"He was precocious as a child and childish as an adult." That is a quote from Roger Lewis' excellent biography of Peter Sellers but it pretty much sums me up in the proverbial nutshell, as well.
As a very young child, I much preferred hanging out with my parents and my parents' friends much more than kids my own age. I do not wanta get too heavy here or too drug-store psychological (ultimately, this is supposed to be a long tribute to one of my heroes, James Garner) but I figure a lot of that wanting to play with the adults rather than sit at the Kids Table had to do with the Child Actor phase of my life. I wanted all Mum's friends to see how fucking clever I was, show off. Donna, my Mum, made damn sure I was going to be reading at a very early age and that I would be reading a lot, all the time. And I was. And I still do. I also have been blessed with an excellent memory. It was natural that I would take up acting at an early age as a result. I was ahead of the other kids in my age group and my small stature (though a nightmare in class or on the ball fields) actually worked to my significant advantage in the "adult" world of Acting. Or at least it did until I went to college. On one hand you could say, if I wanted to seriously "make it" as an actor I should have skipped college, moved to LA, and signed up with an agency. My tiny stature and "type" would be best for television, ideally, or perhaps movies. In the alternate Michael is an Actor Universe I would probably have a career like Johnny Galecki, say. Or, if I had really been dedicated, Michael J Fox.
But, speaking of dedication, and here is where the second half of that quote enters our story, if I was not dedicated enough to do homework in high school (I much preferred listening to prog rock, writing terrible poetry, and mooning over girls, reading, etc, ... ) or even attend college classes how on earth was I going to be dedicated enough to make it as an actor in LA, on my own, as an adult, with no help from my folks? And we all know the old maxim about how hard it is to make it as an actor. Well, it is not bullshit. It is true. Watch the first half of Tootsie again, or, a better film, All That Jazz, even though that is more about dancers, anyhoo, you should get the point, ...
I was a terrible Adult, at first. An absolute mess. Most of you folks reading this are fully aware of my faults and problems as an Adult. Basically, I was a Prodigy and a Late Bloomer (as I figure most Child Actors are.)
I still have my problems: I am terrible with money and I drink too much but emotionally I am truly, finally an adult. I am much more in touch with my feelings and do not tend towards self-destruction anymore. I have respect for myself (Renee had a lot to do with that) now and am comfortable in my skin. I do not allow myself to be pushed around or "victimized" like I used to. I do not lie or steal anymore. I am much more sensitive to the plight of others. I still spout off opinions, sometimes aggressively (oftentimes off-topic, too) but I have gotten waaaay better regarding that and can recognize myself in folks younger than me now. (It is something I have to work on every day.) I am kind and generous to folks. And what is it they say in Metropolitan? "The big thing is how you respond to the question, 'What do you do for a living?' I can't bear it." I am not bitter about not being an actor or a Rock Star. And I love my job. I have no problems with that question.
The turning point for me was a break-up I had with an old girlfriend, a little counseling, my new job in Walnut Creek, and most most most important: getting together with Renee. I was thirty-four.
|Love that jacket|
We share the same birth date: April 7. Garner was born in 1928. I was born in 1968.
Garner (his actual birth name is Bumgarner) was born in Norman, OK, a town I grew up in that was crucial to my formative years.
Garner, of course, is a massive television star and actor, a profession that I once aspired to. Garner was not a Child Actor, though.
We are both massive fans of Oklahoma Sooner football, like many Oklahomans, natch. The University of Oklahoma is in Norman and I used to live right across the street from the stadium. We used to sell parking "spaces" in our front yard on game days.
Garner, like myself, and my parents, are members of a different sort of vanishing Tribe of the Oklahoma Plains: The Oklahoma Liberal. (Garner met his first and only wife at an Adlai Stevenson rally.)
|See the resemblance?|
But, back to the Poor Renee header of this post. One thing about my Child Actor/Prodigy days has stuck with me all my life. I do not live happily within my specific demographic, especially now. The one exception to this rule would be music from about 1984 (I discovered R.E.M.) to about 2002 when Mary Hansen from Stereolab was killed by a lorry driver. Before 1984 I listened to music from the Sixties and early '70s. (Beatles/prog) And since 2002 I listen to mostly music from the Sixties again (Beatles/Stax) or Hot Club of Cowtown who play "standards" or Bob Wills. Even older!
