Jim Rockford
Created By Roy Huggins And Stephen J. Cannell

"This is Jim Rockford. At the tone, leave your name and number. I'll get back to you..."

So began each weekly episode of The Rockford Files, certainly the best private eye series to ever grace the television screen, and arguably one of the greatest private eyes of all time. In fact, by the time CBS was promoting one of the made-for-television movies, ol' Jimbo was being called "America's favorite private eye." Not bad for a guy who would probably still rather go fishing.

Just as co-creator Roy Huggins fooled around with the conventions of the western genre in his classic TVseries Maverick, so did he wreak havoc on the P.I. genre with The Rockford Files Where other gumshoes were courageous loners fighting for justice and honour, obsessed with discovering the truth, JIM ROCKFORD was a semi-cowardly con artist with a gift for gab who would rather go fishing. And he was always being nagged by his father to get a real job. He kept his gun in a cookie jar ("I don't shoot it, I just point it").

He kept a small press in the backseat of his car to print instant business cards to go with his numerous aliases and scams. He lived in a house trailer on the beach, first at 2354 Pacific Coast Highway in LA, and later at 29 Cove Road in Malibu (and thus set the precedent for "cute' living arrangements for TV eyes -- blame Magnum's mansion and Spenser's firehouse on him)). He was a Korean War vet who'd served five years of a twenty year sentence at San Quentin, before the discovery of new evidence earned him a full pardon. Upon his release, he set up shop as a P.I., originally only taking cases the police had given up on.

But what really set Rockford apart was his large circle of friends and associates, each as finely etched and endearing as Rockford was. They weren't a bunch of only-on-television self-consciously quirky "types" -- they were real people whose eccentricities were an offshoot of their characters, not a add-on dreamed up by a committee.

Jim and RockyOf course, there was his dad, Rocky, a crusty semi-retired trucker, always worrying. The warm relationship between father and son was one of the foundations of the show, and has become a running theme through many of Cannell's later series.

Jim's lawyer, and on again/off again love interest Beth Davenport appeared for the first four seasons, offering Jim advice and, often, cases he would have run screaming from had she not been there to cajole him.

Constantly beleagured LAPD Sergeant (later Lieutenant) Dennis Becker was the mandatory police contact, but his friendship with Jim was more than a token, never-seen allusion. There was no doubt they were friends, arguing, fighting, but ultimately true pals. Actor Joe Santos has since appeared in about a million movies and TV shows, almost always as a cop, it seems.

And then there's Angel, Jim's former cellmate, always on the con, constantly scheming, looking for the perpetual big score which inevitably blows up in his face, played to weasel-like perfection by Stuart Margolin. Cowardly (he makes Jim look like Hercules), venal, selfish, without any redeeming qualities to speak of except, perhaps, his overpowering drive to survive, a suckerfish trying to swim with the sharks, Jim nonetheless remains loyal to him throughout the series. Margolin, a talented actor/director, lurked around Hollywood for a few years after Rockford finished, but after eventually pulled up stakes and moved to British Columbia, where he went on to star in another memorable -- if far less successful -- private eye series, the CBC's Mom P.I..

But Angel wasn't the only friend Rockford remained loyal to throughout the series: Isaac Hayes, for example, appeared three times as tough-talking and hot-tempered Gandolph Fitch, the one-time "Hammer of C Block," who never could get Rockford's name right; John, former outlaw biker turned criminal lawyer, who replaced Beth as Jim's lawyer and Meghan, a blind psychologist, fiercely independant, and, it seemed for a while, Jim's one true love.

Another notable recurring guest was streetwise hooker Rita Capkovic, determine to go straight, who came to Rockford for help three times. Actress Rita Moreno won an Emmy for the character's first appearance, "The Paper Palace" (Jan. 20, 1978).

As well, a goodly number of fellow private eyes, each one of them stranger than the last, kept crossing Rockford's path. As Huggins' MAVERICK had done for the classic western, The Rockford Files regularly turned and twisted the conventions of the PI story back upon themselves to point up some of the absurdities behind the genre's assumptions. These guest investigators were ideal for just that purpose.

The most prominent of this bunch was Richie Brockelman, played by Dennis Dugan. Brockelman was an eager novice investigator and the character actually took over the Rockford time slot for his own five-episode series in the spring of 1978. That show wasn't strictly a Rockford spin-off, however, since Richie was first introduced in a 1976 two-hour movie. His first appearance on The Rockford Files, "The House on Willis Avenue" (February 24, 1978), was primarily intended to build an audience for the Richie Brockelman, Private Eye series. Obviously, that didn't work out, but Brockelman returned for a second appearance, "Never Send a Boy King To Do a Man's Job" (March 3, 1979).

