Oklahoma has been without a favorite son for five years.
Norman-born actor James Garner died July 19, 2014.
Garner was best known for playing beloved characters in “Maverick” and “The Rockford Files.”
Which of those TV series was his favorite?
None of the above.
That distinction goes to “Nichols,” according to daughter Gigi Garner, who said it was her favorite, too.
“Nichols,” a turn-of-the-century Western series about a sheriff who doesn’t carry a gun, lasted only 24 episodes during the 1971-72 television season.
If you’re a fan of “The Rockford Files,” you’ll want to watch “Nichols,” if for no other reason than to see the birth of the magic that happens when Garner and Stuart Margolin share scenes. Garner wrote in his memoir that, for a sidekick in “Nichols,” he needed a “shifty-eyed, backstabbing rat” who was nonetheless lovable. Garner found the actor he was looking for when he saw Margolin in an episode of the comedy series “Love, American Style.” Margolin later played Jim Rockford’s not-so-trustworthy pal, Angel Martin, in memorable episodes of “The Rockford Files.”
In memory of Garner, let’s revisit five of his favorite projects that were recommended by his daughter and his memoir, “The Garner Files.”
‘T he Americanization of Emily’ (1964)
Most war movies are about heroes who bravely storm into battle. In this war movie, Garner starred (opposite Julie Andrews) as a coward. He has called “The Americanization of Emily” his favorite film. In real life, Garner was awarded Purple Hearts after being wounded in the Korean War.
‘Grand Prix’ (1966)
Steve McQueen agreed to star in “Grand Prix,” a movie about Formula One racing, but Garner hit a jackpot when McQueen bailed to make another film. Garner jumped into the driver’s seat for what he called a high point of his film career and the best picture ever made about auto racing. A racing enthusiast, Garner said in his memoir that “Grand Prix” was the most fun he ever had making a movie and the most fun he ever had, period. It came with a cost. McQueen, never mind that he forfeited the role, didn’t speak to Garner for a couple of years.
‘The Great Escape’ (1963)
Speaking of McQueen, he and Garner were castmates in “The Great Escape.” The movie provided a fictionalized account of a historical event — an attempted escape from a World War II POW camp. Garner called it a classic from a great action director, John Sturges. He also wrote that it was one of the few movies he was in that he would watch when replayed on TV, even though the running time is nearly three hours.
‘Murphy’s Romance’ (1985)
Garner called “Murphy’s Romance” one of his favorite movies. He starred with Sally Field in a romantic comedy in which age difference was among obstacles. Columbia Pictures wanted Marlon Brando for the male lead. Field successfully lobbied for Garner. In a 2016 interview with Howard Stern, Field said she felt it all the way to her toes when she was kissed by Garner while shooting a scene for the film.
‘The Notebook’ (2004)
One of Garner’s final films, “The Notebook” also is among his best. He called it as touching a love story as he has ever seen, and he said he was proud to be in it.
Bonus recommendations: In addition to providing guidance about her father’s favorite film projects, Gigi Garner came up with a list of five personal favorites. She mentioned “Grand Prix,” which was referenced above, and the following films:
‘Skin Game’ (1971)
Garner teamed with Louis Gossett in a movie about con men (one black, one white) partnering to sucker folks in the slavery era.
‘Move Over, Darling’ (1963)
Garner starred opposite Doris Day in a remake of the 1940 comedy “My Favorite Wife.” What happens when a wife who was presumed dead shows up on the day you are wedding a new bride?
‘The Thrill of It All’ (1963)
Same year. Same stars. In July 1963, a few months before the release of “Move Over, Darling,” Garner and Day teamed for a romantic comedy about a doctor’s wife who gains fame as the star of television commercials.
‘Support Your Local Sheriff’ (1969)
Who can bring safety to a lawless old West town? Garner’s character was just passing through on the way to Australia, but he agrees to temporarily become a sheriff. In the memoir, Garner said he thinks it’s one of the best Western spoofs ever made. He liked it far better than a follow-up, “Support Your Local Gunfighter.”
Bonus, bonus recommendation: In addition to Garner’s television and movie roles, he and Mariette Hartley were so good together in Polaroid camera advertisements that viewers became convinced they were husband and wife. Garner and his wife, Lois, were married almost 58 years.
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