Archive for Entertainment
As if suicide isn’t rotten enough, it invariably raises more questions than it answers. That’s because suicide often doesn’t answer any questions at all.
Even a note left behind won’t necessarily satisfy all the curiosity. In fact, suicide notes are likely to create more questions than they answer, as well.
A suicide note is like a press conference where a statement is issued and the issuer scrambles away, without taking any queries.
Sawyer Sweeten is dead. Apparently it’s suicide.
Sawyer, on the verge of turning 20, was one-half of the identical twin actors who played Ray and Debra Barone’s twin boys on “Everybody Loves Raymond” (1996-2005). Sawyer played Geoffrey and Sullivan Sweeten played Michael. The twins’ older sister Madylin played older sister Ally on the TV show.
According to reports, Sawyer was visiting family in Texas when he apparently shot himself on the front porch of the house where he was staying.
In the early years of “Raymond,” star Ray Romano would say in the open that the show “is not really about the kids,” and he was right. The Barone children were often not seen at all in episodes. Not making kids foils or smart alecks was one of many ways in which “Raymond” was refreshing.
The Sweeten kids weren’t fed rapid fire one-liners by the writers. Their characters rarely acted out, and only on occasion was a “Raymond” storyline built around the children.
But today, it IS about the kids. One, in particular.
No word yet if Sawyer left a note. Not that it helps if he did.
Throughout entertainment history, the travails of the child actor after he/she is no longer an adolescent have been widely documented. I don’t know if studies have been made, so it’s anyone’s guess as to whether former child stars are, statistically, prone to big people-type problems more than “normal” kids. But certainly their issues are higher in profile.
I would imagine that some of the emotional/psychological problems that child actors face start with a question that we have all asked about said stars, either to ourselves or of others.
“Whatever happened to…?”
That may be the crux of a lot of this stuff.
Whatever happened to the kid actors after they grew up and their shows ended up in syndication?
But maybe the kid actors are asking themselves, “What do I do now, now that the spotlights have been turned off and the acting jobs have dried up?”
The Sweeten kids: Sawyer (left), Madylin and Sullivan
Some of the kid stars turned to drugs. Some turned to alcohol. Some turned to both. Others followed their lives on set with a life of crime, almost immediately.
With or without a suicide note, the questions surrounding Sawyer Sweeten’s apparent suicide will never truly be answered, because the only person who possesses the answers and who can expound is gone.
And it might be that Sawyer’s demise had absolutely nothing to do with his having been a child actor.
Romano, who reminded us back in the day that his show wasn’t about the kids, reversed that course upon learning of Sawyer’s tragic death.
“I’m shocked, and terribly saddened, by the news about Sawyer,” Romano said in a statement.
“(Sawyer) was a wonderful and sweet kid to be around. Just a great energy whenever he was there. My heart breaks for him, his family, and his friends during this very difficult time.”
Big sister Madylin Sweeten told us to do something that shouldn’t take an untimely death to get us to do.
“At this time I would like to encourage everyone to reach out to the ones you love,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “Let them have no doubt of what they mean to you.”
They were television advertising icons who resided on the banks of our cultural consciousness.
Mr. Whipple (Charmin bathroom tissue). Madge the manicurist (Palmolive dish detergent). The Maytag Repair Man. Even the Qantas koala bear.
Those were just a few commercial characters who invaded our living rooms in the 1970s and ’80s. Their ads—usually 60 seconds in length or even longer—were rarely the same. The format might have been nearly identical, and of course the tag lines were (“DON’T squeeze the Charmin!”), but each appearance by Mr. Whipple or Madge usually had them interacting with different customers.
The actors behind the characters were often nameless, as it should have been, but I’m sure their paychecks weren’t nameless—or paltry.
The pitchman on TV these days is usually a local litigator or a voice-over hawking prescription meds.
There isn’t really any character that is iconic—no one who, when they appear on the screen, instantly lets us know what product is being advertised.
Except for Flo, the Progressive Insurance Girl.
