James Garner, RIP

Just heard that James Garner was found dead in his home at age 86. From the NYT obit:

Alone among westerns of the 1950s, “Maverick,” which made its debut in 1957, was about an antihero. He didn’t much care for horses or guns, and he was motivated by something much less grand than law and order: money. But you rooted for him because he was on the right side of moral issues, he had a natural affinity for the little guy being pushed by the bully, and he was more fun than anyone else.

“If you look at Maverick and Rockford, they’re pretty much the same guy,” Mr. Garner wrote. “One is a gambler and the other a detective, but their attitudes are identical.”

The Rockford Files was one of my favorite TV shows of all time. Garner’s ex-con private eye combined with an outstanding ensemble of peripheral characters and quirky plots from the team of Roy Huggins, Steven Cannell and Juanita Broderick made it a lot of fun. My friend Chip Morris and I used to talk about how Rockford’s appeal reminded us of the Samurai genre (which of course was influenced by Westerns). Garner’s Rockford was reminiscent of Mifune’s ronin from Yojimbo and Sanjuro, without the body count, but with a healthy dose of bushido.

Although Garner was a lifelong Democrat, we thought Rockford had a libertarian feel based on recurring themes of the dangers of out of control government enabling small and large abuses… even where intentions are arguably good. These ranged from the ongoing minor conflicts with Lt Chapman to the 1976 episode So Help Me God about Grand Jury abuse. 1979’s The Battle-Ax and the Exploding Cigar involves the FBI and CIA working against each other in a plot that anticipates the “Fast and Furious” scandal.

The Times compares Garner to Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart in his everyman appeal, and notes that he was one of the few stars to have success in both TV and movies.

Garner served in Korea, where he was wounded twice. Per wikipedia he described his Army role as being a “scrounger”, similar to his character in The Great Escape.