But the most memorable P.I. to visit the show was undoubtedly Lance White, the rich, elegant, and flawless male model private eye; the walking cliche who drove Rockford crazy. White debuted in "White on White and Nearly Perfect" (Oct. 20, 1978) and made a comeback in "Nice Guys Finish Dead" (Nov. 16, 1979). This latter took place at a private eyes' awards dinner, and is a real hoot. The relatively unknown actor who did such a fine comic turn as White proved to have a future in the TV PI business-- his name was Tom Selleck. He starred in MAGNUM P.I., a show that owed more than a little to The Rockford Files, although it's always seemed to me that Thomas Magnum was essentially Lance White without the wink.

The Rockford Files wasn't perfect, mind you. The plots often centered around intricate conspiracies and were often just too damned convoluted and confusing to be satisfactorily resolved within an hour-long TV program, resulting in some occasionally jaw-dropping, head-spinning wrap-ups. And other shows were padded out by a few too many car chases. Still, it should be said that even the occasional wham-bam endings and car chases were typically clever and well-done, a definite cut above the rest. And hey, it's better to reach high and fail than to succeed at being mediocre, and if James Garner liked cars and wanted car chases, well, that seemed like a small price to pay in exchange for arguably the best private eye series to ever air.

THE RETURN OF ROCKFORD

In 1995, CBS brought back Rockford in a string of eight made-for-television movies that managed to capture much of the charm, if not the energy, of the original series. Alas, Noah Beery Jr., who played Jim's caring, overly-protective truck-driver dad, Rocky, was missing, having passed away before production began. In fact, the first, 1994's I Still Love L.A., was dedicated to his memory, a decidedly classy touch.

Then again, Rockford has always had his priorities straight. The simple pleasures of friendship and family are what he has always been about. Oh and a little fishing. By the time Rockford was revived in the nineties, James Garner was getting a tad long in the tooth. But, to their credit, the writers and directors never let us forget it. In each of the films, the passage of time became a major plot hook. The past always came calling, usually in the guise of old pals in trouble, and Rockford, with an exasperated sigh, a grimace and a grunt, would once more try to help them out.

This was honest television, done with sensitivity and style. Rockford was upfront about his age, and his limitations. And with so many great actors reprising their original roles, there was a warm sense of homecoming about the whole affair. Over the course of the films, we caught up with most of the old crew: Dennis, Rita, Beth, and of course, Angel. No surprise, I guess: loyalty means something to Rockford.
The Rockford movies may also have been the first time we've seen an elderly version of a private eye we already knew and loved. Fortunately, our memories of the original show were treated with dignity and respect, a true rarity when it comes to TV "revivals." A true class act.

In 1996, Forge published The Green Bottle, an original Rockford novel, set in the nineties, by Stuart Kaminsky, author of the Toby Peters series. An admirable job, Kaminsky pulls it off admirably, allowing us to get into Jim's head, through first person narration. Turns out Rockford is as appealing a character inside, cranky but easy-going, as he is outside. A follow-up novel, Devil On My Doorstep, was released in 1998.

Huggins also created private eye Stuart Bailey, whom he later adapted for television in 77 Sunset Strip. His protege, Stephen J. Cannell went on to create/produce Tenspeed and Brownshoe, Sonny Spoon, City of Angels, 21 Jump Street, Riptide, Hardcastle and McCormick, etc., etc., etc.

FROM THE PEANUT GALLERY

  • "The Rockford Files was the perfect example of how to do funny and do it right. A combination of the right actor and the right approach."
    -- Ted Fitzgerald

THE EVIDENCE

  • "Does your mother know what you do for a living?"
    -- Jim to thug, a line he lifted from his appearancer in Marlowe, based on Chandler's The Little Sister.

TELEVISION

......

.........

  • THE ROCKFORD FILES: BACKLASH OF THE HUNTER....Buy this video
    (also available on Season Two DVD collection)

    Two-hour pilot
    Premiere: March 27, 1974
    Written by Stephen J. Cannell, from a story by John Thomas James
    Directed by
    Richard T. Heffron
    Producer:
    Stephen J. Cannell
    Executive Producer:
    Jo Swerling Jr.
    Music: Mike Post and Pete Carpenter
    Starring James Garner as JIM ROCKFORD
    with Robert Donley as Joseph "Rocky" Rockford
    Stuart Margolin as Angel
    and Joe Santos as Sergeant Dennis Becker
    Also starring
    Lindsay Wagner, William Smith, Pat Renella, Bill Mumy, Mike Steele, Michael Lerner

