JAMES GARNER AND THE GARNER FILES

Marilyn Armstrong:

I reviewed this a couple of times. Now, yet another great review by a great blogger. James Garner was an under-appreciated performer, but turned out a wonderful body of work. His autobiography is worth reading … rather better written and less self-promotion than you expect from a celebrity bio. And this is a fine review.

Also see: THE GARNER FILES: A MEMOIR – JAMES GARNER AND JON WINOKUR (2012) on Serendipity.

Originally posted on Eagle-Eyed Editor:

Oklahoma Sunset in Oklahoma. Image courtesy of zaccrain, Morguefile.

The movie “Support Your Local Sheriff” with James Garner playing sheriff Jason McCullough has to be one of the funniest Western spoofs ever made.  One of the best scenes has Garner walking out of the sheriff’s office during a gunfight, hollering “Hold it! Just hold it!” A bunch of puzzled gunfighters stop shooting as the sheriff makes his way across the street. As Garner reaches the other side, he shouts, “Okay, go ahead!” and dives behind a woodpile as the shooting resumes.

Humor seems to have played a large part of Garner’s career as an actor. With Jon Winokur, James Garner wrote a wonderful memoir called The Garner Files. (Hey, when a book has an introduction by singer/actress/legend Julie Andrews, can it fail to be good?) In the book, James Garner talks about growing up in Oklahoma, what it was like working on “Maverick”…

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OLD BLUE EYES AND THE KID – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I was still a kid, working at the college radio station in Hempstead, New York. I was a little older than the other kids, because I was recently back from my short stint in the Marine Corps. I don’t remember who provided my entrée for that interview, but I remember the night. How could I forget?

As a kid, I listened to big band vocalist Sinatra on “78” records. He was special even then. By the early 60’s, Sinatra was an entertainment institution. Music, movies, television and the subject of myriad publications which alluded to political and criminal intrigue.

How many romantic evenings have all of us had — candles, cocktails and Sinatra playing? He was a legend, America’s most iconic celebrity.

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Heady stuff for a young reporter invited to one of Sinatra’s hangouts. The story was about Jilly Rizzo. He ran a famous night spot in New York. “Jilly’s Saloon” (everybody just called it Jilly’s). It catered to lots of celebrities, but most notably Frank Sinatra and his “rat pack”. My primary focus that night was Jilly himself. We did a low-key chat about his club. Jilly did the talking. About his youth, how hard he worked to make his club a success. I let him talk, which he appreciated. He was fascinating. A real life Damon Runyon character.

The interview wrapped. I figured my night was over. Wrong. Jilly kept referring to me as “Kid”. As I prepared to leave with my engineer, Jilly tugged at my sleeve and motioned for me to follow him.

“Kid”, he said in his raspy voice, “I want you to meet some pals”. Jilly led me to a table filled with lots of cigarette smoke, profanity and laughter. I was a little nervous.

I had cause to be nervous. I made eye contact, my brain began to register and I began to smile blankly. Sinatra, Dino, Sammy, Joey Bishop and other familiar faces looked at me. My brain kept shifting gears. Apparently Jilly had introduced me as “Kid”, a newbie who was okay. That turned out to be my access card.

I realized I had a big glass of scotch in my hand. Frank Sinatra was talking to me, a big glass of scotch in his hand, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. I think I still had a glazed smile on my face.

“So, Kid”, he asked, “What the hell do you do that makes Jilly like you?”

I told him I had been listening to Jilly and found his back story fascinating. I told Sinatra I enjoyed listening rather than talking. It was easier, I volunteered. “You’re on radio and you like to listen rather than talk?”, he asked.

“Yes”, I said. I just stared at him.

He stared back, then said, “Kid, you’re okay”.

FrankSinatra9I slid into some questions about his childhood, about his weight, the difference between his singing and his conversational voice. Sinatra was off and running. The anecdotes had little to do with celebrity and lots to do with the guy behind the legend. I kept listening.

He noticed the tape recorder wasn’t running. Puzzled. I said this was social time. He looked even more puzzled, then shook his head and smiled. Sinatra said he wasn’t used to such treatment. I smiled. An easier smile.

I talked a little about my hearing problems, diction problems. My determination to get things right. Now Sinatra was listening. He said he too had diction problems during regular conversation which he tried to cover up with sarcasm and bluster. I realized he was leaning in as if to confide with me. I also noticed the other celebs had backed away, giving Sinatra privacy.