Regarding films, I cannot tell you how many times I have dragged Renee to the local Art House cinema, "full" of people in their fifties, sixties, or older. (Woody Allen movies, documentaries, films like Jane Eyre, Of Gods and Men, etc, ... ) She was twenty-three when we first started dating.
Here are some other Old Folks things I like to do:
I still read newspapers! Shocking! (I read the the SFChron and its fabulous Datebook section [love you, Jon Carroll] but I still miss Ray Ratto from the Sporting Green; and the NYT.)
My favorite music magazine is Mojo, which is pretty much about old, classic rock stars and cult figures.
I read The Atlantic regularly. (Just bought the latest issue yesterday.)
(The biggest advertiser for the American magazines I buy? Bose.)
I watch a lot of Cable News.
I watch PBS. (New Masterpiece Mystery starts tomorrow! Poirot.)
I am insane for documentaries of all sorts but especially political ones. I have even created a sort of day for them around here, called Documentary Mondays, which even my friend Nick C honors. (That Bobby Fischer doc on HBO was great. If they ever made a movie about him Christopher Eccleston should play Fischer.)
My favorite film directors are Lubitsch, Renoir, Melville, Murnau, Wilder, Hawks, Welles, etc, ... all of them extremely dead.
Likewise, my Holy Trinity of Movie Stars: Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, and Ingrid Bergman are no longer with us, either.
I love pre-Code cinema, Musicals, and foreign films.
I love TCM. I even like their Silent Sundays.
I devour non-fiction and "lists" books and am cultish about good reference books.
I did not get a computer until the late aughts.
I vote in every election, no matter how small.
I am a hopeless and helpless political junkie.
I love eating in diners and cafeterias.
Okay, that last one was a joke. You get the idea.
But, lately, it has gotten even worse for Poor Renee. (Though, I expect, this will be just a phase. At least, I hope so.) I have discovered two local cable channels that show nothing but old time teevee shows and I am hooked, hard.
(Here are the big advertisers for these programs on those networks: The Chef Basket, Rascal Scooters, oxygen tanks, reverse mortgages, class-action notices for mesothelioma, saving yourself from back taxes, etc, ... Poor Renee. She married an old man.)
I am currently dvr-ing (five days a week): The Big Valley (the last two Big Valleys have been amazing and I will totally do a post about them), The Dick Van Dyke Show (which Renee actually likes a little bit), Perry Mason, and The Rockford Files.
Thanks for your patience because we are finally bringing this monster home.
Damnitt, the Rockford Files is such a good show, even watching it today. Sometimes the plots are formulaic but Garner was just such a good television actor that you get the feeling he could have been reading the phone book and folks still would have watched.
The little bits of comedy in his gestures and line readings. The way he seems to be "winking" at his audience in a completely non-condescending way, making the audience feel in on the joke that television and celebrity are not all that important, and can be fun; that they, the audience, could be up there in The Rockford Files, having a blast on the set, and feel like part of the family.
I love the way he used the same actors over and over again in completely different roles, like they were a theatre company. I love the fact that Rockford had done time (fully pardoned, though!), bounced checks, lived in a trailer on the beach, yet knew his Claret from his Beaujolais (but would prefer a can of Bud).
I admire and am impressed how close Garner, Juanita Bartlett, Cannell, and the other folks responsible for the creation of the show, got The Rockford Files to the seminal LA detective fiction of the early to mid twentieth century. The Rockford Files was not noir by any stretch of the imagination, but that is not what they were aiming for. They wanted to make folks laugh, too. And they did great at capturing the shabbiness and cynicism of those memorable anti-hero detectives like Marlowe.
|I always thought she was the prettiest woman on the show.|
James Garner had a decent film career. (I still have not seen The Americanization of Emily, yet, a Paddy Chayefsky script.) He was even nominated for Best Actor once in the 80s. But he might just be the greatest television actor we will ever see. No one on television fit more comfortably in folks living rooms than Garner did. And to do that with such grace and humility and sense of humor is really special.
So even when I have stopped watching The Big Valley, Dick Van Dyke, Perry Mason, and the phase officially ends, I will still go on watching The Rockford Files.
James Garner is an awesome Oklahoman and a very good man. Makes me proud to be born in Tulsa.