Sunday, July 20, 2014

let us now praise a famous man

being on holiday means, for me, being outside the news cycle.  i hadn't read a paper all week, or access the internet.  i read today's, sunday, sacramento bee [anna and i are long-time subscribers to the newspaper, in paper form], and i was reminded of some of the writings of second and third generation NYC school poets who often, it seemed to me, write about this and that including getting the NY  TIMES and declaring that 'there was nothing good in there.'  the news is bad, always.  i am tempted to say, same old same old, but that is rather crass.  instead, the world is fucked up.  each dip into the news cycle proves that axiom.

when i got back yesterday afternoon anna filled me in with the latest in world atrocities.  some local.  some international.  she told me, too, that the actor james garner died at the age of 86.  a nice span of life.  a beautiful actor who played his characters with humor and lack of ego.  i grew up in the '70s and '80s.  i am a child of the '70s and one of the great TV shows of that decade is the rockford files.  james garner played the PI jim rockford who lived in a trailer in a parking lot at the beach with his father whom he called by his first name, rocky.  the show would always open with a phone call to rockford's answering machine.  the entity calling was usually a collections agency trying to get rockford to pay a debt or some unhappy client who is so pissed off. . .

that phone call set the tone of the series.  jim rockford was a laid-back everyman who managed to get the job done and solve the crime.  garner played rockford with such grace and wit, such laid-back charm.  i remember one episode when two thugs are waiting for rockford inside his trailer.  when jim walks in he knows the two men are there to cause harm to jim.  rockford does not get all bad-ass and beat the bad guys to a pulp.  rather, he says something along the lines of, aw man! then gets the shit beat out of him.

there are very few of us who lived through the 1970s who do not love the character of jim rockford and the actor james garner who played the character with such precision. 

garner also starred in one of my favorite western comedies of the late 1960s, support your local sheriff! [1969].  garner's character is a bit of a charlatan who takes the job of sheriff for the pay.  he uses his wit and ingenuity to become a great lawman.  my favorite scene, which anticipates garner's role of jim rockford as a charismatic everyman who uses laid-back charm and wit to either cope or conquer, garner's sheriff finds that the cells in the jail have no bars to keep prisoners in the cells.  a local painter is refurbishing the jail with red paint.  garner's character asks for the paint can.  then he splashes red paint on the floor where the bars would be at the jail cell.  when garner's first prisoner notices the lack of bars in the cell  garner casually draws the prisoner's attention to the splashes of red paint on the floor of the door of the cell.  he says, 'that's what happened to the last prisoner who tried to escape'.  the stunned prisoner jumps back into the cell and stays there.

in the history of hollywood there are not a lot of actors with the pnaache and cool of james garner.  he was sort of a bodhisattva of actors.  he seemed to lack ego.  garner's characters were men who were flawed but wise and stuck around in their wisdom to teach us all how it means to be alive.


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