Played by Stephanie Courtney (we only know that because this is the Internet age), Flo first started appearing on TV in the late-2000s. Her cheery attitude, dark hair, blood red lipstick and ridiculously long eyelashes, all packaged in an all-white uniform, screams insurance at the moment of seeing her.
To Progressive’s credit, the Flo ads are kept fresher than most other TV spots, which can gag you with their repetitiveness and lack of variety (i.e. those same three Liberty Mutual Insurance ads that are rotated).
Progressive has put Flo in all sorts of situations, from riding motorcycles to consoling a man in a locker room to being tied to a stake (in an ad that puts Flo in different eras in world history).
But unlike the advertising characters from days gone by, who were mostly universally liked (or, at the very least, tolerated rather easily), Flo, for whatever reason, is a polarizing sort.
My mother, for example, can’t stand Flo. I, on the other hand, find Flo attractive in an odd way.
Trolling the Internet, this polarization is acute.
There are Flo-hating websites and forums, as well as those that are visited by men who make no bones that they would like to do some things (sexually) to Flo that are unfit to print here. Other comments on Facebook et al have been from females who like Flo just because they think she’s likable.
Courtney, for her part, has never understood the allure of Flo, sexually.
“The GEICO gecko puts out more sexual vibes than Flo does,” Courtney has been quoted as saying.
Regardless of where you stand on the Flo issue, one thing can’t be disputed: She’s a throwback to a time when TV advertising was flush with identifiable characters and mascots. Back when TV hawked more than just insurance, beer, cars and drugs.
Flo’s Facebook page has nearly 5 million likes, though that number has been dipping in recent years from its peak of 5.4 million.
Like them or not, the Flo spots at least are freshened up rather frequently. Her character, these days, is seen less in that all-white, fantasy Progressive Insurance “store” and more in various situations and venues.
And, no doubt, Flo has made Stephanie Courtney’s wallet fatter than it likely would have been had she been forced to stick to more traditional bit parts on TV and in the movies, as she was doing prior to Flo.
You pretty much love Flo or you hate her; it’s hard to be on the fence with her. She’s the Howard Cosell of modern television that way.
The GEICO gecko, by the way, should get props for its popularity and freshness of new spots.
Who would have thought that the world of insurance would take over TV advertising?
The Rolling Stones are coming! The Rolling Stones are coming!
How much rolling they do nowadays, it’s anyone’s guess. They’re all in their 70s now.
The iconic rock group is touring this summer, and Detroit is on the travelogue, with the Stones playing Comerica Park on July 8.
This isn’t ageism, but one can only wonder how strong the voices are, how powerful the guitar riffs are and how much energy is in the tank for the Mick Jagger-led group, who can all order off the seniors menu at every restaurant in the country.
I’ve been listening to a lot of 1960s-era rock lately, thanks to a nifty little mobile app called Milk Music. The tunes (sans commercials) come in handy while walking the pooch.
The Rolling Stones are part of that, of course, but sprinkled in with the bands I am listening to are performers like Jim Morrison (The Doors), Jim Croce, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Mama Cass Elliot (the Mamas and the Papas) and others who died before their time.
So the question begs: what would have become of those artists had they lived as long as Jagger, Richards, Wyman, Watt et al?
The argument could be made that each of the aforementioned music artists, who all died in their 20s (except Elliot, who was 32 when she passed), were trailblazers for acts who came behind them.
But would their acts have stood the test of time?
We’ll never know, of course, but it’s still fun to imagine what kind of music The Doors would be pumping out in 2015, or if Croce’s ballads would have evolved over time or if Hendrix would still be wailing on the electric guitar some 45 years after he died.
Then again, there are many bands and individual artists from the British Invasion years that have pretty much vanished from the public eye—all while remaining alive and kicking.
The Rolling Stones are still a draw because they, like The Who, Paul McCartney and others who’ve been at this rock-and-roll thing for 50-plus years, pumped out so many hits in their prime that it never gets old for their fan base—many of whom are also in their senior years—to hear those hits performed live, no matter the age of the performers.
