This is Jim Rockford at the tone…Television worth preserving

Below: a montage of opening messages left on Jim Rockfords’ answering machine over the six seasons that he waged the war of making ends meet while solving some of the wackiest cases in the history of TV private eye’s. And he never did get that new coat of paint on the trailer that Rocky constantly reminded him would probably get him more clients if he did just that.

Ring, Ring “this is Jim Rockford at the tone leave your name and message and I’ll get back to you. This how each and every episode of one of the best private detective shows ever would begin and someone would leave a goofy message and then this incredible theme with a country twang featuring some of the best harmonica playing I have ever heard would start. In fact it was so popular it made all the way to the top 40 on the billboard charts and is among the most memorable TV themes. So what does this have to do with Mill Creek Entertainment? Among the their releases is the Rockford Files -the complete series totally remastered and busting out the seams with 122 episodes. Crystal clear audio and picture.

Am amazing roster of guest stars and a slew of character actors. Starting with the pilot featuring one of my all time favorite actors who is so talented he can play anything from butt kicking hero to a most diabolical villain -William Smith. This is a guy you would rather have on your side coming in at around 200 lbs and standing over 6 ft he is in many circles considered one of the greatest “BAD GUY” character actors of all time. And his role in the pilot sets the tone of the series…he is a person who really enjoys killing with no regrets.

Other guests on either side of the law in no particular order include Lauren Bacall(Farewell My Lovely & my favorite- ‘59 North West Frontier available from VCI on Bluray, a pre-Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner, Bo Hopkins- 4 times as Ben Cooper( The Wild Bunch & The Killer Elite 75), Rita Moreno( of West Side Story, she repeated her character several times), Simon Oakland(Vincenzo on The Night Stalker), Jackie Cooper(Superman The Movie-1978), Scott Brady(Gremlins ‘84 , as Shotgun Slade TV series 59–61), Robert Webber (Blake Edwards 1981 S.O.B.), Ned Beatty(Silver Steak & Deliverance), Marcia Strassman (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids), Mary Fran(’80s TV series Newhart)and even Jack Garner(Jim’s brother on the last season as Dennis’s superior officer). This does not scratch the surface…the list is almost endless. Just another reason to take a deep dive into the files of Jim Rockford.

Because for all it’s humorous dialog and James Garners’ wise cracks and witty banter as Rockford it only serves to remind us that it’s this type of persona that is a prerequisite to being able making it thru the day. Based on the seedy world of the private eye it helps having a good sense of humor. Compare it to Deadpool in the comics …known as the wisecracking merc, his gift of gab is the light in all the darkness of his world . It reminds us that it isn’t all fun and games and can be down right dangerous at times. Jim could make you laugh in one moment and wince the next as he was taking a punch or a fall trying to avoid ending up in the hospital and maintain his diligent perseverance, following all the clues in solving the case. Now during the course of his investigations there would often occur the hazards of the occupation. Many times Rockford was on the receiving end of right hooks, flailing fists and having to jump out of the way of a speeding car that was either bearing down on him whether inside or out of his car. And involved in car chases, crashes and explosions. All this for $200 plus expenses per day. Sometimes he didn’t even get the dues coming to him but Jim always made sure justice prevailed.

Above: some days it just was not about pretty girls and car chases…

Now Jim Rockford believed it was better to avoid any physical confrontation and always made the extra effort to do just that- brains over brawn. How ever when push came to shove, he could also dish it out too when there was no other option. James Garner to create that connection with the audience he did almost all his own stunts. Which means that he bore the scars and hurt both on screen and in real life. But he wanted it to be believable. That whatever you saw on screen was possible and it was him. That is what made the Rockford Files so popular. However that is not the only thing that made it so endearing to the fans that turned each and every week.

Some episodes did not involve Jim investigating someones background or a corporate business guilty of swindling customers/employees or even murder cases. One of my favorites has Howard Duff and Jo Van Ark as father and daughter con artists who are also Rockford’s very good friends. But Duff’s character has gotten greedy and actual runs a con on Jim that put’s him at risk of wearing “cement” galoshes. So Jim comes up with an elaborate con of his own to get back monies that were stolen from a high stakes poker game that Jim had participated in early on in the episode entitled There’s One in Every Port part of seasons 3. Other guest stars in this one are Steve Landesburg (Barney Miller) , Jack Riley (The Bob Newhart Show) and Kenneth Tobey (It Came From Beneath the Sea). The con revolves around the false sale of The Golden Star a freighter that may or may not be part of a “ghost” fleet. Liberian dual flag policy and Angel as Mr Greenleafs’ (Rockford in disguise) valet/servant who may have access to some privileged stock information.And what happens if the real Mr Greenleaf shows up? Makes for a very entertaining episode.

