Trading heavily on the genially infectious natural charisma and star quality of its leading actor, the ever excellent James Garner (born James Baumgarner, the winner of two Purple Hearts in the Korean War), The Rockford Files quickly established itself as one of US television's most popular entries in the firmly established and perennially popular private eye sub genre.
Roy Huggins, who had earlier created the hugely influential running man series The
Fugitive and the western series Maverick, (also with Garner in the lead role), and
prolific writer/producer Stephen J. Cannell. In the pilot episode, the viewing public was
introduced to Jim Rockford, a private detective who had served time for a crime which he hadn't
committed, but who had been eventually cleared when new evidence of his innocence had come to
light. Living and working out of his beachfront trailer home in the Los Angeles area, and charging
$200 per day plus expenses, Rockford's speciality, one which didn't particularly endear him to the
police, was taking on cases marked as satisfactorily closed, and unearthing new evidence which
would bring the true culprit to justice. Jim Rockford was ably supported by his ex truck driver
father, Joseph "Rocky" Rockford, Det Sgt. Dennis Becker, Jim's long time friend in the LAPD who
was continually torn between his friendship to the ex con and his duty as a police officer, and
Evelyn "Angel" Martin, Rockford's devious, forever on the make, but likeable former cell mate.
Another questionable associate was Bo Hopkins, a disgraced former lawyer whose ties to the
Corporation for Legal Research often proved useful. There was also tough guy Gandy Fitch (played
by Issac Hayes) and rounding out the core character set was Jim's on-off girl-friend, attorney
Beth Davenport who could always be counted on to bail him out following his frequent brushes with
The show's writers clearly had a lot of fun during the course of the series by utilising a variety of plots and story devices which enabled them to exploit and showcase Garner's understatedly innate sense of comedic timing to the fullest. These included such private eye staples as Jim impersonating others in order to gain information, a variety of amusingly cheap disguises, the obligatory acts of petty bribery and shameless eavesdropping. But at the end of the day it was always clear that it was the detective's sharp powers of reasoning and persistent hard work that ultimately solved the case.
Another aspect that added a very human appeal to the character was his all to believable aversion to violence. Rockford was no superhero. He frequently he got beaten up, suffered damage to his car, and actually got seriously injured on more than one occasion. During the final season a further element of humour was added to the ingredients by having him display open jealousy and resentment for the newly introduced character of fellow private investigator Lance White (a pre Magnum, P.I. Tom Selleck), who, apart from being handsome, seemed to possess an intuitive grasp of a case's complexities as well as the good luck to have everything fall into his lap without undue effort.
The series final season caused a wholly unexpected disappointment to the show's world-wide legion of admirers, when it was cut short due to star Garner's shock announcement that a combination of boredom with the role and a number of long standing injuries had led to his decision to abruptly quit the show. Garner would revisit the Rockford character in three well received TV movies during the 1990's, while the instantly recognisable theme music from the series composed by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter made the US music charts in mid 1975.
Published on January 25th, 2019. Written by SRH (2000) for Television Heaven.