The bodies of work of Morrison, Croce, Hendrix, Joplin and Elliot, combined, averaged about four years at their peak. If it seems like it was longer, then that’s both a testament to their music’s influence and to the fact that they died young. James Dean only made four movies, believe it or not. Yet a prevailing belief is that Dean’s filmography is more voluminous than that.
Elvis Presley would have turned 80 in January. But forget The King’s music; how would those hips have held up?
In the 1980s, HBO presented a comedy series called “Not Necessarily the News.” In it, pretend anchors used real news clips but altered them for laughs.
Cleverly inserted shots that the HBO show produced, interspersed with the actual clips, would be used for gags.
Of course, the notion of fake news on TV was hardly new at that time. “Saturday Night Live” began the trend in earnest with its signature Weekend Update segment not long after “SNL” debuted in 1975.
While “NNTN” was playful and Weekend Update was very sarcastic, always delivered with a wink and a smirk, there was still further to go in the fake news genre.
Enter Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.”
Where “NNTN” was produced sporadically and Weekend Update was weekly (during the “SNL” season), “The Daily Show” was exactly that—daily.
But that’s hardly where the delineation ended.
“TDS”‘s Jon Stewart was not part of a host rotation, like Weekend Update’s, which helped make stars out of everyone from Bill Murray to Dennis Miller to Seth Myers.
Weekend Update has always been presented in a breezy five minutes or so, while “TDS” has always been 30 minutes in length.
Stewart is one of two hosts that “TDS” has ever known (Craig Kilborn began when the show began in 1996 and Stewart took over by 1999), and he stunned his audience with the announcement this week that this will be the year that he steps down.
Kudos should continue to go to Kilborn, the ESPN grad whose smarmy delivery would forever brand “TDS,” but it was Stewart’s intellectually sharp, biting humor and longevity that cemented “TDS”‘s perpetual place in television comedy history.
“TDS” has been guested by a gaggle of political figures and other celebrities over the years, many of whom have been eager to share the stage with Stewart and engage in the ensuing repartee.
Such was the popularity of Stewart’s show that it spawned spin-offs, like Stephen Colbert’s “The Colbert Report” and “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.”
Stewart never hesitated to point out the absurdity and hypocrisy of politics, social issues and celebrity. He used his host’s chair as a bully pulpit, but it always seemed that those he bullied deserved it. Stewart possessed the incredibly difficult knack of being biting but not mean-spirited. He never tweaked anyone just for cheap laughs.
I believe that the ability to jab someone in a pointed way but sans brutality added to the humor of “TDS.” Stewart was no insult comic—he wasn’t Don Rickles sitting behind a desk.
Stewart was so entrenched as “TDS” host that it was easy to forget that he wasn’t one of the mainstream news anchors, but instead a gifted comedian and an actor/director whose career on the big screen is nothing to sneeze at either.
Comedians will tell you that the beauty of their craft turns up when their material practically writes itself.
Stewart didn’t have to try very hard to pull laughs from the daily headlines; so much of what goes on is good fodder. But that doesn’t minimize his contribution to television comedy.
Jon Stewart’s “TDS” not only poked fun at the news and newsmakers, it illuminated the injustices, ridiculousness and shamelessness bubbling just below the surface of them both.
Stewart pulled no punches, but at least those he tattooed had it coming.
Today’s Miss Americas serve their term and then they’re never heard from again. Or so it seems.
There’s no prerequisite, of course, that the winner of arguably the most famous beauty contest of all time needs to stay in the limelight when she hands the crown over to her successor.
But there was a time when Miss America was often the springboard to bigger and better (or, at least, more profitable) things.
Mary Ann Mobley was one of those Miss Americas who stuck around in our consciousness long after she sashayed down the runway.
She was the first Mississippian to win the legendary contest, and she parlayed that distinction into a pretty decent stage and film career as an actress.
Like so many other women of her era, Mobley was able to star opposite Elvis Presley on screen, and like her brethren, she out-acted him.
Mobley had a smile that went from ear-to-ear and her dark beauty was a stark contrast to the blond, lighter handsomeness of Gary Collins, an actor and game show host (and fellow Mississippian) who she married in 1967.