The conversation continued for another half hour, maybe 45 minutes. Jilly kept checking to make sure our drinks were fresh. I knew other people were staring at us. I figured they were wondering who the hell was this kid chatting up Sinatra. Actually, we were talking about music and radio. I told him about how I loved doing tight segues blending solo vocals, chorals, and instrumentals. He began giving me tips about how to segue some of his music. In a couple of cases, I was already doing it. He loved it.

We talked a little about sports. I told him I was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan and Duke Snider was my favorite player.

Sinatra said Joe DiMaggio and the Yanks were his favorites. I gave him a look and he smiled. Casey Stengel was our peace broker. Earlier that year, I’d spent time with Casey who was managing the fledgling New York Mets. Sinatra laughed at my recollection of conversation with Casey.

“Diction”, we both said and laughed.

Jilly Rizzo finally broke up the chat saying Sinatra was needed elsewhere. Sinatra grumbled, gave me a card and said there would be another time. There would be. Another story for another day.


THE DAILY PROMPT: IMPOSSIBILITY 

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – the White Queen, Alice in Wonderland.

Garry Hall of Fame Lectern 2

Sometimes, looking back on my life, it’s hard to believe I did all of that and took it in stride. Not six things … a thousand things … done every day as if they were no big deal. They were no big deal at the time. Looking backward, with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, turns out they were something special As time slouches on, the memories become increasingly precious and fun to remember.

This is my first connection with the Daily Prompt! And I haven’t finished my first cup of coffee. Never would have expected this!

PORTRAIT OF A HAPPY NCIS FAN

In case you haven’t doped this one out, Garry is a passionate fan of NCIS. In the course of events, he has his acquired an NCIS cap, rain jacket, carry bag, tee shirts in various configurations. And a zip-up sweatshirt with a hood. I too have a sweatshirt and a tee-shirt, but mine is the Abby forensics sweatshirt with a hood and embroidered skull. Which suits me.

Although I enjoy watching the show — okay, I love the show — I am not quite as wholly committed as Garry. As Christmas started rolling into town this year, I asked Garry, as I do every year, what he would like for Christmas.

“An NCIS sweatshirt,” he said. “But not the hoodie. A regular crew neck sweatshirt.”

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As it turns out, there is no such thing, at least not a good one from the CBS store. There are fake ones, but the reviews speak poorly of their quality and their tendency to shrink grotesquely in the wash. Carefully watching the show, I realize that Gibbs himself wears a hoodie. I pointed this out to Garry who still does not want a hoodie. He does not like all that stuff around his neck.

So with the clock ticking down, I ordered the 16-month official NCIS calendar.

I feared Garry might not like it, but I worried for nothing. He likes it. Today, he actually requested I take his picture with the calendar so he can post it on Facebook. He is past serious fan and has moved into fanatic.

Note for fellow fans: There’s a strong rumor that Cote de Pablo (Ziva David) will be back! Soon!

Recently, Garry has developed a passion for Star Trek: Next Generation. Given his propensity for full commitment to the fan experience, I expect him to start learning Klingon in weeks to come. I am eternally grateful to Netflix for having the entire series available. Seven full seasons to watch and we are just finishing the first!

Happy New Year, friends and fellow fans!

GUILTY AS CHARGED

Convicted in the Court of Public Innuendo, comment by Rich Paschall

It doesn’t take much for radio shock jocks and tabloid publications to go on the attack. If the story seems scandalous enough, or perhaps even just a little, the social media junkies have a field day as well. Re-postings of blogs of no particular merit start to appear. Links can be found on Tumblr, facebook, and Twitter as well as a whole host of new sites I have not had time to explore. Graphics show up on people’s news feeds, often with unrelated pictures with words scrawled across them. If the graphic is well made, it seems to add to the believability. The great ancient mythologies were believable to the people of those time periods. We are perhaps just as gullible.

When something of questionable authenticity appears I like to check it out on Snopes.com or other sites dedicated to debunking bad stories. A quick internet search is usually enough to check out the claims people make. Although it is often in vain, I like to add a link to the truth among the comments under some of these spurious stories. Sometimes it has zero effect as people continue commenting on the false posting itself. For some folks, proof is not enough.

