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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Actor James Garner dead at 86

Best known for his work in film and television, actor James Garner died yesterday at the age of 86. According to the Los Angeles Times:

"Garner died Saturday at his home, his publicist Jennifer Allen told The Times. Garner, who lived in Los Angeles, underwent quintuple bypass heart surgery in 1988 and suffered a stroke in 2008. He had been in poor health for some time but the cause of his death was not immediately known."

Garner, as Bret Maverick

James Garner was known for his work on Maverick and The Rockford Files, the latter of which earned him an Emmy in 1977. That was not his only accolade, as he earned numerous Emmy and Golden Globe awards and nominations, as well as one Oscar nomination for his work in Murphy's Romance.

Garner displaying some physical
comedy trying to find an ashtray.
Garner's work was typified by being the anti-hero with a light comedy flavor. Charm was the tool of most of his characters, whether it was Bret Maverick, James Rockford, his characters in Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunslinger, or what some consider his best film role, LtCDR Charles Edward Madison in The Americanization of Emily opposite Julie Andrews. He played again with Ms. Andrews in the fantastic Victor Victoria, once again demonstrating his ability to play light comedy and romance. 

With Julie Andrews in
The Americanization of Emily
Garner was best when he was a reluctant hero. He was the king of the annoyed take, which was almost always followed by getting over reticence and doing what was right anyway. His popularity can likely be attributed to playing a character that represented a more true image of what a hero is. The '70s, where Garner had his greatest success on television, was typified by a trend towards the anti-hero, the more real portrayal of life, especially in film. 

With Julie Andrews again in
Victor Victoria
But while most anti-heroes leaned more towards the dark side of reality, Garner's roles were the lighter side, men who really would just like to be left alone in peace, but, realizing that peace could never be achieved and knowing that their conscious would never quiet down, steel themselves to the risk they must take not because it's what they want to do, but because they have to do the right thing. Eventually.

Notably with Tom Selleck in
The Rockford Files
The best thing one can say about James Garner's work is that, except for having to explain what a rotary phone is, nearly every one of his roles stands the test of time. His acting is subtle, real, and yet still alive and human. And that's really what Garner's greatest skill was: he brought everyday reactions to every role. The audience really feels that here is how a person would react in a given situation. In acting, that is perhaps the hardest thing to achieve, and Garner did it with an unmatched ease and professionalism.

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