Mobley captured the Miss America crown in 1959 and six years later she was a winner again—this time with a New Star of the Year Golden Globe.
But despite all her credits on stage and screen (big and small), it was in charitable causes where Mary Ann Mobley was a true Miss America.
She served on several councils and contributed to many charities and her work was exemplified by the naming of a pediatric wing after her, at a hospital in her hometown of Brandon, Mississippi.
Mobley and Collins formed one of television’s most well-known couples, particularly in the 1980s. For many years they were both in our living rooms in some way, shape or fashion, with Mobley doing turns on shows like “Falcon’s Crest” and Collins chatting up folks on talk shows and helping them win money on game shows.
Mobley was the first woman to be inducted into the University of Mississippi Hall of Fame.
But Mobley’s sweet-as-pie good looks and her Mississippian, southern belle demeanor shouldn’t have fooled you, because she was also a very competent filmmaker.
You heard me.
For years, Mobley documented the “young victims of war and starvation in places like Cambodia, Ethiopia, Somalia and the Sudan,” according to a release from Warner Brothers.
That probably doesn’t sound like the Mary Ann Mobley with whom you’re familiar.
The Chairman of Miss America, Sam Haskell, sang Mobley’s praises after word of her death reached him.
“She challenged me, she loved me, and she made me laugh! I shall miss her!”
Mobley once spoke of her ever active life, when she was knee-deep in acting, fundraisers and volunteer work.
“I’m home about two days a month, and on those I have to pack.”
My bar-hopping days are long gone, so maybe I know not of what I type.
So call me naive, but do we need bars to be open until 4 a.m.?
A hurried-through bill by the Michigan State Legislature would allow some bars to stay open until 4 in the morning on weekends.
According to the bill’s sponsors, it’s a matter of competition.
Senator Virgil Smith (D-Detroit), the bill’s sponsor, says the measure is needed so Detroit can compete with other big cities, like New York.
We are going after the lush crowd? Tourists will decide their destination based on bars being open further into the wee hours?
Another legislator said that the bill merely gives businesses that serve alcohol the option to stay open later.
“Who are we to tell bars how late they can stay open?” was the quote.
That seems to be a shocking display of being short-sighted. I mean, we aretalking about alcohol consumption here. There figures to be some degree of consequence to this bill, one would think.
As you would imagine, the law enforcement folks aren’t crazy about this, for multiple reasons. One is that the 4 a.m. thing just happens to coincide with when police staffing is thin. Another is that those stumbling out of bars and taking to the roads will now start to overlap with the people who leave early for work.
Ah, but there is a financial component to the bill. Money talks, as you know. Usually.
The bill lets bars and restaurants that pay a $10,000 annual fee sell alcoholic drinks until 4 a.m. Eighty-five percent of the money would go to local police, 10 percent to the state Liquor Control Commission and 5 percent to the communities where the permit is issued.
But even though the police are the beneficiaries of the extra cash, they are down on the bill.
What does that tell you?
Why stop at 4 a.m., by the way?
Some bars open as early as 7 a.m., which is a whole other blog post. So those establishments could close at at four and re-open three hours later. Seems kind of silly.
The bill passed in the Senate, 22-14. It now moves to the House.
Supporters like Smith say that the extended hours would help put illegal “blind pigs,” which are open past 2 a.m., out of business.
Not so sure about that. Seems to me that blind pig patrons will stay blind pig patrons, for the most part.
Nico Gatzaros, whose family owns Fishbones and the London Chop House, lauds the bill because it will help certain businesses, like taxis.
That reasoning should be filed under the “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry” category.
In other words, with this bill, we hope the taxi business booms, driving home the soused.
Nothing from Gatzaros about how he proposes to get the drunks to call a taxi to begin with. Gobs of alcohol isn’t exactly a precursor to common sense and wise decisions.
But hey, who is the state to tell bars how late they can serve booze?
It’s not like it’s a public safety issue or anything.
