Maverick returns to British TV

James Garner as Maverick

Great news for fans of Maverick, the 1950s TV series starring James Garner and Jack Kelly as Bret and Bart Maverick: it’s finally back on UK television, every day at 12.30 on TCM UK.

I say “fans” of Maverick but in reality I mean “those perhaps aware of the 1994 movie but who are unlikely to ever have seen an episode of the TV show as it hasn’t been shown here in decades,” but that’s a bit clunky.

I only noticed the repeat run after a bit of scrolling through the cable channels and a run through the TCM line-up, even though it’s not one I subscribe to. A quick email to TCM confirms that they have the rights to at least the first season, which debuted on US TV on 22 September, 1957. Although the website doesn’t make it clear where they’re up to, they will at some point be repeating the season again, going back to the first episode, The War of the Silver Kings.

I’ve been slowly making my way through the series on DVD (sadly, it’s not officially available anywhere, these are off-air copies) and this initial run is hugely enjoyable stuff, with Garner finding his feet straight away as the charming gambler travelling the old West and finding trouble in every town.

The series, created by Roy Huggins, who also gave us The Fugitive, was the first TV Western to add humour to its scripts, making it stand out from the glut of serious cowboy shows on American television.

Rather than start a fight, Maverick will try to talk his way out of a bad situation, looking after himself as much as possible. Sure, he’s a coward, but he’s a living coward, which beats being a dead one.

After a few episodes we’re also introduced to Bret’s brother, Bart, who’s up to the same game, only a few hundred miles down the road. Once in a while the Maverick’s team up to take on a particularly tricky foe, episodes such as The Wrecker and Trail West to Fury allowing Garner and Kelly to bounce off each other with the programmes trademark humour.

The latter episode also features a guest appearance by Dandy Jim Buckley (Efrem Zimbalist Jnr), one of many fellow con men encountered by the pair during their adventures.

Warner Bros stage 25The first few episodes are notable for the fact they were directed by Budd Boetticher, the famed B-movie Western director who reused many of the guest cast in his Randolph Scott collaborations, something I noticed while watching the Budd Boetticher Collection earlier in the year. The series isn’t just a series of one-liners, with a hefty dose of drama in amongst the humour and more than a few dead bodies.

The show would also go on to inspire the creation of The Rockford Files in the 1970s and Garner played the character of Maverick in a sequel series, Bret Maverick, as well as making an appearance in Richard Donner’s 1994 big screen version, with Mel Gibson making a decent addition to the Maverick clan.

In April 2011 I toured the Warner Bros set in Los Angeles, home to Maverick in the 1950s, and made a point of looking out for any signs of the show. If you enlarge the photo on the right you’ll find a mention, along with some of the distinguished films and series which were crafted on Stage 25.

Garner’s hat from the series is also on display in another part of the complex, but photos were banned

That’s a long way of saying that if you have TCM I’d recommend tuning in one of these days. Unlike today’s TV series there’s no arc or ongoing plot that you won’t understand if you miss an episode, just good, old-fashioned, entertainment that hasn’t dated too badly.

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James Garner brought to book in The Garner Files

It’s taken me a while to mention here that James Garner has finally agreed to publish his memoirs in November.

The Garner FilesSimon and Schuster announced the news in March that The Garner Files: A Memoir is being written by Garner and author Jon Winokur, with the actor noting that he’d avoided writing the book before now because he feels he’s “really pretty average”.

Garner went on to say “I’m still a little uncomfortable, but I finally agreed, because people I trust persuaded me people might be interested and because I realized it would allow me to acknowledge those who’ve helped me along the way. I talk about my childhood, try to clear up some misconceptions, and even settle a score or two”.

This is a book I thought we’d never see, a chance to hear first hand about the life and career of one of Hollywood’s finest leading men (I’d suggest the finest). I’m interested to hear more about his time on Maverick in the 1950s and about some of those legal cases which saw Garner taking various film studios to court.

Hopefully we’ll also get some insight into his own acting process and perhaps his theory as to why he was never quite on a par with Eastwood or McQueen when it came to starring roles.

I’ve pre-ordered my copy from Amazon.co.uk, though it seems to be the US edition. I’m not sure if a UK edition is in the pipeline and I’d welcome any news on the subject.

As an aside, I stumbled across this excellent new article which asks whether 2011 could see a reapappraisal for Garner, thanks to the release of the biography and a raft of new DVDs from Warner Archive.

STV celebrates its Hogmanay legacy on YouTube

rikki-fuklton-at-new-year

As the last few hours of 2010 ebb away and revellers around the globe prepare to enjoy New Year’s Eve, or Hogmanay as it’s known officially here in Scotland (it’s against the law to call it anything else – do so and you’re force-fed battered Mars Bars and cans of Irn Bru for the first week of the new year), I thought I’d share with you some examples of past celebrations from Scottish broadcaster, STV.

I’ve mentioned here before that for the past few months I’ve been working with the channel to bring some archive series to YouTube, and a few weeks ago I was able to witness some scenes of revelry from bygone eras as Hogmanay specials were liberated from the vaults and digitised.

The first programme available to watch in full comes from STV’s first year of service in 1957, as producer Rai Purdy and presenter Gordon Arnold give viewers “a wee peek” of the live broadcast from Glasgow Cross in A Guid New Year from Glasgow. Purdy, a newcomer to Scotland, offers an insight into what Hogmanay is all about while seemingly directing proceedings from the STV nerve centre in Glasgow’s Theatre Royal.

With a look back at news footage from 1957, music from the Phoenix Choir, interviews with members of the public, an appearance from comedy due Mike and Bernie Winters and a glimpse of a Glasgow tram, this is a fascinating glimpse of the past which it’s hard to believe still exists.

From 1957 we jump forward to 1978 for Out With the Old in With the New, a frankly astonishing disco-infused concoction hosted by former-Saint, Ian Ogilvy, who introduces us to some “wonderful Scottish girls” in the shape of Janet Brown, Beryl Reid, Amy MacDonald, Una McLean, Marie Gordon Price, Annie Ross, Molly Weir and the lovely Lulu. There are also appearances from Rikki Fulton and Johnny Vivian, the latter introduced in a rather unique way.

With a few comedy sketches (look out for Rikki Fulton at 23.45) and some song and dance routines which are so OTT that they make Strictly Come Dancing look like a dull weekend in Bognor, this is the sort of programme you knew probably existed but didn’t quite believe ever did.

It all ends with a mass dance number headed up by Molly Weir, with Ogilvy given a ribbing by a few of “the girls” for not being Roger Moore. Brilliant. No, really it is.

Moving onwards to 1983 and we’ve got a The New Year Show hosted by comedian Andy Cameron in front of a bemused audience. Kenneth McKellar, The Alexander Brothers and The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra are on hand for musical entertainment, all held together by Cameron’s jokes.

We’re on the set of STV show Thingummyjig for The New Year Show 1985 as Russ Abbott makes an appearance with a song which screams 1985 from every syllable. Allan Stewart tells a few gags while Lena Zavaroni and Sydney Devine are on hand for a few more songs. Abbott returns to close the show with a rendition of You Cannae Push Your Granny Off A Bus (yes, really) before the whole thing implodes and a nation weeps.

The three most interesting Hogmanay shows come in the shape of the 1990, 1991 and 1992 programmes. Clearly tired of the perception of Hogmanay as an excuse for fiddle music, STV took a new approach by creating mini dramas around the festivities, recruiting actor and writer Alex Norton for script duties.

Norton decided to go a bit meta for these, with 1990’s A Guid New Year opening on a traditional scene of wee Stewart Anderson performing from the Cowcaddens studios, before pulling back into the flat of old Granny McFaddyn where she’s enduring Hogmanay on her own.

Granny is then awoken by the arrival of actor James Macpherson (Taggart’s Mike Jardine) at her door, who invites her downstairs to a party attended by various STV celebrities of the day, including Mark McManus, Elaine C Smith, Forbes Masson, Johnny Beattie and The Corries. And Sydney Devine.

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James Garner on the Archive of American Television

Over the holiday season I’m catching up with some long overdue viewing, much of it on DVD but part of it online. For the past year I’ve had a website bookmarked, the Archive of American Television, specifically their interview with my favourite actor, James Garner, and the time has finally arrived to watch it.

The Archive was set up by the Television Academy Foundation in 1997 to house over 700 interviews with the pioneers of television, with over 2,500 hours now online. One of my aims in 2011 is to reach back into the murky past of television and cinema as much as possible, and this is a useful way to find out more about the background of some of my favourite series.

First up is James Garner, star of Maverick in the 1950s (which I recently began watching), The Rockford Files in the 1970s and various films such as The Great Escape, Support Your Local Sheriff and The Americanization of Emily. Recorded in March 1999, Garner talks for around three hours about his life and career, including his appearance alongside Marlon Brando in Sayonara which saw him selected for the role of Bret Maverick in 1957.

Garner also discusses his subsequent blacklisting in the TV industry when he chose to sue Warner Bros in the 1960s (the first of many times he would sue a Hollywood studio) and the strain of trying to produce The Rockford Files when his health deteriorated during production.

The actor is tough but fair about those he worked with, including Maverick creator Roy Huggins, noting that he enjoyed the role but not the treatment from Warner Bros, who paid him a pittance compared to their earnings from the hit Western.

If you have three hours to spare, take a look at the six-part interview and listen to one of our finest actors in conversation.

Next up for me is the interview with the late, great, Stephen J Cannell, the writer-producer-director who sadly died this year and whose work I plan to revisit in some detail in 2011.

James Garner in 1961’s Angel

Looking out for your favourite actor in an unfamiliar setting is nothing new, the chance to see them in a role other than their hit TV show or film usually a welcome one.

The downside to being a fan of actors who enjoyed much of their fame in the 1950s, 60s or 70s, on TV and at the cinema, is that trying to track down their various TV movie exploits or guest appearances on other series can be tricky. Thanks goodness then for YouTube.

While carrying out a periodic search for new James Garner and Robert Culp clips (we all do that, right?) I stumbled upon an episode of a US comedy called Angel from 1961, starring French-born American actress Annie Fargé as the lead character.

With its title sequence looking like a dry run for Bewitched, which wouldn’t air for another four years, this short-lived CBS comedy from the creator of I Love Lucy found Fargé playing a heavily accented French woman, who now lives in America with husband Marshall Thompson. Hilarious escapades follow Angel as she battles with American culture, while the series keeps cutting away to commercial breaks, which even the actors are forced to take part in.

There’s not much to recommend about Angel, even though TIME Magazine went for Fargé in a big way, claiming she was the “brightest newcomer to comedy.”

The reason I mention the programme at all is that the February 23 episode, The French Lesson, features James Garner, playing himself. Garner needs to learn some lines of French for his new role, and Angel is recommended to him. His arrival turns Angel’s head, and she soon begins to think she too can become a famous actor, changing from meek housewife to glamourous wannabe in the space of 15 minutes.

Garner, who had recently left Maverick but who had a number of film roles to his name, fits in perfectly to the set-up, his effortless style well suited to the sitcom role. This must have been an easy pay cheque for Jim, as there’s nothing particularly taxing about the role, he gets a few decent lines and it’s all over before it even began. Had he not decided to settle on a movie career, I suspect a role in a weekly sitcom would have suited him, something he did finally manage to do 40 years later, when he arrived in Eight Simple Rules as the grandad.

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