Sunday, July 20, 2014


I never met or worked with James Garner, unfortunately, but I've had a deep connection with him through the film THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY since I was a young man. That film came out when I was in the military. It was written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Arthur Hiller and starred Garner and Julie Andrews, who would later that year become a household name after MARY POPPINS came out. Also in a small role in THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY was James Coburn, which first made me notice him and began his trajectory toward stardom.

I knew and loved Garner from his days as MAVERICK on that TV Western, but the character he played in THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY is the one that not only impressed and engaged me but enlightened me because he was the first lead in an "American" war movie, especially a WWII movie, who wasn't a gung ho hero, or a stalwart hero, or a flawed but deeply and righteously courageous hero etc. etc. but in fact was a man who wanted to avoid being in combat and getting killed more than anything else, like pretty much everyone I ever encountered in real life.

Twenty-five years after that movie had a profound impact on me and the way I saw the world and war and bravery and so much more, I was recovering from a brain operation and unable to watch TV without feeling like my head was going to explode. It was too stimulating in my early recovery and made me so anxious it felt like I might die from it. But slowly, over the course of weeks and eventually months, I was able to slowly expose myself to watching movies only in black-and-white with a small cast, set in confined spaces (i.e. small sets mostly, like a room or a garden etc. so limited amount of detail and usually with only two or three characters in each scene), and with a simple easy-to-follow storyline.

So most of the time I'd turn on TV and go right to TCM, but if the movie was in color or too busy I'd have to turn it off. I was afraid it might always be like that and one of my greatest pleasure in life, movies, would be gone from me. And then one day I turned TCM on and there was THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY and it didn't make me anxious or feel like I wanted to explode or die or etc. and I watched it all the way through and was reminded of that first time I'd seen it back in 1964 and how much it had impacted me then and still did, in fact it still seems like a boldly unique, or uniquely bold movie.

The thing that always struck me about James Garner was his seeming lack of ego, so rare for a movie star, let alone a big, handsome leading man movie star. I suspect it kept him from getting or doing a wider range of roles more traditionally heroic, a la John Wayne. But that didn't seem to bother him either. He seemed as comfortable on TV as he did on the big screen, and never behaved like he had anything to prove or had to prove anything. I am grateful he's been a presence in my life for so much of it, and will continue to be as I rewatch old movies and TV shows where his easy charm and amazing (for a leading man) comic timing are always entertaining, and often a lot more.

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