Certain actors are synonymous with the cowboy lifestyle. There’s John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Roy Rogers, etc. But rarely does James Garner get a mention. Maybe it’s because Garner had such a lengthy career with roles in such diverse projects as The Rockford Files, The Great Escape, and even The Notebook. But Garner truly was one of Hollywood’s best cowboys, and here are three big reasons why.
1. He Had Charisma
When James Garner walks into a scene, you just can’t help but keep your eyes glued to him. Few actors of his generation, or any generation for that matter, had the presence that Garner possessed. Even as the private eye Jim Rockford, broke and disheveled as he was, Garner still seemed like he’d always solve the case. That skill translated brilliantly to Westerns as well, as seen in his long-running role as Bret Maverick on the series Maverick. A poker-playing cad who was a far cry from the typical tough-guy cowboy of the day, you still always felt that Maverick’s charms would get him out of whatever trouble he got into.
2. He Took Chances
As evidenced by his role in Maverick, where he was the “Second Slowest Gun in the West,” Garner wasn’t afraid to play an atypical cowboy. While many actors of the mid-century would have been concerned about preserving their masculine image, Garner seemed to love to subvert the genre. There is perhaps no better example of this than his role in Support Your Local Sheriff. The 1969 screwball comedy Western was considered a risky venture but proved to be a hit, thanks largely to Garner’s natural comedic talent — a rarity for a Western actor. Garner also wasn’t afraid to blaze trails when it came to race relations in the genre, sharing top billing with the legendary Sidney Poitier in 1966’s Duel at Diablo, a film which saw both men emerge as equal heroes.
3. He Looked the Part
While Garner liked to play unorthodox cowboys, he never once looked out of place. That’s because the guy just oozed cowboy. Garner could be a man’s man when he wanted to be, and his square jaw, rugged features, and kind but weathered eyes told you this was a guy who was just as capable of throwing a man through a window in a bar fight as he was to save a brothel madam from being robbed. Movie cowboys tend to wear a lot of hats (no pun intended), and Garner always looked ready and willing to take on whatever came up with the sun.
You can see James Garner at his Cowboy best all October-long on CHARGE! with airings of Duel at Diablo, Support Your Local Sheriff!, and Support Your Local Gunfighter. Check your local listings on our schedule here.