By Alan Pergament
When I read all the glowing and deserved tributes to the late James Garner online and in newspapers after his death Saturday, I decided I couldn't add much to the praise of his everyman likability, charm and good looks. He was what my father would refer to as a man's man.
My dad also used to say "there is only one Paul Newman." "There is only one Clark Gable." "There is only one Humphrey Bogart."
It was his highest praise of an actor.
I'm sure if he were alive, my dad would have said, "there was only one James Garner."
Garner's TV success in "Maverick" and "The Rockford Files" predated my time as a television critic even if some of you think I've been doing this forever.
I watched those series as a regular viewer and admired Garner's ability to make characters who engaged in questionable behavior become appealing anyway.
But I don't remember much about all those episodes. Heck, I don't remember much about this season's episodes of "House of Cards."
Once I became a TV critic, I didn't have time to watch what I liked in the past. I had to focus on the present and future.
What I did remember was being in Los Angeles for a press conference appearance by Garner with television critics 20 years ago. I didn't remember writing the story, but thanks to a search of this newspaper's online library I found the story with my byline and re-read it.
In 1994, he was promoting six, two-hour versions of "The Rockford Files” that he agreed to make after several years of saying no to returning as private detective Jim Rockford. He also was co-starring in that summer's feature film remake of "Maverick."
Here is an edited version of the 1994 column, which I felt after reading it again captures Garner's spirit, sense of humor, work ethic, wit and view of the moral responsibility of entertainment.
After years of saying no to returning as private detective Jim Rockford, Garner has agreed to make six two-hour versions of "The Rockford Files" for CBS over the next two years.
Why has he finally decided to reprise an Emmy-winning role that is making a new generation of fans on cable''s Arts & Entertainment channel?
"Money!"" deadpanned Garner. "I'm being -- I think I'm being funny. You want to know the real truth? I'm of an age that I don't know if I could do this three or four years down the line. And I want to do it. And if I'm going to do it, I should do it now. And it's a wonderful character to do; it's been very successful in my life, and I'd like to give it one more shot.
"I used to love to get up and go to work every day. My alarm never went off. I was up before it, and I went to work and I was always early. And I stayed there, and I was the last guy leaving the set because I enjoyed it so much. And I want to do that again."
Also returning: Original cast members Stuart Margolin as his ex-con friend, Angel Martin, and Joe Santos as irascible Detective Dennis Becker. But Garner said Noah Berry has suffered a couple of strokes and won't be able to return as Rockford's dad.
More importantl, creator Stephen J. Cannell and writers Juanita Bartlett and David Chase are aboard doing three of the scripts.
Chase (editor’s note: He went on to fame as the creator of "The Sopranos") said the first movie will bring "everyone up to speed to where Rockford is today."
Actually, he hasn't gone far. He is still living on the beach in the trailer.
"This guy can get nowhere fast!" cracked Garner.
One place Garner isn't going is the Universal lot to shoot the films. Garner, who was in a celebrated financial dispute with the studio over profits from the original series, wasn't about to enter the lot.
"I told this to the Universal people when we were negotiating," said Garner. ""To drive onto that lot every day to me would be like sticking a knife in my ribs and reminding me of a very bad circumstance before."
How can he be sure that the problems with Universal won't happen again?
"The deal is different," said Garner. "To put it very simply, they give me the money, we give them the film."
Garner, whose effortless charm was on display for the entire interview, credits his writers for the success of the original show, which ran from 1974 to 1980.
"I love the character of Rockford," said Garner. "It's a wonderful, wonderful antihero. . . . The character's always appealed to me because he's not your average, run-of-the-mill hero."
He will change only slightly, according to Chase.
"His attitudes have not changed," said Chase. "The only thing we can say is, Los Angeles is a vastly different city, and he's found it more and more difficult to live in L.A."
Garner agrees that today's antiheroes don't have the same sense of humor as Maverick and Rockford and often tend to be more mean-spirited.
"I have problems with some of the heroes today who must kill all those people,"said Garner. "I don't know what it is about producers and writers who have to kill 30 people in the first reel.
"I don't think it's particularly good entertainment. I don't think it's that exciting and I think there's a moral responsibility. Particularly if you're going to do something for television, you have a moral responsibility to do things that are not detrimental to society."
By just making "Rockford" again, Garner is doing his bit for society.
"I get it every day," said Garner. "When are you going to do 'Rockford' again? It's very pleasing to know that people want it."