Tuesday, July 29, 2014


What can you say about James Garner? He learned from Henry Fonda how to be natural as an actor. He played who he was. Garner bummed around at many odd jobs (well, his real last name was Bumgarner) before an agent pal hired him as an extra for a Broadway show starring Fonda. Soon enough, the good looking young performer left the stage (and its frights) for the comforts of Hollywood, working his way up to important roles and…"Maverick."

It was "Maverick" that made Garner a star, and once he was, he got out of his contract so he could try other kinds of roles. Despite moving on to a variety of roles in romantic comedies and action films, he ended up typecast as…James Garner. When he returned to television, he basically played the same glib, pacifist as he did on "Maverick," a guy who didn't like to fight…but was good at it. He also didn't like to hire lawyers, but was good at it. He sued to get 14 million bucks in back royalties on "Rockford Files."

Although he played good ol' boys and Western heroes, Garner was a lifelong Democrat and a big fan of weed…once claiming that he toked up most every day. Yes, there was a lot to like about James Garner…one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. And he even autographed a photo for me years ago.

His two most popular TV shows had very famous theme songs. "Maverick" was a typically catchy Warner Bros. hack job with fairly awful lyrics…though not any worse than the embarrassing ones for other WB shows such as "Sugarfoot" ("once you get his dander up…") or "Lawman," which proclaimed, "The lawman came with the sun. There was a job to be done." The dopey "Maverick" lyrics included the badly rhymed "Riverboat ring your bell, Fare thee well Annabelle." Only New Yorkers could get something out of the line "Living on Jacks and Queens," if they mis-heard it as "Living in Jackson (Heights), Queens."

As for Johnny Gregory (born Gregori, and still with us at 89), he was a versatile orchestra leader who imitated the 101 Strings (for his "Cascading Strings" albums), and sometimes called himself Chaquito (for Latin-tinged lounge music, but also for sassy TV theme cover albums). His version of "Maverick" was on an early (late 50's, obviously) album of Western TV themes.

It's memorable for being fairly idiotic. For some reason, his choir of dopes don't actually sing all the lyrics…but two guys who don't remotely sound like James Garner or Jack Kelly, turn up to intrude with such pearls as "Hello Bart." "Hello Bret."

Later as John Gregory, he was still specializing in TV theme albums when "Rockford Files" came along, and again, he contributes an interestingly mediocre cover of it. What made "Rockford Files" such a memorable theme song? The weird combination of a synthesizer and a harmonica. Apparently with access to neither, Gregory tries to substitute, without success. But that's the fun of "cover versions." Maybe.

Fare thee well, James Garner.

Maverick Johnny Gregory

Rockford Files John Gregory


Muff Diver said...

Yeah, James Garner was a good guy not only on teevee but in the flesh, too.

I was a tad young to watch him as Brett Maverick.

Later, my favorite Rockford moments usually included him in some bind courtesy of his 'friend' Angel, who never hesitated to rat out or otherwise use anybody if he thought he could gain something.

What about Rocky? He was the kind of dad everybody wishes they had. The chemistry between James Garner and Noah Beery was a pleasure to watch.

Thanks for remembering James Garner.

Ill Folks said...

Thanks...Noah Beery was perfect. He seemed like he could've been Garner's father (oddly somebody else starred in the pilot episode). He was a wonderful comic character actor in so many vintage films.

And thanks for remembering Sam...one of the greats during the last era of truly edgy comics (Sam, Emo, Tenuta, Bobcat, Wright, Brett Butler, Belzer, Durst, so many more)