Occasionally Jim helps out fellow privates eyes. Once two of his friends in the biz were trying to get Rockford to split his $200.00 a day plus expenses by saying that he is now working for both of them since they agreed to be partners. Jim explains that they are both going to be billed the 200.00 plus. Lets say I was a doctor and that both of you were riding in the same car. And that was involved in an accident. That it resulted in the two of you receiving broken legs. Now you would not expect me to bill ya as if you both shared a leg…?

The Rockford Files had an array of incredible performers. Aside from James Garner, the show assembled some of the best character actors in Hollywood from both the past and the present day to fill out the recurring cast. These talented actors and actresses made up Jim’s friends, family and quirky sidekick/fellow private eyes. Starting with Noah Berry Jr who had appeared many B-Westerns in the 30’s and 40’s. He was much beloved by everyone else on the show. Noah played Rocky- Jims’ dad. Long before he was cast on the show he had received a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions in Television back in 1960.

Stuart Margolin as Angel who is Jim’s a good friend who tends to up to questionable gigs or shady stabs at employment. He is also another of the series regulars who was no stranger to the big screen and could play anything from a heavy (The Stone Killer starring Charles Bronson) to comic relief. He also was a talented director and did several of the Rockford Files episodes.

Joe Santos as Jim’s buddy on the police force, Dennis Becker. Who although him ad Jim are the best of friends. That friendship is tested time and time again as Dennis does considers Jim a pain in the neck and does not always take Jim’s side when it comes to Rockford’s methods or theories. But that is what makes for some witty banter and comical outcomes. Often it turns out that Rockford is right and makes the police look bad. Another reason that kept fans tuning in each week.

Another unique aspect of the Rockford Files was during it’s run over the six seasons there were some guest characters that were so well received by the network & the producers that they made more than one appearance as they were being considered for possible spin offs for their own shows … including Tom Selleck as Lance the mil, James Whitmore Jr as Freddie Beamer, Issac Hayes as Gandy and Lou Gossett Jr as Gabby.

The series was created by Stephen J Cannell(Castle and Roy Huggins(Maverick)..writers included Juanita Bartlett who worked on many of the scripts. Far too many to list otherwise.

  • **Trivia***

In fact one of the guest characters went as far as being a short lived 5 week replacement series in the spring -1978 and was introduced by Garner for the first episode letting everyone know that Rockford would return after the hiatus. The character of Richie Brockelman appeared on The Rockford Files in two movie length stories each aired in two part. One in 1978 and then again in the 1979 season.

Richie Brockelman, Private Eye March — April 1978

Starring Dennis Duggan( Director,actor,writer,artist and comedian) and he has directed some of Adam Sandlers’ most successful films including Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy & National Security(Martin Lawrence & Steve Zahn) as well episodes of Moonlighting -also appeared in The Howling & stared in the sci fi series Shadow Chasers(1984)..still active today

Some day maybe we may see a reboot of Rockford but til now we have thanks to Mill Creek Entertainment the entire series available now on Bluray/DVD. No extras but none needed . I love the packaging and the ad that appears above as the lead image above the title of the this piece is the ad that Jim Rockford ran in the papers and various other periodicals and the yellow pages. We are talking all 122 of the original 6 Season run on NBC. The show occupied the Friday night 9 pm slot from it’s premiere to the series finale. I was in my teens at the time and tuned in almost every week unless I was out with my friends. It was one of my comfort shows a go to for some fun and escapism. And it was also a favorite as well. This is the what the definition of TV worth preserving. A series that keeps on giving fun and fond memories after it has left the airwaves.

But now I don’t have to miss those Friday nights anymore and neither do you.

So I say be dangerous and Diabolik… but also stay safe out there! I‘ll “see” you next time for Reviews on the Edge here on Medium…Hey Rocky wait up! Tell Jim we are getting together for poker Thursday night and he needs a new tape for that answering machine. It sounded a little garbled…Oh and I just might need his services- one of my neighbors is feeding the squirrels again! Thanks Rocky.

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Chris Nersinger

Chris Nersinger

Was born the same year that DR. NO (1962) premiered. His first movie, viewed at age 3 was MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS(1958).