When I was eight-years-old, I went to a school Halloween party dressed as a cowboy. At least that’s what everyone else at the party saw. That’s definitely what my fellow eight-year-olds saw. But I wasn’t the rugged, just walked in from riding the range kind of cowboy. I was a fancy cowboy with nice boots, new jeans, a white shirt, a bolo tie and a suit coat. A to top the entire outfit off, I wore a big beautiful black cowboy hat that had been left to me by my granddad who had passed away earlier that year. I looked gooood!
And I was not just some cowboy. I was Bret Maverick.
Earlier that year, a new show had debuted on NBC called Bret Maverick. James Garner starred in the title role as a gambler who, on occasion, delved into the arena of con-artist. It was a return for Mr. Garner to the role that had made him famous back in the ’50s. The original show was one of my grandfather’s favorites and by association became one of the shows that my mother loved during her childhood years. Also drawing my parents to this new show was the fact that both of them had been huge fans of the show, Rockford Files. I remember many evenings spent at my Granny and Granddad’s house with the adults watching Jim Rockford’s weekly escapades. I was a little too young at the time to appreciate that show, but when Bret Maverick premiered, my mom had me sit down and watch the first episode. That was all it took. I was hooked for life.
So for Halloween that year, there was no other option as to who I would be. The only downside was, I couldn’t figure out how to incorporate the nine different guns Bret Maverick always had stowed on his body in different hiding places, including the one in the crown of his hat. I tried to put one of my toy pistols in there, but it left me with a headache after just five minutes.
I loved that show. It lasted only one year, but I absolutely loved that show. And it started my lifelong admiration for James Garner.
Not long after I was introduced to Bret Maverick, I was further indoctrinated into the “James Garner is the best comedic actor in westerns of all time” camp when I saw Support Your Local Gun Fighter. It’s a silly movie, but again, I was hooked. I wanted to be that basic character, that at the end of the day was really just Bret Maverick repackaged. I would even incorporate him into my childhood play. I once tried the move from that particular movie where he bangs his head into wooden pillars after he loses a fortune playing roulette. It only took once to realize that was not a wise thing to mimic.
My fascination with Maverick, and by association James Garner, then waned throughout my adolescence, but only because there was nothing new to be fascinated with. That all changed when I arrived home from my mission and one of the first things my mother told me was that a new Maverick movie had come out just weeks before I’d stepped off that plane. I was ecstatic. When she told me James Garner was in it, I was obsessed. It was the first movie I saw in a theater after my two-year stint in England. And I fully loved every second of it.
Now I know there are those who don’t care for the Mel Gibson flick. I’ve heard many critical comments about how long it took to end. I couldn’t disagree more. It was awesome. And the final reveal was a culmination of joy that encapsulated my entire childhood. It will come as no surprise to anyone that I own that movie. Not just that, I own the movie poster and it hangs on the wall of my family room/big-screen television escape sanctuary. Two DVDs that sit along side it are Support Your Local Gun Fighter and Support Your Local Sheriff.
So when I heard that Mr. Garner had passed away this last Saturday, it caused me to pause for a moment in true grief. I do understand how ridiculous this may sound, but as long as he was alive, I always held out hope that a sequel to Maverick might get made and my life-long connection to the character could continue. Like I said, I know this is ridiculous, and I pretty much knew it was never going to happen once Mel Gibson shouted anti-Semitic comments at a police officer, but I still held out hope regardless. I mean, it did reasonably well at the box office. And it was perfectly set-up for a sequel. How could they not make one? They made sequels to everything from The Mask to that stupid bird cartoon, Rio. I still struggle to accept that a Maverick sequel never got off the ground.
Anyway, back to Mr. Garner. I loved his style. He was an every-man hero. I think only Harrison Ford and Tom Selleck have ever come close to capturing that “I don’t want to be the hero in this situation, but since no one is going to step up, I guess I’ll do it” persona that he depicted so well. It’s been three days and I’m still feeling the urge to go find copies of all the movies being mentioned in his obituaries that I haven’t seen. And I’ll watch them right after I get finished watching all of my favorites that I have seen.
And if I ever get around to doing that, I’ll make my kids watch them with me. They’ve already seen Support Your Local Sheriff and Maverick and they enjoyed them. I don’t know if they enjoyed them enough to love them like I do, but I don’t care. I’m going to make them sit there with me anyway. Because when they do, it will remind me of those moments when I was introduced to the talent and grace of James Garner by my mother.
And who knows. Maybe when I’m sitting there with my kids, it will be easier to imagine her there with us. Because if my mother were alive today, I know that’s exactly where she’d be.