James "Jim" Garner, who passed away recently at the age of 86, made over 50 movies and was in various television shows, a Hollywood Superstar for decades.
But the show many people vividly recall is "The Rockford Files," in which Jim starred as Jim Rockford, a Los Angeles detective.
In first run from 1974 to 1980, 123 episodes, and in the 1990's in eight made for television movies, "Rockford" has remained so popular that today its reruns are available all over the world.
Whereas in most detective shows, the star is a suave lady's man, who dresses stylishly, has a fancy office, and is gun toting and tough, Jim Rockford was just the opposite.
He lived in a beaten up old trailer on a Malibu parking lot and couldn't afford a secretary, instead relying on an answering machine.
He seldom wore a suit or tie, kept his gun in a cookie jar, rarely using it, acknowledged being a coward, generally got beaten up during a show and worked for clients who often didn’t pay him.
Each show started with his answering machine recording: "Hi, this is Jim Rockford. At the tone leave your name and I'll get back to you." You'd hear the beep and then a message that was often bad news:
"Jim, it's Shirley at the cleaners. You know that brown jacket --- the one that looks so good on you --- your favorite? We lost it."
Thereafter, Jim Rockford's wise cracks would keep viewers chuckling at various times during the show and at episode's end, the crime would be solved.
This was the on screen Jim Garner. Real life had been far tougher for him.
The youngest of three sons, Jim grew up in Oklahoma during the Great Depression and World War ll. His mother died when he was just 4 years old and when Jim was 7, his father, unable to take care of his three sons farmed them out individually to various relatives.
After his father remarried, the family was reunited, but Jim's stepmother severely beat him. She also forced him to occasionally go out in public wearing a dress and she told others to call him "Louise."
Meanwhile, Jim's father would get drunk and humiliate his sons by forcing them to sing for him. As a result, Jim developed a phobia about public speaking and later confined his acting to film, not on stage in front of an audience, because of his stage fright.
At the age of 14, Jim couldn't take it anymore and left his family. Even though he was just a boy, he lived on his own and supported himself. It was a miserable childhood, but as you'll read in part II next week, Jim overcame his tough start to become successful in Hollywood.