James Garner Dead at 86 the Golden Age of TV Westerns Loses Another Star

James Garner Dead at 86 the Golden Age of TV Westerns Loses Another Star

Actor James Garner has been reported to be dead at the age of 86 and the golden age of the TV western has lost another star. The six foot two inch tall actor was just one of several young men who starred in television tales of the old west. He did get the jump on most of his contemporaries by playing the lead in the 1956 series Maverick. Clint Eastwood, whom Garner would work with later in the 2000 film Space Cowboys, did not start work in Rawhide till 1959 and he was not the star, or co-star, but part of an ensemble cast when he began in the eternal trail drive. Clint Walker did beat James to the punch by one year by starring in Cheyenne as the title character Cheyenne Brodie

James Garner: The Rockford Files and Maverick Star Dead at 86

James Garner: The Rockford Files and Maverick Star Dead at 86

Star James Garner, who had two hit television shows a decade apart, Maverick in the 1960′s and The Rockford Files in the 1970′s has been reported dead at the age of 86. TMZ announced the film and television star had been found dead in his Los Angeles home after an ambulance responded to Garner’s residence at around 8:00 p.m. on Saturday

Sunset (1988): A Western Mix Earp

I actually watched this film on television. It obviously made the theatrical rounds quickly and got put on the ‘Saturday Night Movies’ early.

I liked it.

The film had the amazing (to me anyway) partnering of Bruce Willis and James Garner. As I am huge fans of both, it was a winning combination.

Directed by Blake Edwards (pick the Pink Panther film of your choice) Sunset is the tale of two legends, one of celluloid and the other of the wild west. Tom Mix (Willis) is making a silent film version of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Wyatt Earp(Garner) is hired to be the technical advisor for the film. Mix meets and befriends Wyatt and the two team up together to solve a murder mystery.

Tom Mix, the True King of the Cowboys

In real life, Tom Mix did indeed know Wyatt Earp. Wyatt had settled in Hollywood when he was retired. In fact, Mix was such a good friend that he served as a pall bearer at Earp’s funeral. Tom Mix did try to get Hollywood interested in making a film about Earp’s legendary gunfight, but the project fell through.

0319 - Wyatt Earp born
0319 – Wyatt Earp born (Photo credit: Bradford Timeline)

In Iron Eyes Cody‘s book, My Life as a Hollywood Indian, he talks about Wyatt Earp and says that he, Earp, was only interested in sitting on his front porch and if pressed about his life as a law-man would say he couldn’t remember.

The film was interesting enough with both Garner and Willis turning in good performances. But what made the film special to me is a scene that occurs near the end of the film.

Garner had played Wyatt Earp before in John SturgesHour of the gun. Towards the end of the film, the silent film that Mix is working on has just ‘re-created’ the OK corral shoot-out. Mix asks Wyatt if they got it right. Earp looks off in the distance and remembers the actual shoot-out.

Using cuts from Sturges’ film, we see what really happened as Wyatt relives it in his mind. Wyatt then looks at Mix and says, “Yeah, just like that.”

That scene is cinematic genius. When we  the audience see through Wyatt Earps ‘flashback’ what really happened that infamous day, we see that the silent film comes nowhere near being correct. But what we also see, along with Wyatt, is that the film medium will never be able to capture what really happened. The icing on the metaphorical cake is that we also know that Hollywood has re-created that scene repeatedly.

Cover of "Hour of the Gun"
Cover of Hour of the Gun

And there you have it. For me the biggest reason for liking the film was a scene that took up less than a minute of screen time.

Sunset is a good film, nothing to write home about perhaps, but it is still worth a look. If for no other reason than to see Bruce Willis and James Garner, and maybe just for that tiny scene I just mentioned.

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