I know nothing about James Garner. And I want to keep it that way.
When I was young, I had several TV Westerns from which to choose: Have Gun Will Travel, Branded, Bonanza, F Troop, The Rifleman, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, and Maverick, just to name a few.
By far, Maverick was my favorite, and James Garner was the reason why.
Later, when Mr. Garner showed up in a new series, The Rockford Files, I tuned in regularly.
Growing older, I looked farther back and found his movies, including Sayonara, The Great Escape, and my favorite, The Americanization of Emily (which I echoed in the title of my novella, The Revitalization of Emily).
In short, I was a fan.
James Garner was a great role model or, to put it more accurately, I found his characters to be great role models. They were manly without bluster, self-effacing yet confident, and humorous without being acerbic or cruel. Mostly, his characters just wanted to get by, get along, and get ahead, even if it meant bending a rule or two to make it happen. He created an array of likable, honorable, small-town, small-time heroes who did good things for people who deserved a break, and I adored them.
But I knew nothing of James Garner, the person. Nor do I want to know.
You see, I don’t want to be forced to reconcile any conflicting feelings that might arise if I knew more about James Garner the man. I don’t want to know if his politics were radical or his love life was stormy.
I’ve been burned by that too many times.
Take Charlton Heston, for example. As a boy, I thought Ben Hur was the greatest movie of all time. Chuck Heston was larger-than-life, heroic, commanding, supremely confident, and could do no wrong. In subsequent years and in subsequent roles, he became an icon, delivering lines that became embedded in pop culture before I even saw the movies that spawned them. He was a leading man’s leading man, and his strong, quiet strength was to be emulated.
When he first entered the political arena, his politics aligned with my own. Then he switched, supported Nixon, supported Reagan, became a spokesman for the NRA, and all my admiration for him soured and his grand legacy of memorable roles became tainted and dulled.
I don’t want that to happen with James Garner. I don’t even want to risk it happening. It may be that James Garner was a Democrat, a liberal, a faithful and loving husband and father, but there’s also a chance that he wasn’t. I hope the former is the case, but if it’s the latter, I just don’t want to know.
I want my memories of James Garner to remain unsullied and pure. I want to always remember him as that smiling, charming quipster from all those movies and episodes of my younger days. I want to remember with fondness my running home from school to see what Bret Maverick would do this week.
Whenever I think of James Garner, I want to smile.
May he rest in peace.