In 1984, Bill Cosby helped save an entire television network.
Thirty years later, he’s toxic to an entire industry.
It was in ’84 when NBC, lagging far behind brethren CBS and ABC in ratings to the point of being a national joke, brought in Cosby and built a sitcom around him.
Cosby was 46 years old and though he’d been canceled in the past with other television vehicles, his star power on TV was still heavy. Viewers still had “Fat Albert” and Jell-O commercials fresh on their minds.
The sitcom idea was novel. NBC decided to cast Cosby and his TV family as well-to-do African-Americans living in a tony brownstone in upper Manhattan. This was no “Good Times” scenario.
The presentation on TV of blacks living a life that wasn’t in poverty wasn’t new (witness “The Jeffersons”), but Cosby was a doctor and his wife was a lawyer. With all due respect to dry cleaner moguls, this was different. Plus, Cliff and Clair Huxtable had kids—lots of kids. George and “Weesie” Jefferson’s TV lives were pretty much presented sans children, even though they had a son, Lionel—but he wasn’t emphasized.
So here came Bill Cosby to save NBC in the fall of 1984.
“The Cosby Show” ran for eight seasons (1984-92) and was a phenomenal hit for NBC. The case could be made that Cosby did, indeed, save the network at a time when it was floundering.
I grew up with Bill Cosby, as did tens of millions of Americans. I am old enough to remember his “Bill Cosby Show” of 1969-71, when he was high school gym teacher Chet Kincaid.
I owned a couple of his comedy albums. I saw him perform live at Pine Knob in 1985. I must have watched his video special, “Bill Cosby: Himself” at least a dozen times. I liked that he was into sports, as well as having played football at Temple University.
I have history with Bill Cosby.
It would have seemed unfathomable to me as I grew up with Cosby’s comedy, to think that one day he would be toxic.
But he is.
As accusations swirl that Cosby drugged women to have sex with them, dating back to the 1960s, no one on TV wants to have anything to do with him.
A potential new sitcom featuring Cosby, to be aired on NBC, has been scrapped.
TV Land has pulled reruns of “The Cosby Show” indefinitely.
Think about that last one for a moment. TV Land doesn’t even want Cosby’s likeness on its airwaves from a show produced 30 years ago.
This is O.J. Simpson-like toxicity.
Precious few in the entertainment business have come to Cosby’s defense. He and his camp have been mostly silent as one woman after the other comes forward with a “Cosby drugged me and sexually assaulted me” story.
In America you are innocent until proven guilty.
That’s in the courtroom. In the court of public opinion, it works the opposite.
Right now it seems that too many women with nothing to gain, really, from fabrication, are coming forward for at least some of this disgusting behavior to not be true.
There often isn’t a “smoking gun” when it comes to sexual assault allegations, particularly when the alleged incidents happened many years and even decades ago. It’s classic “he said/she said” stuff, except that in this case, it’s pretty much all “she said.”
Cosby’s radio silence is ear piercing.
All we’ve gotten from the Cosby people is that they’re not going to dignify these allegations with a reply.
That may be good enough if it was just one woman calling Cosby out. But there seems to be a whole cadre of women allegedly victimized by Cosby. The sheer number of women coming forward makes it no longer acceptable to just roll your eyes and shake your head, if you’re the Cosby camp.
Could there be one crackpot looking for a buck or her 15 minutes? Possibly. But do you really think there is a growing faction of crackpots? Or is it a growing faction of victimized women feeling empowered now that the first domino has been tipped?
The answer is probably the latter.
Personally, I feel victimized as well—though not at all to the extent of the women that Cosby allegedly sexually assaulted.
I’m in that other boat of victims—the fans who, like me, have fond memories of Bill Cosby’s comedy attached to our childhood hips.
I don’t know about you, but I certainly can’t look at Cosby the same way again. How can you?
Now, you can stick to your legal guns and urge everyone to wait until the courts have at this brouhaha before we render judgment.
You would, technically, be on the right side of the argument if you took that tack.
But emotions and memories and gut feelings don’t ride technicalities.