  • THE ROCKFORD FILES
    (1974-80, NBC)
    Series
    60-minute episodes
    Created by: Stephen J. Cannell and Roy Huggins
    Writers: Stephen J. Cannell, John Thomas James (Roy Huggins), Juanita Bartlett, David Chase
    Directors: Lou Antonio, Russ Mayberry, Jerry London, Stuart Margolin, Lawrence Doheny, Jackie Cooper, James Garner, William Wiard, Meta Rosenberg, Jeannot Scwarc, Ivan Dixon,, Reza S. Badiyi,, James Coburn
    Producer:
    Executive Producer:
    Music:
    Mike Post and Pete Carpenter
    Starring James Garner as JIM ROCKFORD
    with Noah Beery, Jr. as Joseph "Rocky" Rockford
    Stuart Margolin as Angel
    Joe Santos as Sergeant Dennis Becker
    and Gretchen Corbett as Beth Davenport
    Guest starring
    Rita Moreno, Isaac Hayes, Tom Selleck,
  • Season One... Buy this season on DVD
  • "The Kirkoff Case" (September 13, 1974)..Buy this video
  • "The Dark and Bloody Ground" (September 20, 1974)
  • "The Countess" (September 27, 1974)
  • "Exit Prentiss Carr" (October 4, 1974)
  • "Tall Woman in a Red Wagon" (October 11, 1974)
  • "The Case is Closed" (October 18, 1974)
  • "The Big Ripoff" (October 25, 1974)..Buy this video..Buy this video
  • "Find Me If You Can" (November 1, 1974)
  • "In Pursuit of Carol Thorne" (November 8, 1974)
  • "The Dexter Crisis" (November 15, 1974)
  • "Caledonia, It's Worth a Fortune?" (December 6, 1974)
  • "Profit and Loss" (December 20, 27, 1974; two-part episode)
  • "Aura Lee, Farewell" (January 3, 1975)
  • "Sleight of Hand" (January 10, 1975)
  • "Counter Gambit" (January 17, 1975)
  • "Claire" (January 31, 1975)
  • "Say Goodbye to Jennifer" (February 7, 1975)
  • "Charlie Harris at Large" (February 14, 1975)
  • "The Four Pound Brick" (February 21, 1975)
  • "Just by Accident" (February 28, 1975)
  • "Roundabout" (March 7, 1975)
    .
  • Season Two... Buy this season.. Buy this DVD on DVD
  • "The Aaron Ironwood School of Success" (September 12, 1975)
  • "The Farnsworth Strategm" (September 19, 1975)
  • "Gearjammers" (September 26, October 3, 1975; two-part episode)
  • "The Deep Blue Sleep" (October 10, 1975)
  • "The Great Blue Lake Land and Development Company" (October 17, 1975)
  • "The Real Easy Red Dog" (October 31, 1975)
  • "Resurrection in Black and White" (November 7, 1975)
  • "Chicken Little's a Little Chicken" (November 14, 1975)
  • "2 into 5.56 Won't Go" (November 21, 1975)
  • "Pastoria Prime Pick" (November 28, 1975)
  • "The Reincarnation of Angie" (December 5, 1975)
  • "The Girl in the Bay City Boy's Club" (December 19, 1975)
  • "The Hammer of C Block" (January 9, 1976)
  • "The No-Cut Contract" (January 16, 1976)..Buy this video
  • "A Portrait of Elizabeth" (January 23, 1976)
  • "Joey Blue Eyes" (January 30, 1976)
  • "In Hazard" (February 6, 1976)
  • "The Italian Bird Fiasco" (February 13, 1976)
  • "Where's Houston?" (February 20, 1976)
  • "Foul on the First Play" (March 12, 1976)
  • "A Bad Deal in the Valley" (March 19, 1976)
    .
  • Season Three... Buy this season on DVD
  • "The Fourth Man" (September 24, 1976)
  • "The Oracle Wore a Cashmere Suit" (October 1, 1976)
  • "The Family Hour" (October 8, 1976)
  • "Feeding Frenzy" (October 15, 1976)
  • "Drought at Indianhead River" (November 5, 1976)
  • "Coulter City Wildcats" (November 12, 1976)
  • "So Help Me God" (November 19, 1976)
  • "Rattlers' Class of '63" (November 26, 1976)
