With witty storylines, believable dialogue, unique characters, and a detective that broke all the clichés, The Rockford Files is a superb series that never disappoints. Every episode, along with all of the movies, stays true to the characters and the intelligence of the viewer.
The Rockford Files won five Emmys, including Best Actor (James Garner) and Best Dramatic Series. It is one of my favorite series of all time.
Private detective Jim Rockford, played by James Garner, lives in a ratty-looking trailer and often has bill collectors calling. In recent decades it seems that any character living modestly is usually depicted as a stupid, vulgar buffoon: not James Rockford. He has integrity, good manners and good values. He’s intelligent and introspective, and while he likes money, it doesn’t rule his life. He keeps his gun in a cookie jar and has no hesitation about quitting a job when it gets rough. Yet, he also has a soft heart for people in trouble and is steadfastly loyal to his friends.
This is a detective series that is about the detecting. It is con games, twisting plots, and psychological interplays. This is not a procedural or murder-based discovery. There are many episodes where no murder takes place. It is simply outstanding writing and superb acting with a great cast of regular and recurring characters and special guests like Tom Selleck, Isaac Hayes, Stefanie Powers, Linda Evans, Suzanne Somers, and Joan Van Ark.
The series had six seasons running from 1974 to 1980, and then several movies in the 1990s.
Here’s a walk through some of my favorite episodes, although I must pause to say again that every episode is outstanding!
Find Me If You Can features guest star Joan Van Ark. In this episode, Barbara Kelbaker, played by Van Ark, hires Rockford to find her. She refuses to give her real name or explain why she is hiring him for this strange request.
In Pursuit of Carol Thorne, elderly parents of Cliff Hoad hire Rockford to tail Carole Thorne, a recently paroled convict who was once Cliff’s girlfriend. Rockford soon learns that Cliff was involved with others in a $1.2 million robbery.
In Aura Lee, Farewell, Lindsay Wagner plays Sara Butler, the owner of a chic boutique. Sara hires Rockford to prove that her friend and employee, Aura Lee did not commit suicide but was murdered. A high-profile state senator, blackmail, a fatal hit and run accident, and a drug pusher all contribute to mixing up the plot.
The Aaron Ironwood School of Success , Aaron Ironwood returns for a visit. While he appears to be a symbol of amazing success and wealth, appearances are deceiving. After Rockford agrees to take control of Aaron’s business temporarily, he finds that he is now entangled with the mob and federal agents who both want Aaron.
Stefanie Powers guest stars in The Real Easy Red Dog. Powers plays a detective who cons Rockford into being a decoy so she can complete a different case that she is working on. To do this, she takes the first story she sees in the paper (a suicide by a rich woman), and makes up a phony story about not believing that her rich sister committed suicide. The trouble is that after Rockford takes the bait, he discovers that perhaps the suicide really was a murder.
Rockford’s friend, stewardess Lori Jenevein becomes the target of a hit man in The Fourth Man when she innocently remembers that he has taken several of her flights. But, how does Rockford protect himself and Lori while also finding the evidence to prove that the respectable coin collector leads a double life of contract killing?
In Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones, but Waterbury Will Bury You, one of the largest detective agencies in the world, Waterbury Security Systems, removes the competition by all means necessary. When Rockford’s private eye friends are found either dead or having their licenses revoked, they all join forces to try to uncover what is happening and how to stop it.
In Beamer’s Last Case, Rockford’s mechanic Freddie Beamer dreams of being a detective and when he realizes Rockford is on vacation decides to assume his identity and start solving cases. When Jim returns he finds thousands of dollars of invoiced “detecting” items, promises made by Beamer pretending to be Rockford, and other messes that threaten them both.
Quickie Nirvana is a brilliant mix of humor, drama and social satire. Rockford befriends flaky, perpetual soul-searcher Sky Aquarian. Sky fails to deliver a package, and soon finds herself in trouble. She didn’t realize the package contained $30,000 in hush money. When Rockford tries to help her and return the money, they discover it has been stolen.
The House on Willis Avenue is a two-part episode where the young private investigator Richie Brockelman enlists the help of Rockford to find out the circumstances surrounding the accidental death of their mentor. As Richie and Jim investigate, they uncover a connection with a national computer network capable of providing access to personal information on over 250 million Americans.
Before there was Magnum P.I., there was Lance White. Tom Selleck plays the perfect private investigator, and I do mean perfect. Lance White cannot do anything wrong. While things often turn out badly for Jim Rockford, Lance White walks on water. The women love him, the police love him, his ethics are impeccable, and no matter what he does, things always seem to “work out”. Rockford and White are perfect opposites who brilliantly play off each other in two essential episodes, White on White and Nearly Perfect, and Nice Guys Finish Dead (which also features the return of our friend Beamer).
Lions, Tigers, Monkeys and Dogs is another two-part episode and features one of my favorite actresses of all time, Lauren Bacall. Bacall is unforgettable as Kendall Warren, a close friend of elegant Princess Irene and someone who knows how to live richly without having much money of her own. The two make a great team as they unravel who is trying to hurt Kendall and why.
Tonight, grab an Oreo (Rockford’s favorite cookie) and enjoy the witty plots and superb performances of The Rockford Files. And, after you’ve watched some Rockford, pick up James Garner’s superb autobiography, The Garner Files. A book that I highly recommend! To learn more about James Garner, read by blog entitled The Garner Files posted back in July of 2012.
Ann Marie is the Library Director for the Oliver Wolcott Library.