There are even more insidious postings and rumor mongering going on in the area of innuendo. You imply bad things about someone and watch the story grow and take on a life of its own. There are enough false President Obama stories floating these past six years. Many imply that he has secret ties to Muslim terrorists or other anti-American groups. The whole “birther” charge regarding Obama’s citizenship keeps going around and that is followed by any number of conspiracy theories. These worthless speculations are damaging to the public welfare, especially when implied issues, although false, are nevertheless believed.

When my mother was no longer able to get out on her own, a friend would drop off multiple supermarket tabloids from time to time so they could see the latest celebrity “news.” Sometimes the talk and the tabloid headlines were so intriguing I would pick up the paper at my mother’s apartment only to find a story of little or no substance. A picture with a clever caption or suggestive headline would seem to point to a vicious scandal, and a league of tabloid grabbers would believe something they did not actually read.

Recently, an old charge of forced sex by comedian Bill Cosby resurfaced. The result has been an internet and social media firestorm. An ill-timed invitation by the Cosby Twitter account to “meme” a picture of Bill, that is to take the picture and add a graphic, ended up producing a whole host of uncomplimentary claims. Those graphics, of course, made the rounds. Cosby’s lawyer responded to all the new charges by saying, “We’ve reached a point of absurdity. The stories are getting more ridiculous.”

The man once known as “America’s Dad” for his portrayal of a wise father on The Cosby Show has now been convicted of a variety of sins by way of inflamed public opinion. It is likely to grow in intensity as long as Cosby remains in the public eye. At a recent appearance on his comedy tour, a Florida radio “shock jock” offered anyone a thousand dollars if they would go to the Cosby performance and call him out on these charges. One patron admitted she went just to see if someone would do it. No one did. A result of all the gossip and innuendo is irreparable damage to the Cosby image and career. Is one of America’s best known comics guilty of the things charged and implied? It is unlikely anyone can prove any of the years old charges, but he has already been convicted in the court of public opinion.

It was claimed that singer Megan Washington often appeared drunk on stage. While she sang well, she appeared to have trouble speaking. Reports of her performances might also include her struggle talking to the audience. Finally she decided to “come clean about it.” The issue was not that she was drunk all the time, it is that she has a speech impediment. She stutters. She explains it in a TED speech, “Why I live in mortal dread of public speaking.” It’s too bad some had already leapt to a different conclusion.

Many celebrities and politicians have been the victims of all sorts of inaccurate accusations. Some accept it and deal effectively with it by ignoring the comment. For others, the storm becomes so great they must respond. We see this in political commercials when attack ads link an opponent unfavorably with others. Here in Illinois the Republican attack ads put the current governor in pictures with the president to imply he believes what the president does. He also mentioned that the governor served in office with former Governor Blagojevich who is now in prison. You can guess the implication.

Of course, I could give many more examples of famous people who had been rumored to have done something bad through implication and innuendo. Many of these claims I could also point out were never verified. Nevertheless, they are out in the public domain and people believe them. Hence the popularity of supermarket tabloids and shows like TMZ. When the story is salacious enough, facts to the contrary don’t seem to matter much.

A LITTLE BIT FAMOUS. MAYBE.

Ready, Set, Done!

I’ve been brooding over statistics. In particular, I keep staring at my follower numbers, puzzled, and I’ve reached a conclusion.

I don’t really have more than 7000 followers no matter what the numbers say. I bet most of these “followers” are spam-bots or people who stopped by once, clicked “Follow” and disappeared. Who knows what motivated them to “follow” at all? Maybe it was a slip of the mouse, pure accident?

Hyannis downtown people

Daily views of posts are something. They lend themselves better to analysis. I disregard surges on a single post. Often it’s situational: a big snow storm and everyone shows up to read Garry’s experiences in the blizzard of ’78. Or I write something about a new TV show so when it’s Googled, I pop up. Voila! Thousands of hits on an unexceptional post.

Most people who come to read a post for a specific reason don’t come back. Maybe a few of them will drop by again, but mostly, they won’t. It’s not personal. These are not people who follow blogs. They are looking for information and when they find it, here or elsewhere, they go home.

But I can’t ignore the more than 213,000 views I have on Serendipity. Or the recent upsurge of daily visitors. This does not seem to be a “blip,” and might constitute a trend.

I don’t know most of the people who “read me.” I don’t generate as many comments as more controversial sites. Sometimes, I regret that, but not usually.

