When James Garner, aka Brett Maverick and Jim Rockford, died over the weekend, something inside of me died. I think it was another chunk of my childhood.
Never mind that I haven’t been a child for more than 55 years. My past is still inside of me, and every now and then, episodes run through my mind like a Super 8 movie.
I used to write to movie and television stars to get autographed photos. Garner was the first guy I wrote to, back in 1959. I still have all those photos in a vertical file.
“Maverick,” his long-running western TV series about a roving gambler with a sense of humor, introduced me to the man. I swooned over him every week, and rarely missed an episode. Once I disobeyed my parents and they refused to let me watch it that week. The episode was one I had really looked forward to, entitled, “The Day They Hanged Brett Maverick.” They didn’t, of course, and I got to watch most of it with the folks next door while mom and dad were away.
The sense of humor his characters displayed must have been more than a stage persona. I recall seeing him on a late night variety show when the host asked him how his marriage had lasted so long (58 years at time of death at 86). He didn’t miss a beat. “Yes, dear,” was his quick-witted reply.
With an increasing pace, my childhood heros are disappearing from this earthly scene. All of them are either six feet under, or have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. In 2011, James Arness, the tall, lanky sheriff on “Gunsmoke” for 20 years, died at 88. In 2010, we lost Fess Parker, 85, TV’s “Davy Crockett” and “Daniel Boone.” Leslie Nielsen, 84, also died in 2010. I interviewed him at a Cerebral Palsy telethon in Birmingham when his early-Sixties TV series, “The New Breed,” was popular. When I wrote to him afterward, he replied with a hand-written note on the back of a photo card. I got the autograph of Steve McQueen (“Wanted: Dead or Alive”) at another CP telethon.
My photo collection includes Eric Fleming (“Rawhide”), Richard Boone (“Have Gun, Will Travel”), Michael Landon (“Bonanza”) and Guy Williams (“Zorro”). I saw Williams at the Melba Theater in Birmingham. I lived across the street from the theater manager, who got me an autographed photo.
Remember Duncan Renaldo, aka “The Cisco Kid?” I met him at a Birmingham shopping mall in the 1950s. For many years, whenever I’d be in a group playing, “Guess Who Said This,” I’d write down, “I was once kissed by the Cisco Kid.” I credit his series with starting my lifelong interest in the Spanish language and culture.
Can anybody besides me recall Scott Brady of “Shotgun Slade,” Don Durant and Mark Goddard on “Johnny Ringo,” Allen Case of “The Deputy,” Rory Calhoun of “The Texan,” Hugh O’Brien as “Wyatt Earp,” or Clint Walker, the hunky “Cheyenne?”David Hedison from “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” George Nader of “The Man and the Challenge,” Robert Reed from “The Defenders” and “The Brady Bunch,” John Bromfield of “U.S. Marshall,” Craig Hill of “Whirlybirds,” David Frost of “That Was The Week That Was” and movie actors Laurence Harvey and Audie Murphy also have slots in my files.
All are dead except Goddard, 77, Hedison and Walker, 87, and O’Brien, 89.
My childhood is slipping away, one hero at a time.