Volokh Conspiracy: James Garner Set An Example of Manliness

Randy Barnett at The Volokh Conspiracy:

Besides recommending the book to anyone who shares my interests in Maverick, Rockford, or Garner, however, I want to comment on an observation with which he concludes his memoir:

I’ve been asked again and again, “How do you want to be remembered?” I usually say I don’t care, but that’s not true. I want to have accomplished something, to have made a contribution to the world. It would be wonderful if just one person looked at my life and said, “If he could overcome that, maybe I can too.”

Beyond that, I think an actor can contribute by making people forget their troubles for an hour or two. Call it relief, escape, diversion . . . I think one of the greatest gifts is being able to make people happy. I like to make people happy.”

So, if anyone asks, “How do you want to be remembered?” I tell them: “With a smile.”

Fair enough, but I think this seriously sells short what a TV actor can contribute. …

Garner’s two most famous characters set an example of manliness at two stages of life. Smart, tough, funny, a little cynical and knowing but with a pinch of optimism and even naivete, respectful towards women, willing to stand up for himself or others when pushed, but only after first looking for a way out of conflict, a sense of justice. Developing such a character that people think they “know” is something only an talented actor (along with talented writers) in a long-running TV show can accomplish. Two hours on the screen in a movie is not enough to make that connection, to provide that example, unless the actor plays the same character over and over, like John Wayne or Garner’s friends Steve McQueen or Clint Eastwood. But even their screen personas are not as particular as the Bret Maverick or Jim Rockford characters, who we get to observe in one situation after another. These characters are Garner’s most important “contribution” to others.

Very few actors, however talented or successful, ever get to make this contribution. James Garner is one of them. It is too bad he does not fully appreciate just how successful he has been.

Read the full piece here.

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