James Garner Talks Getting High with Belushi and Punching Stepmother

A few years ago, I found myself in Hollywood trying to pitch a new version of the Rockford Files to the series creator, the late Stephen J. Cannell. Cannell was witty and easy going, great giving time to me and my buddy, novelist Scott Morris. Cannell wasn’t all that enthused about a Rockford Files show that was in the works at the time and we talked about revisiting the issue. He also invited me to have lunch with him and Jim Garner on my next trip to Los Angeles.
Cannell died a short time later of cancer. Cannell was so funny and larger than life, he never let on a moment that he was ill.
I doubt I’ll ever have that chance to meet with Garner now — one of my favorite all-time actors. From Maverick to Rockford to The Great Escape and even forgotten gems like Support Your Local Sheriff and Skin Game, no one could beat Garner for screen presence and sly wit. I think I borrowed a lot of his delivery in the creation of Nick Travers.
But now it looks like I’ll be able to read the next best thing. Last week, Garner published his biography with all kind of great details about Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson. Not to mention coming to blows with his stepmother in Depression-era Oklahoma and getting high with Jim Belushi. Maybe in a later post, I can tell the story of how a studio head nearly ruined the Rockford Files by not wanting Garner in the lead.

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