E.V. holds a page in 'Garner Files' - East Valley Tribune: Columns

E.V. holds a page in 'Garner Files'

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Mike Sakal’s column runs on Fridays. Contact him at (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com, or write to Mike Sakal, East Valley Tribune, 1620 W. Fountainhead Pkwy., Suite 219, Tempe, AZ 85282

Posted: Thursday, December 1, 2011 4:44 pm

The introduction to the popular television show "The Rockford Files" was a classic and indelible to those who stayed glued to their television sets on Friday nights such as my young self to watch it for nearly seven years in the mid to late 1970s.

A telephone message recorder would simply say: "This is Jim Rockford. At the tone, leave your name and message. I'll get back to you."

More often than not, a caller would leave a cryptic but tongue-in-cheek message for the crafty private investigator such as: "Jim, it's Norma at the market. It bounced. Do you want us to tear it up, send it back or put it with the others?" Or, "This is Shirley from the bank. The answers are no, no and yes. No, we won't loan you money, no we won't accept a co-signer, and yes, your account is overdrawn. I get off at 4:30."

"The Rockford Files" aired from 1974 to 1980, from the time I was in second grade until I was in seventh grade when Garner walked away from the show due to doctor's orders. The show had physically worn him down as he performed his own stunts that included foot chases, car chases in a metallic gold 1970s-model Firebird, and sometimes scrapes and fisticuffs when someone wasn't happy they were being investigated by him.

More often than not, I would lay on our living room floor to watch the show and knock off a bag of taco or cheese-flavored Doritos chips and a 16-ounce glass bottle of Pepsi or Mountain Dew as our beagle, Butch, would lay beside me, not so much interested in the show as the Doritos.

Garner recently released a book, "The Garner Files: A Memoir." co-authored with Jon Winokur, a prolific writer made more famous by his book, "The Portable Curmudgeon."

Now, a column about "The Rockford Files," a kid watching it in the 1970s (but I'm not really that old), and "The Garner Files" may not have much East Valley appeal at first glance. However, one would have to closely read the 273-page book published by Simon and Schuster in a way similar to how the show's fans stayed glued to the television set to better understand its connection.

Some may recall that much of the filming of one of Garner's movies, "Murphy's Romance" was done in downtown Florence, where Garner played Murphy Jones, who ran a drugstore in the small downtown and whose love interest was Emma Moriarty played by Sally Field, a newcomer who built a horse ranch.

However, a lot of "Murphy's Romance" was filmed in and around Mesa, a place Garner has fond memories of, he writes in the "Love Stories" chapter of the book.

Garner, who loved to play golf, said Mesa is where he shot his best score - a 65, and is also where he ate "the best tamales ever" which were made by the mother of the pro assistant at the golf course where he and some of the crew from "Murphy's Romance" played.

Although an interview with Garner has been on my journalistic bucket list for several years now (he has turned me down each time I tried), Garner is not doing any personal interviews or publicity for the book at this time, according to Garner's manager Bill Robinson and Garner's personal assistant, Maryann Rea.

But how time has flown. Garner, whose acting career has spanned six decades and perhaps was best known for playing Bret Maverick in the late 1950s-early 60s television western "Maverick," and in the "The Great Escape," now is 83.

The last show Garner did was "The Ultimate Gift" in 2007, three years after he appeared with Gena Rowlands in the critically acclaimed movie, "The Notebook."

Although I am a fan, and have watched most of Garner's movies and a host of Hallmark Hall of Fame television specials he has starred in, I'll best remember him as Jim Rockford.

The opening scenes of "The Rockford Files" usually began outside Rockford's rundown trailer in the 2300 block of Ocean Boulevard. He kept his handgun in a cookie jar and had a portable printing press in his car that allowed him to produce business cards at-will so he could present himself as someone he wasn't to gain information from an unsuspecting person or access to a place he wasn't supposed to be. Rockford was a former inmate of San Quentin, where he served a wrongful conviction for armed robbery, but was a character who provided an escape and someone we wished we could be. He was someone who pulled no punches, wouldn't hesitate to voice his say-so, and often relaxed with his father "Rocky" (played by the late Noah Beery Jr.) while fishing from a pier.

The show had a cast of characters that would make one laugh nearly as much as Rockford himself. It included Angel Martin (played by Stuart Margolin), the shifty but lovable weasel who was Rockford's former cellmate who always found himself in trouble, and Los Angeles police Sgt. Dennis Becker (Joe Santos) who always seemed to get in trouble for doing favors for Rockford.

Yes, time has flown.

"The Rockford Files" was canceled nearly 32 years ago, and the dog I used to watch the show with is long gone, buried beneath the cherry tree in my mom's backyard in Ohio. It wasn't until recently that taco-flavored Doritos began making a comeback similar to Throwback Pepsi Cola and Throwback Mountain Dew.

It would be nice if Garner could make a comeback, too.

Winokur, who said working with Garner was a dream project as he met with him two to three times a week for two to three hours at a time over a period of 18 months to record his stories for the book said, "I wouldn't count him out."

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