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Most of my visitors don’t comment. They don’t even click “like.” Yet I’ve started to meet strangers and discover they’ve “read me.” I’m pleased and happily surprised when it happens.

Blogging can be weird that way. You can be a little famous — and never know it. I’m sure it’s the only kind of “fame” you can achieve without realizing you’ve achieved it.

GARRY ARMSTRONG’S FAVORITE MOVIES* – 2014 UPDATE

The title has an asterisk because this is an impossible post. I can’t begin to do justice to all the movies I love when limited to ten. However, a dear friend (and fellow movie maven) asked me to compile such a list for a project.

Hollywood Legends Poster

I saw my first film at age four in 1946. I recall relatives saying I talked like a grown up, spouting familiar lines. Frequently they were lines from movies.

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Photo by Bette Stevens

That quirk would continue for the rest of my life right to the present.

I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with many of the legends from old Hollywood, which sometimes clouds my perspective. I become totally immersed with movies. I become part of the film, sharing the feelings of the characters. Love, hate, joy and sorrow.

And now … the movies.

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES – 1946. The first movie I saw. I was 4-years old. Mom and Dad looked like a celebrity couple. Dad, just back from active duty in World War Two, seemed 10-feet tall in his uniform. The film’s theme, GI’s readjusting to civilian life, would become a personal issue in our family.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN – 1960. If I love movies, I am passionate about westerns! I saw “The Magnificent Seven” 6 times during its first week in the theater. Steve McQueen was “the man”. The stars were so very cool. Eli Wallach was a hoot as the Mexican bandit leader. His line, “Generosity, that was my first mistake…” is my email signature.

INHERIT THE WIND – 1960. Every time it’s on, we watch it. Marilyn and I smile, anticipating the lines, waiting for the Spencer Tracy/Clarence Darrow monologues. The Tracy-Fredric March courtroom scenes are perfect. Two masters at work. Gene Kelly does his best dramatic work as the acerbic H.L. Mencken character. The film’s an excellent classroom tool for anyone unfamiliar with the Scopes trial.

THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY – 1964. If you love great script and dialogues, this may be the all-time best movie. The real star is the script and its writer, Paddy Chayefsky. James Garner’s favorite movie and best film role. Garner was brilliant! Ably supported by Julie Andrews (her first dramatic role). Hard to watch a gung-ho action war flick after viewing this one.

TOMBSTONE – 1993. I came on board after the second or third viewing of this one because of Marilyn’s love of this version of the Earp saga. It’s fast-paced, well-acted, relatively authentic and beautifully photographed. The film gives us a jolt of vicarious pleasure as the good guys mow down the bad guys. We have coördinated Tombstone tee shirts.

GIGI – 1958. I remember seeing this first run. I was 16, head over heels in love with Leslie Caron. A couple of years earlier, I’d waited outside the tiny Trans-Lux Theater in Manhattan where Caron’s Lilli had a record-breaking run. A wonderful musical. Music, sets, cast. Marilyn and I know the songs and sing along. It never gets old.

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN – 1952. Maybe best musical. Ever. So many wonderful “numbers” including Gene Kelly’s iconic (I know the word is overused) title tune sequence. Once upon a time, I used to dance to work in the rain, just singing and dancing – like Gene Kelly. I got more than a few stares.

SHANE – 1953. Marilyn and I saw this first run at the Loews Valencia in Queens, New York, but not together. The Valencia was like Radio City Musical Hall. Fantastic and huge, with a starlit ceiling. Alan Ladd’s finest performance thanks to director George Stevens. I’ve seen Shane dozens of times and still marvel at its photography and editing. The scene of “Reb’s” funeral is classic – cinematic magic.

S.O.B. – 1981. Blake Edwards scathing take on Hollywood. It didn’t endear him to tinsel town’s movers and shakers, and they tried to sabotage S.O.B.’s distribution. William Holden and Julie Andrews head a wonderful ensemble cast. Holden’s dialogue to a suicidal friend could well have been Holden’s own eulogy.

CASABLANCA – 1943. Who doesn’t love this film? I met co-writer Julius Epstein in the 70’s. He shared lots of great stories about the making of Casablanca. He said every day was crazier than the previous one, with new dialogue arriving as scenes were set up. We saw a remastered Casablanca on the big screen last year, a celebration of its 70th anniversary. Bogie and the gang were in their prime.