  • "Return to the Thirty-Eighth Parallel" (December 10, 1976)
  • "Piece Work" (December 17, 1976)
  • "The Trouble With Warren (December 24, 1976)
  • "There's One in Every Port" (January 7, 1977)
  • "Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones, But Waterbury Will Bury You" (January 14, 1977)
  • "The Trees, the Bees and T.T. Flowers" (January 21 and 28, 1977; two-part episode)
  • "The Becker Connection" (February 11, 1977)
  • "Just Another Polish Wedding" (February 18, 1977)
  • "New Life, Old Dragons" (February 25, 1977)
  • "To Serve and Protect" (March 11 and 18, 1977; two-part episode)
  • "Crack Back" (March 25, 1977)
  • "Dirty Money, Black Light" (April 1, 1977)
    ..
  • Season Four... Buy this season on DVD
  • "Beamer's Last Case" (September 16, 1977)
  • "Trouble in Chapter 17" (September 23, 1977)
  • "The Battle of Canoga Park" (September 30, 1977)
  • "The Second Chance" (October 14, 1977)
  • "The Dog and Pony Show" (October 21, 1977)
  • "Requiem for a Funny Box" (November 4, 1977)
  • "Quickie Nirvana" (November 11, 1977)
  • "Irving the Explainer (November 18, 1977)
  • "Hotel of Fear" (November 25, 1977)
  • "Forced Retirement" (December 9, 1977)
  • "The Queen of Peru" (December 16, 1977)
  • "The Deadly Maze" (December 23, 1977)
  • "The Attractive Nuisance" (January 6, 1978)
  • "The Gang at Don's Drive-In" (January 13, 1978)
  • "The Paper Palace" (January 20, 1978)
  • "Dwarf in a Helium Hat" (January 27, 1978)
  • "South by Southwest" (February 3, 1978)
  • "The Competitive Edge" (February 10, 1978)
  • "The Prisoner of Rosemont Hall" (February 17, 1978)
  • "The House on Willis Avenue" (February 24, 1978; two-hour episode; Richie Brockelman)
    ..
  • Season Five.. Buy this season on DVD
  • "Heartaches of a Fool" (September 22, 1978)
  • "Rosendohl and Gilda Stern are Dead" (September 28, 1978)
  • "The Jersey Bounce" (October 6, 1978)
  • "White on White and Nearly Perfect" (October 20, 1978)
  • "Kill the Messenger" (October 27, 1978)
  • "The Empty Frame" (November 3, 1978)
  • "A Good Clean Bust with Sequel Rights" (November 17, 1978)
  • "Black Mirror" (November 24, 1978; two-hour episode; Megan))
  • "A Fast Count" (December 1, 1978)
  • "Local Man Eaten by Newspaper" (December 8, 1978)
  • "With the French Heel Can the Nehru Jacket Be Far Behind?" (January 5, 1979)
  • "The Battle-Ax and the Exploding Cigar" (January 12, 1979)
  • "Guilt" (January 19, 1979)
  • "The Deuce" (January 26, 1979)
  • "The Man Who saw the Alligators" (February 10, 1979; 90-minute episode)
  • "The Return of the Black Shadow" (February 17, 1979)
  • "A Material Difference" (February 24, 1979)
  • "Never Send a Boy King to Do a Man's Job" (March 3, 1979; two-hour episode; Richie Brockelman)
  • "A Different Drummer" (March 13, 1979)
    ..
  • Season Six.....Buy this season on DVD
  • "Paradise Cove" (September 28, 1979)
  • "Lions, Tigers, Monkeys and Dogs" (October 12, 1979; two-hour episode)..Buy this video
  • "Only Rock'n'Roll Will Never Die" (October 19-26, 1979; two-part episode)
  • "Love is the Word" (November 9, 1979; Megan)
  • "Nice Guys Finish Dead" (November 16, 1979)..Buy this video
  • "The Hawaiian Headaches" (November 23, 1979)
  • "The No-Fault Affair" (November 30, 1979)
  • "The Big Cheese" (December 7, 1979)
  • "Just A Coupla Guys" (December 14, 1979)
  • "Deadlock In Parma" (January 10, 1980)

