Remembering James Garner — Hollywood’s ‘reluctant hero’

Fast Freddy says:

Veterans from Charlie Company can relate to the military experience of James Garner

GarnerFILE – Veteran actor James Garner, seen in 2009 file photo taken in Los Angeles.  Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV’s “Maverick” who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los Angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

By Frank C. Girardot, Pasadena Star-News

In the era of Justin Bieber and Shia LaBeouf, it’s easy for an angry old man sitting behind a computer keyboard to decry modern entertainers

And yet, despite the affliction of age, I know I’m right if I do.

Which is why I say with certainty that our culture lost a great actor and a good man this weekend when James Garner died.

True, Bieber and LaBeouf won’t be streamed into every household in America at precisely 9 p.m. every Friday night like Garner was when he played James Rockford.

So you could say they will never have the same chance. But, that’s not what made James Garner special.

A couple of days ago an article in the Military Times described Garner as “the epitome of the reluctant hero.”

Why would the Military Times write about a TV actor?

It’s because Garner — then Pvt. James Bumgarner, the first Oklahoman drafted to serve in Korea — was twice wounded in battle during the Korean War. And, he received a pair of Purple Hearts.

In a January 1983 interview with The Associated Press, Garner explained his service. Here’s an excerpt:

“I was going south fighting the North Koreans at the time,” said Garner, who shortened his name when he became an actor.

“As a matter of fact, I got it in the backside. I went into a foxhole headfirst and I was a little late. There’s a lot of room for error with a wound in the rear. It’s a wide target.”

The wound was Garner’s second in Korea, but the first that required hospitalization. Earlier, he was hit in a hand by shrapnel from a mortar round, the AP reported in that 1983 article.

“I was drafted and then I got out as fast as I could,” he said.

“Do I have fond memories? I guess if you get together with some buddies it’s fond. But it really wasn’t. It was cold and hard. I was one of the lucky ones.”

If that’s not enough, perhaps one could measure Garner’s humanity via his daughter’s devotion to her dad. Gigi Garner’s Twitter account, @mavrocksgirl always features nice pictures of father and daughter in happy times. Just as importantly, Gigi makes an effort to reach out to fans who mention her dad or his career in their tweets. I don’t think many Hollywood brats are that devoted to their parents.

Garner played lots of roles. But that description of him as reluctant hero sticks with me. Certainly, Garner’s greatest role, that of Los Angeles-based detective James Rockford, was nothing if not a reluctant hero.

Rockford battled the forces of bureaucracy, organized crime and his own jailbird past. And, he didn’t always win. Yes he lived in Malibu, but it was in a rusty, run-down trailer at the far end of a busy parking lot.

Nonetheless he remained loyal to his dad Rocky, his sketchy best friend Angel Martin and his fair-weather police department buddy, Lt. Dennis Becker. Rockford’s loyalty survived countless shootings, beatings and numerous wrecks involving his gold Pontiac Firebird.

And, we got to listen in on Rockford’s voice mail once a week:

“It’s Norma at the market. It bounced. You want me to tear it up, send it back, or put it with the others?”

That’s a whole bunch of reasons why old guys like me are mourning the passing of James Garner.

Nicholas Sparks, the guy who wrote Garner’s last film “The Notebook” put it best in tweet Sunday morning: RIP to a legend.

Source: Pasadena Star-News

One thought on “Remembering James Garner — Hollywood’s ‘reluctant hero’

  1. After returning home from south Vietnam, I meat James Garner at a motorcycle shop in Los Angles. He was the first person to say to me Thank You For Serving! I had been back for 3 mo. served 66-67 HHb. 5th Bn, 16th Artillary 4th Inf Div. USA. D.M. Martin


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