Where the generation before me found daydream crushes in the leading men of the movies, my girlhood stirrings founds their objects of desire squarely on TV.
I fell for my first three when their prime-time shows from the 1960s were shown in syndication in the 1970s, and my older brother and I watched TV together in the playroom as I roller skated during the commercials.
My crushers were: Captain Lee Crane, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea; James West, The Wild, Wild, West; and Captain Kirk, Star Trek. I had an active nighttime fantasy life around each of these characters, spinning my own stories of our daring feats together. I even had some crossover episodes, where Captain Kirk and I beamed into the Seaview, and he and Lee Crane would fight over me. (Maybe I should follow my friend Lynn Messina into writing Romance novels. Hmm.)
By the time The Rockford Files came on, I was old enough to stay up and watch it in prime time with the family, and so it took on a deeper emotional dimension in general, but my daydreams about Jim Rockford were still my own personal joy.
The attraction of course was felt by legions and has been well articulated. Both character and actor were handsome, witty, dry sense of humor, smart, and capable. In my personal series of The Rockford Files, I modeled my look on Gretchen Corbett, who played Jim's lawyer and sometimes girlfriend, but my character was a private detective, like him. Because he wasn't married and had no children, it was easy to spin stories of us working together without destroying the narrative of the series [not that I had this structural vocabulary yet] and the romance that naturally ensued. You see, I really understood his inner hurt and pain, and could bring a warmth to the trailer that he secretly yearned for . . . .
The series itself was so very hip and visionary in many ways: using the new technology of the answering machine in the credits; the very look of the credits with the freeze frame photos and quick cutting, which still looked fresh and innovative when Homicide: Life on the Street credits used a similar sensibility 20 years later!
The whole focus on the father/son relationship 20 years before Frasier, when adult children living with parents and vice verse became a cultural reality. Rockford didn't live with Rocky, but the series focus on their relationship was unique, with an authenticity that made it compelling.
The mad, 70s plaid jacket. Garner made it look good as few men could.
There were a few earlier touchstones of James Garner before Rockford. I went with my brother to see Support Your Local Sheriff in the theater, and as a family we had watched The Thrill of It All on TV. So I had an idea who Garner was when The Rockford Files came on.
But TV has that power of intimacy. In your home. Every week. And that's how my guys filled my fantasies, as serialized, episodic daydreams.
I was "over" Rockford by the time the great Polaroid commercials with Mariette Harley started in 1978, but of course loved their banter as TV's best couple. Bruce Weber's appreciation in the NY Times got one thing horribly wrong:
"One of his most memorable roles was as a perpetually flummoxed pitchman for Polaroid cameras in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in droll commercials in which he played a vexed husband and Mariette Hartley played his needling wife."
Garner's character was decidedly NOT flummoxed. His voice is always measured and declarative for The One-Shot, and "vexed" is far too strong a word.
Weber does offer Garner's very best line about his approach to acting:
“I’m a Methodist but not as an actor,” he wrote in The Garner Files. “I’m from the Spencer Tracy school: be on time, know your words, hit your marks, and tell the truth."
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There were just a few other fantasy dreams after Jim Rockford: briefly Remington Steele and Sony Crockett in particular. Life and men had gotten real, which was exciting and sometimes disappointing at the same time, and there was less time for daydreaming.
But Jim Rockford was the last of my innocent girlhood crushes, something I hadn't thought about in years until today's sad news of James Garner's passing. I'm so lucky. It couldn't have been with a nicer guy. Rest in peace.