“This is Jim Rockford, at the tone leave your name and message and I’ll get back to you.” And so started one of the greatest shows of all time, The Rockford Files which we highlight this week on Throwback Thursday. The first three seasons are available for free streaming on Hulu, while Amazon Prime members can stream all six seasons as part of their subscription.
Rockford featured James Garner, who had become a star in the late 50’s and early 60’s first in television before moving on to the silver screen. The highly successful comedy western series Maverick, which ran on ABC, brought the Oklahoma native to the awareness of the public and when the actor left the show after three years the move to film was a natural. The high profile role of the scrounger in the World War II drama The Great Escape, which featured a stellar cast including Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Richard Attenborough and Donald Pleasence, cemented Garner as one of the top box office draws in the business and the actor would continue to have success throughout the decade.
In 1974 former Maverick creator Roy Huggins teamed with Stephen J. Cannell to approach Garner with the idea of essentially reformulating Maverick as a modern day private detective series. Here Garner created the stereotypical personification of a Southern California investigator as a Los Angeles based private eye. There was nothing flashy about Rockford who lived in a trailer down by the ocean and moved from one odd case to the next usually avoiding anything that was current as to not fall afoul of the local police. Noah Berry Jr. after the initial pilot played Rockford’s retired truck driver father Rocky and Joe Santos as Sergeant Becker and Stuart Margolin, as the constantly in trouble ex-con Angel Martin, rounded out the regulars even if the latter two did not appear in every episode.
Ranked #16 on my most recent list of Top 50 TV Themes of all time, the opening music by Mike Post and Peter Carpenter caught the mood of the NBC show perfectly and was not surprisingly a hit record. Listening to it again, I’m reminded that a strong theme has become something of a lost art these days and I don’t think it is a coincidence that one of the selling points of the quality of HBO’s True Detective was a superb theme choice that really set the stage.
At the age of 46 when the show started, Garner had grown into his frame and filled out. He looked, for want of a better phrase, to be completely comfortable in his skin and the show from the very first episode exudes a feeling of pros hitting their marks.
My favorite episode, season two’s The Girl in The Bay City Boys’ Club, also happens to have been the one episode of the show that Garner directed and features the quite stunningly beautiful Blair Brown. I make no apologies for the fact that I am an unabashed fan of the actress who has, over the years, combined substantial acting chops with unsurpassed beauty. A star of stage, film and television, Brown has appeared in numerous shows from Wheels, an early mini series with Rock Hudson, through The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, to most recently as a regular on Fringe as Nina Sharp. Garner and Brown also teamed up back in 2000 in the movie Space Cowboys along with Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland in one of those films that are a great excuse to watch on a lazy Sunday.
- Wallace Poulter