I am sure that many of us have tried and convicted Bill Cosby in our minds. That’s our prerogative, frankly. We are all entitled to our opinions.
The challenge now is to put aside our personal disappointment in Cosby, should these allegations prove to be true, and focus our empathy on the women he may have victimized.
If Cosby is proven to have drugged and sexually assaulted even one woman, it’s Olly olly oxen free. All bets are off and his image should be sullied forever.
If Cosby did these despicable things, we’ve all been victimized. We’ve all been made fools of, for decades. We would have fallen in love with a fraud and a sexual predator.
But we still would not have suffered as his alleged victims have, for lo these many years.
Let’s not forget that.
Allen Funt created television’s Candid Camera. But he was not the star.
If Funt were alive today, he would concur.
Funt, who took the idea of a roving microphone capturing unguarded moments from the days of radio and turned it into a TV phenomenon, also never liked the notion that his show made fools out of unsuspecting people.
Funt preferred to think that Candid Camera was more of a series of case studies on human behavior, rather than a gag-filled half-hour.
Regardless, the star wasn’t Funt, though he hosted the in-studio segments and often appeared during the hidden camera “case studies.”
The stars of Candid Camera were always the people—the folks whose behavior was being chronicled in a very unfiltered and unscripted way.
Therefore, the laughs that resulted were always from the audience’s glee at the reactions of the unwitting, caught by Funt’s hidden camera.
But that was then.
TV Land has trotted out a new version of Candid Camera, hosted by Funt’s son, Peter, and actor Mayim Bialik.
As in Allen Funt’s original version, the hosts in the studio don’t matter. Not that the younger Funt and Bialik do a poor job (they don’t), but they aren’t the stars.
The new version, however, falls flat.
It’s not the fault of Funt and Bialik. It’s the fault of the people. And that’s not even fair, really.
The charm of the original Candid Camera was not only watching normal people in abnormal situations, it was in the reveal—that moment when Funt, et al would finally let the unsuspecting in on the joke.
“You’re on Candid Camera!”
But back in the original show’s days, there weren’t cameras all over the place. There weren’t cell phones and tablets and the like, all equipped with cameras that could be whipped out at a moment’s notice, ready to capture just about anything the possessor wished to capture, newsworthy or not.
Today, people aren’t stunned or shocked by the presence of a camera, even if they didn’t know one was trained on them for a case study.
So the reaction to the reveal in the new version is, well, muted.
And a muted reaction isn’t very entertaining to the TV viewers.
Now, that might not be so bad if the situations the people are placed in made up for the less-than-spectacular reveal reactions.
But they don’t.
Candid Camera debuted in 1948 and there have been a few relaunches along the way. So we’re talking 66 years, essentially, of the show’s existence. That’s a long time and it’s hard to come up with fresh new stuff.
Allen Funt, back when this notion still had the power to amaze
But again, the society in which we live makes it awfully difficult for us to be flabbergasted anymore by what we see going on in front of our eyes.
Whether it’s a soap dispenser at a market that doesn’t stop dispensing or a retail outlet that charges a $10 fee to shop in the store as opposed to online (both used in the new version), does anything really surprise us anymore?
The charm of Candid Camera was rooted in two certainties that existed decades ago that simply don’t anymore—a much more impressionable public and a genuine amazement that a hidden camera could be set up. The people were video virgins, so to speak.
Today’s society is far less impressionable and there are cameraseverywhere anymore. In fact, it seems like we are all on camera more than we aren’t, when you add security cameras and the like into the mix.
I think it would be more of a surprise if the revealing person shouted, “You’re NOT on camera now!”
Still, I give TV Land credit for trying to appeal to those of us who remember when an evening with Allen Funt and company was truly a special event. The situations were comical, the reactions were priceless and the reveals were the cherry on top.
However—and it’s not TV Land’s fault—today’s society is just so damned hard to amaze and impress. And we are certainly not aghast at the notion of a camera lens shooting us through a hole in a wall.
