All you need to know about The Rockford Files is right here:
The iconic opening with the answering machine.
The theme song you always heard on AM radio in the 70’s.
The sport coats.
That gold Pontiac Firebird Esprit.
The greatness that was Rockford’s father, Rocky.
That awesome single wide trailer parked right on the PCH.
In honor of James Garner releasing his memoirs today (The Garner Files), I thought I’d write this little homage to one of the greatest detective shows to come out of the 70’s.
Yes, we’re talkin’ The Rockford Files, written by Roy Huggins, who’d created Garner’s earlier and equally immortal series, Maverick, and Stephen J. Cannell, who wrote just everything in the 70’s (Baretta, Black Sheep Squadron, some Columbo and would also go on to write The Greatest American Hero, Riptide, and the A-Team in the 80’s). In fact, between 1974 and 1980, The Rockford Files was one of the highest rated shows on TV. Probably would be THE highest rated, if not for Columbo. (Sorry, James.) This greatness was not due only to the writing, which as I mentioned was superb, but also to James Garner’s fantastic portrayal of Jim Rockford, the brooding and moody, worn-at-the-cuffs private detective with the huge heart. Yeah, Rockford wanted to be tough, and he was (taking down that huge muscle-bound baddie in the first episode, Backlash of the Hunter, with nothing but a roll of quarters and some street smarts showed his grit and his brains), but he also cared, and in a way very different from other TV cops of that decade.
Yeah, sure, Baretta cared, but he was a real class warrior about it all. Starsky and Hutch? Well, not so much. I mean, Hutch had a good heart, sure, and Starsky DID once rescue his High School sweetheart who’d become a skid room bum, but after that this creek runs sadly dry. There were some cops on the iconic Police Story (a show you’ll be hearing more about from me, believe it) that were portrayed as caring and having something going on inside, but none of them came close to how Rockford was portrayed. He cared about the down-and-out and those that had nowhere else to turn. He was also sort of a Robin Hood, in his way. He didn’t take from the rich to give to the poor, of course, but man… he put away the rich in order to make sure the poor had some damn justice. And that counts, right?
I remember NEVER missing an episode as a kid. How could anyone, right? What with the show rocking as hard as it did? Rockford had that car, his own very cool, dilapidated pad, and a father he obviously loved and that obviously loved him back. I of course, being nine or ten, I didn’t have the first two, but I also unfortunately didn’t have the third one, either. I believe that’s why the father/son relationship (the father, Rocky, btw, was played to perfection by Noah Beery, Jr.) in The Rockford Files resonated with me so deeply as a kid. It’s also this relationship that set The Rockford Files apart from the other cop shows on TV at the time.
Man, how I wanted to grow up to be Rockford!
As an aside, did you know that Garner did his own stunt driving in the show? It was he that pulled off what was called the “J Turn”, or “Rockford”; that famous turn-around at high speed they teach secret service drivers.
He influenced me so much as a kid, all I could dream about was living on the PCH in a single wide trailer. I told my mother that once, after watching the episode titled The Easy Red Dog, and she practically washed my mouth out with soap (we were VERY middle-class, living what was, at the time, the VERY middle-class bastion of Chatsworth, CA, before it got taken over by the porn industry).
Anyway . . . The episodes are streaming so you can “watch instantly.” Have at at them, my friends! And if you’ve been missing that unmistakable song, you can find it right here.
Robert Lewis grew up under the pier at Venice Beach, CA. There, by firelight, he would entertain the stray dogs with weird and wonderful tales. He’s still telling stories, but now he lives in a place with walls, a roof, and cases of red wine. Crime fiction and blues guitar are his things. He blogs over at NeedleCity, and twits sporadically and nonsensically as @robertklewis.