HELLO AMERICA!—Hearing of the passing of the beloved actor James Garner was quite disturbing even though we all realize and understand that death is inevitable. Somehow, because we idolize and respect many of our artists, we neglect to remember they are human just as we are. Yet we mourn them because they represent so much in our lives, pilot us through impossible journeys of imagined utopias and make the hard times tolerable. Garner was one of those pilots of hope and the world feels itâ€™s lost.
The first time I spoke with James Garner it was for lunch at the old Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset Boulevard. It was in the 1960s and everything in that area of filmdom still represented the scent and feel of yesterdayâ€™s Hollywood i.e., the buildings, shops, the streets, the way people looked acted as well as the entrances of the motion picture studios, quietly guarded but relaxed and not a bit threatening.
James quickly made me understand how much he enjoyed working as an actor in the business. He idolized the work of Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck; actors who made their work in front of the camera seem easy. His first appearance in a hit was â€œCaine Mutinyâ€ when he had no lines. However, it was a master class of observing Fonda who made every line he spoke seem real and believable. This was the kind of actor he needed to become.
When I mentioned to him that I found out that he was voted â€œSmile Kingâ€ on the campus of Los Angeles City College, he seemed to enjoy the revelation and let out a big Garner laugh and said, â€œIt was the easiest award I ever got. I didnâ€™t have to work hard at it. I just smiled and it felt good and Iâ€™ve been smilinâ€™ ever since.â€
Many of Garnerâ€™s fans didnâ€™t realize that he was an important part of industry celebrities who were supporting the political move for civil rights for all citizens. So much so, he joined his friends Marlon Brando and Diahann Carol on the famous 1963 March on Washington. He proved to be just as outspoken as all the other celebrities who marched and supported every effort to give all Americans the right to have their vote be counted.
Every actor who ever had the privilege working with James Garner quickly informs you that he was one of the nicest and easiest actors to work with. He was funny, quiet and seriously respectful. He was simply a gentleman. They donâ€™t make them like that anymore!