The movie “Support Your Local Sheriff” with James Garner playing sheriff Jason McCullough has to be one of the funniest Western spoofs ever made. One of the best scenes has Garner walking out of the sheriff’s office during a gunfight, hollering “Hold it! Just hold it!” A bunch of puzzled gunfighters stop shooting as the sheriff makes his way across the street. As Garner reaches the other side, he shouts, “Okay, go ahead!” and dives behind a woodpile as the shooting resumes.
Humor seems to have played a large part of Garner’s career as an actor. With Jon Winokur, James Garner wrote a wonderful memoir called The Garner Files. (Hey, when a book has an introduction by singer/actress/legend Julie Andrews, can it fail to be good?) In the book, James Garner talks about growing up in Oklahoma, what it was like working on “Maverick”, “The Rockford Files” and other productions, and his life experiences.
Reading between the lines, it sounds like James Garner was somebody well worth knowing. He made sure that a set was a fun place to work and was supportive of his fellow cast, crew members, family and friends.
The book’s tone reminded me of the one Patrick Swayze wrote about his life. It feels as if he’s right there in the room, talking with you.
James Garner had a rough, almost Dickensian life growing up in Oklahoma. One of the most telling paragraphs in the book is this one: “You want to put pressure on somebody, live through the Depression. In Oklahoma. In the dust. After that, studio executives don’t bother you at all.”
He hated bullies, injustice and deception, and would stand up for what was right, no matter what the risk was to him professionally or personally.
The book gives some portraits of well-known Hollywood performers and directors that James Garner met. I learned some things I didn’t know about actors such as Peter Fonda and Marlon Brando, and I found that James Garner was in the audience when Dr. King gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.
There’s a few surprises in there, too. There’s a 1951 picture of James Garner as a military private, grinning at the camera. In this shot, he looks exactly like actor David Boreanaz (from the TV shows “Bones” and “Angel”). The resemblance is eerie.
If Hollywood ever makes a biopic about James Garner, I know a guy………
The end of The Garner Files has an unusual feature I’ve never seen in any autobiography. It’s called “Outtakes” and is a collection of stories about James Garner from his family, friends and colleagues. The stories provide additional insight into what he was like as a person: a good dad, great with kids, no pushover, smart, a talented entertainer and supportive.
He mentioned the answer he’d give if anyone asked him, “How do you want to be remembered?” The answer: “With a smile.”
Works for me.
Here’s a funny excerpt from “Support Your Local Sheriff”, courtesy of patrioticamerican on YouTube. It features James Garner at his comic, deadpan best and a really young Bruce Dern.