The result is that watching the new Candid Camera is like dusting off an old Jack-in-the-Box and failing to be stunned by the clown popping out—while being wistful of the days when it did.
Editor’s note: The following e-mail arrived from none other than Peter Funt himself, who saw this post, on October 1, 2014:
Funny thing about the “original.” There’s no bigger fan of my Dad’s work than me, and I never suggest that my stuff is as good as his was at his prime. However, I find that our memories have a way of distorting and condensing and selecting from the past. I think what you and some other viewers are, in effect, saying is: When I recall the handful of fabulous reveals that Allen got over decades – perhaps seen in highlights or “best of” packages – they’re better than what Peter gets week in and week out. How true!
I suspect that comedians and actors who cause moviegoers and viewers to feel a wide range of emotions are often feeling wide ranges of emotions themselves. Their roller coaster sometimes makes one too many bumps and they fly out of the car.
James Garner was once asked if he’d ever do a nude scene on camera.
“I don’t do horror movies,” he said.
Garner, who died on Saturday at age 86, was a Hollywood leading man but a humble Oklahoman at heart.
“I got into the business to put a roof over my head,” he once said. “I wasn’t looking for star status. I just wanted to keep working.”
And work he did, especially in the 1960s, when Garner was often teamed with the biggest female names in movies, such as Doris Day (Rock Hudson is more famously connected with Day, but Garner did his fair share with her as well), Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine and Kim Novak.
The film boom for Garner was set up by his work in TV’s Maverick, in which he starred from 1957-60, playing old Western card shark and ladies man Bret Maverick. The show went toe-to-toe on Sunday nights with The Ed Sullivan Show and The Steve Allen Show, more than holding its own.
If you were a casting director and could mail order a leading man, Garner would arrive at your office.
He was tall, dark and handsome, and possessed a self-effacing style bereft of cockiness. His Oklahoma lilt, which he never tried to disguise, added to the down home feel that just about all of his characters had.
Garner, for a brief time, even dabbled in auto racing, an interest that was piqued when he co-starred in 1966′s Grand Prix. Garner thus joined Steve McQueen and Paul Newman as actors/racers.
But mention James Garner, and even today the first thing likely to spill from peoples’ lips is The Rockford Files, NBC’s series that ran from 1974-80. Loosely based on Garner’s Bret Maverick, brought into modern times, the private investigator Jim Rockford character landed Garner an Emmy Award in 1977.
Some old-timers like yours truly will also recall Garner in a popular series of Polaroid TV commercials in the late-1970s, early-1980s, sharing the screen with Mariette Hartley. The chemistry between the two was so genuine that many viewers thought the pair was married in real life, even though the commercials never really suggested that they were playing a wedded couple.
Garner left The Rockford Files in 1980, not because of poor ratings or disenchantment with the show, but because of the physical toll. Garner, who was an athlete in high school (football and basketball), insisted on doing his own stunts, and the result was significant damage to his knees and back.
In his later years, Garner really used his tall Oklahoman stature to his advantage, often playing rugged, wise cowboys and fatherly and grandfatherly figures. His characters would occasionally fall in love as well.
Speaking of falling in love, Garner did that well, too—and fast. He married Lois Clarke in 1956—just two weeks after they met. He remained married to her until his death.
Despite his own stable marriage, Garner once offered that “Marriage is like the Army. Everyone complains. But you’d be surprised at the large number of people who re-enlist.”
And to show how much Bret Maverick resonated in Garner’s hometown of Norman, Oklahoma, the city unveiled a 10-foot tall bronze statue of the actor as Maverick in 2006, with Garner present for the ceremony.
Garner once explained his acting theory, such as it was.
“I’m a Spencer Tracy-type actor. His idea was to be on time, know your words, hit your marks and tell the truth. Most every actor tries to make it something it isn’t [or] looks for the easy way out. I don’t think acting is that difficult if you can put yourself aside and do what the writer wrote.”
Here’s the irony in Garner’s words: he may have been acting and “putting himself aside,” but to watch him on screen was to have the feeling that James Garner was just being James Garner.
He could have done much worse. And so could have we.