james_garnerLet’s start with a peek behind the Women’s Voices curtain (not that we really have one). Late last week, we approached our brilliant, revered, amazing board member, Renaissance woman Elizabeth Hemmerdinger, about giving us her thoughts on the passing of Elaine Stritch, on whose biopic, ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME, she was executive producer.

A guardian of originality, Elizabeth was willing, but also pointed out that there was little more to say after her penetrating articles about the experience of working on the film and with the icon. She also knew the media would be inundating us all with much of what we already had learned here and along the years of watching Ms. Stritch: She was an irascible, fiercely perfectionistic, always independent, full-out star of stage, screen, and television.

What more could there be to say?

Today it occurred to Elizabeth that we might say something inappropriate. “Leave it to Elaine Stritch to be certain she had a hunk with her.”

James Garner, who died at age 86 on Saturday, had to be one of the least dangerous drop-dead sex symbols Hollywood ever let succeed. And one of the most enduring.

There were lots of nice guys on TV and in the movies back in the 50s—Jimmy Stewart, Jack Lemmon, Spencer Tracy (in a grouchy kind of way) come to mind. But in 1957, when Maverick burst on the scene, we got a bona fide nice guy who heated up the screen.

James Garner was, to use the word one more time, a hunk.

His Maverick was sly. Bruce Weber, writing in The New York Times, said, “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.”

Then came The Rockford Files, about which Weber commented, “What distinguished his performance as Rockford was how well that more-put-upon-than macho persona came across.”

The success of both series depended upon the star’s ability to take the job of acting seriously while not taking himself seriously at all.

There were many good movies—The Great Escape, The Americanization of Emily (his favorite), Victor/Victoria among them. And then there was The Notebook. It is an unabashedly sentimental film, one in which the concept of loyalty is as much a star as any of the actors. The price of Kleenex stock was probably up for the months of theater and DVD success of the film. Still, for all the playing on heartstrings and seeming lay-up of a love story, there’s no question that James Garner worked to make us believe he’d been the rough young man played by Ryan Gosling and that he loved the woman who’d been taken from him by Alzheimer’s. About his performance Roger Ebert said, “Garner is an actor so confident and sure that he makes the difficult look easy, and loses credit for his skill.”

In his New York Times obituary, James Garner is quoted as saying his approach to acting was “Be on time, know your words, hit your marks and tell the truth.” Sounds like a nice guy talking. Sounds like a great way to live a life.

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  • Alice June 18, 2018 at 9:27 pm

    There has never been, and there never will be, a more ideal hunk than James Garner, nor an actor who has such strong presence he reaches right into your living room. I guess I now classify as “old,” but oh baby, what this actor does for the circulation… So pleased you wrote the indisputable truth.

  • Deborah Harkins July 22, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    Agreed, Wendl. “Murphy’s Romance,” which my film-buff friends don’t know about (to my surprise), IS the dearest movie ever.

  • Wendl in Manhattan July 22, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    Bret Maverick, sigh. But let’s not forget the film Murphy’s Romance, with Garner and Sally Field. One of the dearest movies ever, you just fall in love with them. Small wonder his only Oscar nomination was for this one.