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SEPTEMBER 2019

Will and Babs Hutchins with James Garner.The last time I saw Jim Garner was on the “Maverick” movie set in ‘94. Worked three weeks, enough for a swell Christmas. Babs was aboard with me every day on the gambling boat. In high school, she wrote in her yearbook, “I love horses and ‘Maverick’.” First day, sippin’ mocha java in the make-up room, enter Jim singing “Good Morning, Breakfast Clubbers, it’s good to see ya.” He greeted us with bear hugs. If Babs had worn bobby sox, she’d a’ swooned. Jim was the defacto host of a host of TV cowpokes in the scene. You’ve heard of the face on the barroom floor. Well, I’m the face on the cutting room floor in this puppy. I have a publicity still—in the foreground the stars are seated at a big round poker table. If you search, real hard, you can just see me, in the crowd, wayyy in the background. I made copies. I write, “Where’s Waldo?”

Jim told me it cost him 75 Gs to get out of his contract, back when Warden J. L. Warner ran his honor ranch. Jim went on to sue Universal for money owed him on “The Rockford Files”. He won, setting a precedent that an actor would not necessarily be blackballed for demanding his just due. Jim’s legacy is on film and in the lawbooks. Conversely, when Ronald Reagan was president of Screen Actors Guild, he was also producer of his TV show, “G. E. Theatre”. Rather a conflict of interests, wouldn’t you say? Ol’ Ronnie saw fit to oversee a ruling that no actor would be paid TV residuals for work done before 1960. Ouch! Cried a whole lotta folks of the acting persuasion. They termed it ‘The Great Giveaway.’ Bob Hope spoke for them when he said, “The pictures were sold down the river. I made something like 60 pictures, and they are running on TV all over the world. Who’s getting the money for that? The Studios. Why aren’t we getting some money?” One SAG member said, “We spent 20 years correcting the Reagan contract.”

On the day after Jim died, I received a residual check for “Maverick” (the movie) totaling $3.09, after taxes. Reckon it was Jimbo Garner’s way of saying adios.

Jimbo was a raconteur par excellence. Here’s one of his nifties: Bluebeard the pirate retired and moved from his ship into a seaside shanty. He’s now Graybeard, and each morning, after a flagon o’grog at the Wistful Walrus Pub, he sits on the park bench, feeds the pigeons, and regales the town kiddies and their nannies with fish stories. “How’d you get your peg leg?” asked little Rollo. “Aye, lad, gather ye ‘round. 20 years ago it was—Ahoy! A Spanish galleon on the port side! Filled with gold and jewels, no doubt. Raise the Jolly Roger, m’hearties, and fire a shot across their bow. Boom! Boom! Well, me lad, they fired back and the battle was astir. Cannon smoke was thicker than pea soup. All we could see was powder flashes. Barooom! A cannonball flew at me and tore off me leg below me knee. I tied me bandana around me stump to stanch the bloody blood. With me sabre I cut off the end of an oar and attached it to me leg with a hank o’rope.” “Why the hook instead of a hand, captain?” asked pretty Hortensia, shyly. “Listen, lass, I yelled to me mates, ‘When we make our haul, rum for all! Yo, ho, ho and here we go!’ All ye could hear was the clang of swords. Ya! Ya! Ya! I speared me three caballeros, and the fourth caballero speared me! He bloody well sliced off my hand with one mighty whoosh! Frigate! I howled. He didn’t even ask if he could cut in. So I jammed a twisted dirk into me arm’s spouting hole and continued slashing and gashing with me left hand.” Graybeard’s parrot Squawked, “Eyepatch! Eyepatch!” “Pipe down, me fine feathered fiend or comes parboiled parrot for supper! Oh, all right, I’ll tell ye about me eye patch. ‘Twas three nights later on deck. The Spaniards had sailed away sans swag. The Moon was brighter than all the stars! The sea was calm. The breeze smelled like the spice Islands. We all sang a chantey. Cook danced the hornpipe. Just then, a seagull hovered above me. I looked up at him with a twinkle. He answered with a tinkle into me eye. RRRRRR! I forgot I had no hand! I swiped at me eye with me hook!”

Dick Jones.The last time I saw Dick Jones was at a Memphest a few years ago. We had a raucous time re-creating a Cisco Kid radio show. Jan Shepard played the designated lady fair, Ty Hardin was the baddie, Boyd Magers was Pancho, and was I Cisco? Si! For my pesos, Dick Jones stole the show with his deadpan, steely-eyed, no nonsense sheriff. To me, he and Jocko Mahoney thrilled TV audiences in “Range Rider” with the best dadgummed horsemanship I ever did see. Here’s Bill Ruehlmann’s take on Dick Jones, Bill’s my pard o’ the pen, Prof. Emeritus of English and Creative Writing at Virginia Wesleyan College. Bill, if you will: “Dick was a cranky man of whom I was very fond. The secret to getting a smile out of him was not to let him intimidate you. A natural athlete, he was short and used his temper to even the odds. A great and good man, and a wonderful talent.”

Robin Williams.I never met the late Robin Williams, but I met his mentor Jonathan Winters, sorta. He lived in Toluca Lake. He was wont to don a sea captain’s cap and walk about town, dropping in at shops along the way. Babs worked at the local knit shop. Her boss hated it when he fell by, disrupting the knitters with his improvs. He’d talk to an empty chair, ala Clint Eastwood, creating a real character in his mind, ala Harvey the Rabbit. Babs told him of our love for him. Whaddya know? RRRing. I picked up the phone. Jonathan Winters was on the line! Gulp. Never no mind. He did all the talking, and I basked in his genius. Immediately, he was a used-car salesman, spieling to sell me a clunker. I treasure the memory.

Another great clown, Charlie Chaplin wrote, “Smile, though your heart is aching, smile, even though it’s breaking.” Robin Williams did that. He made us smile, all the while thinking, “To be or not to be.” Robin always had that SMILE. Did he keep his portrait in the attic? A portrait of a man down, down, down in the deepest dungeon of depression? Robin, we’ll never forgive you for leaving us behind, too soon, too soon, too soon. Omar Khayyam captures Robin’s plight in his Rubaiyat: “I sent my soul through the invisible, some letters of that after-life to spell. And by and by my soul return’d to me, and answered: I myself am Heav’n and Hell.” Jim, Dick, Robin, see y’all ‘round the campfire.

 

                                        —Adios