Thursday, July 24, 2014

Remembering James Garner

Last Saturday, James Garner passed away at the age of 86. In 1975, I met him when he was filming a “Rockford Files” episode in Las Vegas.

In the 70s, I had a huge crush on James Garner, regardless of the fact that he was only a few years younger than my dad. Whenever I envisioned meeting him (which I estimated to be about as likely as a Yeti showing up in my backyard), I always pictured a happy, magical experience featuring the best hair day of my life, loads of witty remarks (made by me), and fashionable attire that would say, “Yes, I’m 12, but a very grown-up 12.”

Things did not work out that way on the day I met him. Not even close.

When I heard Garner was in Las Vegas filming a “Rockford Files” episode, I thought it was thrilling—from a distance. I didn’t have any desire to actually meet him. My dad worked at the Aladdin, where some of the show was being filmed, and he told us stories about the show and its star. That was close enough for me.

I don’t know if Dad made special arrangements for me to meet Garner, or if I just happened to be with Dad on a day they were filming at the hotel. I know it would have been nice to have had some kind of warning. I was not looking fashionable at all. I was too scared to be witty. And it was definitely not a good hair day.

When Dad and I arrived at the hotel that day, we went right to the front valet entrance, where filming was underway. They were shooting scenes of Garner speeding away from the Aladdin (yes, in his classic gold Firebird), out onto Las Vegas Boulevard. During a break, Dad walked over to where Garner was standing and they started talking. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, Dad would forget I was there. Or perhaps the earth would conveniently swallow me.

When I saw the two of them looking in my direction, I realized (with great horror) that I was going to be expected to speak. In sentences. To James Garner.

I sidestepped. I slouched and hid behind tall people. Dad frowned and craned his neck, looking for me in the crowd. Even worse, Garner started looking around for me. I really had no choice but to step forward, wearing my fuzzy white cap, purple corduroys, and frumpy pink sweater.

I have no recollection of what anyone said. I remember I said polite and courteous things like I wasn’t in a state of shock, and I remember Garner being very kind.

Later on, Dad asked Garner for his autograph.

Luckily, I didn’t have to be present.