of Bret Maverick, 1982

But now James Garner is gone. And I'm filled with a great sadness at his passing. My heart goes out to his family, wife Lois, and daughters Gigi and Kim. In recent years I'd had email conversations with Gigi on her Dad's birthday, and she told me that she'd printed out one of my blog posts a couple years ago and Jim himself read it aloud at the family home. She said he was quite touched by my words and that it was something he needed to hear. I'm grateful for that knowledge that my words may have brought some small comfort to this wonderful man. I'll miss you Jim...

In final tribute, here is the memorable speech from Jim's personal favourite of his films, The Americanization of Emily: