by Mary Elizabeth (Leach) Raines
© 2014, M. E. Raines
The death today of James Garner is a loss to our world, but definitely a boon to the world of spirit if you believe in an afterlife. Many people feel as though a good friend has died.
I was a Professional Background Actor (e.g., an Extra) on a TV show called "First Monday" with him where he played a conservative Supreme Court Justice. It was a stellar cast, but it only lasted one season, I believe. Garner, like Martin Sheen, was that very rare actor who didn't give a fig whether you were a producer or the janitor pushing a broom. In fact, both of them might prefer you a bit if you were the broom pusher.
The very first time I saw him, we were all seated on benches on the courtroom set, waiting excitedly for him to appear. The filming hadn't started yet. He made his entrance and swept down the aisles in his black robes, looking pompous and serious. Everyone was a little in awe. As he brushed past us, he said in a booming voice, "Please now open your hymnals to page 342."
When the director is giving instructions about the next scene on a TV show, everyone on the entire set, including cast and crew, is expected to be hushed and alert, and they are. TV is extremely disciplined in this matter; if you don't pay attention, you get axed. Jim is the only actor I ever saw who could get away with breaking that rule. As the director talked, he would be laughing and wiggling in his seat, joking boisterously throughout like a 13-year-old class clown. The exact moment, however, that they shouted, "Action," his face would instantly age, his demeanor would stiffen, and in a flash, he would be fully in character. It bowled me over. I have never, ever seen an actor who could shift into his part that easily and flawlessly.
James Garner and I never conversed, other than him offering me a grin and a "Hi, how are you," as I passed by when he was sitting outside one day taking a break. (I was only on two episodes.) His smile was warm and genuine. I felt as though the sun had broken through the clouds.
Some of the other justices in the cast included Joe Mantegna, Charles Durning, and Liz Torres. At that time, my ex-husband and Joe Mantegna were doppel-gangers. Every time Joe Mantegna walked past me, I had to suppress an overwhelming desire either to yell at him or to hug him.