Monday, July 21, 2014

On James Garner, Who Portrayed a Poker Player and a P.I.

Actor James Garner passed away over the weekend at the age of 86. Much beloved for a variety of roles, Garner’s most famous ones actually covered special areas of interest for your humble scribbler -- one a poker player and the other a private investigator.

Those of my generation probably most remember Garner from The Rockford Files, the TV series in which he played a private investigator. It originally aired from 1974 to 1980 then stuck around a long while in syndication, and I remember watching it a lot with my Dad. The groovy theme song is pretty firmly etched in my memory.

Besides having engaging, problem-solver plots, the show also highlighted a father-and-son relationship between Jim Rockford (Garner) and his Dad, Rocky (played by Noah Beery, Jr.), and looking back I’m realizing how as a kid that aspect of the show was appealing to me as well.

For those of my Dad’s generation, though, most probably most readily associate Garner with the poker-playing Bret Maverick character he portrayed on TV from 1957 to 1962. I have no memory of watching that one, although I know I did see a few reruns as a kid. And in fact the bouncy theme song to that series describing the Old West hero “livin’ on jacks and queens” sits faintly tucked away in the back of my noggin, too:

I wrote about Bret Maverick once in a “Poker & Pop Culture” piece a while back, a fictional character uniquely associated with poker demonstrating the meaningful connection between the game and the Old West. I also wrote here several years ago about a reprint of a book I’d picked up called Maverick’s Guide to Poker which had been reissued following the 1994 film.

I’m of course familiar with the film adaptation starring Mel Gibson -- I often show a clip of the climactic poker scene in my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class -- and while it’s thoroughly entertaining it isn’t necessarily my favorite “poker movie.” Garner does a turn there, too, getting introduced as a supporting character, Marshal Zane Cooper. (And now that I think about it, there is kind of a father-son thing going on there as well.)

By the way, Nolan Dalla shared a nice story yesterday about Garner dating from 2006 when he turned up to play in that year’s World Series of Poker Main Event and on one of the starting days agreed at the very last minute to deliver the traditional directive to “shuffle up and deal” -- only Garner handled it a little differently than expected.

Check out “A James Garner Poker Story.”

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Blogger angerisagift said...

great post. plus he was a RAIDERS fan

7/21/2014 2:57 PM  

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