Ask me to name my ten favorites next month, you’ll get different answers (with a few carry-overs)! Hooray for Hollywood!

TEN FAVORITE MOVIES* 2014 EDITION – GARRY ARMSTRONG

The title has an asterisk because this is an impossible post. I can’t begin to do justice to all the movies I love when limited to ten. However, a dear friend (and fellow movie maven) asked me to compile such a list for a project.

Inside the Loew's Valencia. Queens, New York.
Inside the Loew’s Valencia. Queens, New York.

I saw my first film at age four in 1946. I recall relatives saying I talked like a grown up, spouting familiar lines. Frequently they were lines from movies. That quirk would continue for the rest of my life right to the present.

I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with many of the legends from old Hollywood, which sometimes clouds my perspective. I become totally immersed with movies. I become part of the film, sharing the feelings of the characters. Love, hate, joy and sorrow. And now …

GARRY ARMSTRONG’S FAVORITE MOVIES –  SEPTEMBER 2014 VERSION

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES – 1946. The first movie I saw. I was 4-years old. Mom and Dad looked like a celebrity couple. Dad, just back from active duty in World War Two, seemed 10-feet tall in his uniform. The film’s theme, GI’s readjusting to civilian life, would become a personal issue in our family.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN – 1960.  If I love movies, I am passionate about westerns! I saw “The Magnificent Seven” 6 times during its first week in the theater. Steve McQueen was “the man”. All the stars were so very cool. Eli Wallach was a hoot as the Mexican bandit leader. His line, “Generosity, that was my first mistake” is my email tag.

INHERIT THE WIND – 1960. Every time it’s on, we watch it. Marilyn and I smile, anticipating the lines, waiting for the Spencer Tracy/Clarence Darrow monologues. The Tracy-Fredric March courtroom scenes are perfect. Two masters at work. Gene Kelly does his best dramatic work as the acerbic H.L. Mencken character.  The film’s an excellent classroom tool for anyone unfamiliar with the Scopes trial.

THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY – 1964. If you love great script and dialogues, this may be the all-time best movie. The real star is the script and its writer, Paddy Chayefsky. James Garner’s favorite movie and best film role. Garner was brilliant! Ably supported by Julie Andrews (her first dramatic role). Hard to watch a gung-ho action war flick after viewing this one.

TOMBSTONE – 1993. I came on board after the second or third viewing of this one because of Marilyn’s love of this version of the Earp saga. It’s fast-paced, well-acted, relatively authentic and beautifully photographed. The film gives us a jolt of vicarious pleasure as the good guys mow down the bad guys. We have coördinated Tombstone tee shirts.

GIGI – 1958. I remember seeing this first run. I was 16, head over heels in love with Leslie Caron. A couple of years earlier, I’d waited outside the tiny Trans-Lux Theatre in Manhattan where Caron’s “Lilli” had a record-breaking run. A wonderful musical. Music, sets, cast. Marilyn and I know the songs and sing along. It never gets old.

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN – 1952. Maybe best musical. Ever. So many wonderful “numbers” including Gene Kelly’s iconic (I know the word is overused) title tune sequence. Once upon a time, I used to dance to work in the rain, just singing and dancing — like Gene Kelly. I got more than a few stares.

SHANE – 1953. Marilyn and I both saw this first run at the Loews Valencia in Queens, New York, but not together. The Valencia was like Radio City Musical Hall. Fantastic and huge, with a starlit ceiling. Alan Ladd’s finest performance thanks to director George Stevens. I’ve seen Shane dozens of times and still marvel at its photography and editing. “Reb” funeral scene is classic, cinematic magic.

S.O.B. – 1981. Blake Edwards scathing take on Hollywood. It didn’t endear him to tinsel town’s movers and shakers and they tried to sabotage S.O.B.’s distribution. William Holden and Julie Andrews head a wonderful ensemble cast. Holden’s dialogue to a suicidal friend could well have been Holden’s own eulogy.

CASABLANCA – 1943.  Who doesn’t love this film? I met co-writer Julius Epstein in the 70’s. He shared lots of great stories about the making of Casablanca. He said every day was crazier than the previous one, with new dialogue arriving as scenes were set up. We saw a remastered Casablanca on the big screen last year, a celebration of its 70th anniversary. Bogie and the gang were in their prime.


Ask me to my ten favorites next month. Different answers! Hoo-Ray for Hollywood!