THE MADE-FOR-TV MOVIES

  • THE ROCKFORD FILES: TV Movies
    (1994-99, CBS)
    Starring James Garner as JIM ROCKFORD
    Also starring
    Stuart Margolin, Joe Santos

  • I STILL LOVE LA..Buy this DVD
    (November 27, 1994)
    Writer: Juanita Bartlett
    Director: James Whitmore Jr.
    Also starring Joanna Cassidy, Geoffrey Nauffts, Daniel Benzali, Lawrence Pressman, Shannon Kenny, Joseph Campanella
    The first of several TV movies was dedicated to the memory of Noah Beery Junior, who passed away shortly before the show was aired. Good use of recent events in LA as we follow Jim through the "missing years" as he gets married, gets unmarried, loses his father, and finally decides to pack it all in, sell the trailer, and leave LA. But nasty things keep happening, like earthquakes, the L.A. riots of '92 and the devastating brush fires in '93 and murder. Well done, as much a tribute as an update, and both long overdue.

    "This picture is dedicated to the memory of NOAH BEERY, JR.
    We love you and miss you, Pidge."

  • A BLESSING IN DISGUISE
    (May 14, 1995)
    Jim protects the star of a film being boycotted by Angel's TV ministry.

  • IF THE FRAME FITS
    (January 14,1996; postponed from earlier date)
    Written by Juanita Bartlett
    Director: Jeannot Swzarc
    Supervising Producers: Stephen J. Cannell and David Chase
    Also starring Dyan Cannon, Stuart Margolin, Gretchen Corbett, Joe Santos, James Luisi,
    Tom Atkins
    It's homecoming week, as Jimbo rides again, and we catch up with the rest of the cast. Beth is now a famous writer, married, sporting a new do, and no longer practising law. But she makes an exception when Jim is set up on a murder rap. Angel is still scamming, and cops, well, no one's ever figured out a way to get rid of them. Dennis, Chapman and Diehl all show up. A little longer in the tooth, maybe, but all these characters are treated with the dignity they deserve. And once again tribute is paid to Rocky's memory. And for once, it looks like Jim may have found a lady friend, in the form of Dyan Cannon, who seems to have ageless legs, playing an old friend of Rocky's. A class act. Too bad the plot fizzes out at the end, but when it's rolling, it's one of the best reunion TVMs I've ever seen.
    .
  • GODFATHER KNOWS BEST
    (February 18, 1996, CBS)
    Written by Stephen J. Cannell
    Guest stars: Barbara Carrera, Damian Chapa, Maxwell Caulfield, Joyce van Patten
    Jim's godson, Scotty Becker (Dennis' son), after screwing around and screwing up most of his life, gets tangled up in the murder of a fashion designer. Starring the usual, plus Joyce van Patten and Damian Chapa (as Scotty).
    .
  • FRIENDS AND FOUL PLAY
    (April 25, 1996, CBS)
    Written by Stephen J. Cannell
    Directed by Stuart Margolin
    Also starring Stuart Margolin, Gretchen Corbett, Joe Santos, James Luisi, Marcia Strassman, David Proval, Wendy Phillips, James Luisi, Molly Hagan, Ivan Serei
    Jim reluctantly helps a waitress investigate her son's death, and ends up tangling with mobsters, academics and other lower lifeforms.
    .
  • PUNISHMENT AND CRIME
    (September 18, 1996, CBS)
    Written and directed by David Chase
    Russian gangsters and the return of Megan! Katherine Harrold returns as Megan Dougherty, the blind therapist Jim had a major thing with. (See Black Mirror and Love is the Word) Also a rather vicious (for Rockford) torture scene.
    .
  • MURDER AND MISDEMEANORS
    (November 21, 1997, CBS)
    Written by Juanita Bartlett
    Guest starring: John Amos, Conrad Janis
    Jim gets tricked into investigating a couple of crooked cops by an ex-cellmate (John Amos) while Angel tries to get a film made of Jim's life.

  • IF IT BLEEDS...IT LEADS
    (April 20, 1999, CBS)
    Directed by Stuart Margolin
    Guest starring: Rita Moreno, Hal Linden, Joe Santos, Gretchen Corbett, Tom Atkins, Loryn Locklin, Stephanie Faracy, Denise Crosby, George Wyner.
    A close friend of Rockford bears an uncanny resemblance to a sought rapist.
    .
  • FIELDTRIP TO A FUNERAL
    (currently unavailable--not aired as of this date)

  • NIGHT FISHING
    (currently unavailable--not aired as of this date)

NOVELIZATIONS

  • The Rockford Files: The Unfortunate Replacement (1975, by Michael Jahn, from the pilot episode)
  • The Rockford Files: The Deadliest Game (1976, by Michael Jahn, based on "The Kirkoff Case" and "This Case is Closed")

NOVELS

NON-FICTION

......

  • The Rockford Phile: The Unofficial Casebook of The Rockford Files (1991, by David Martindale). Buy this book
    A real fan's book, done by a real fan.

  • This is Jim Rockford... (1995; by Ed Robertson).. Buy this book
    Features a collection of answering machine messages left on Rockford's machine, and much much more about what many consider the genre's best show.

  • Thirty Years of The Rockford Files (2005; by Ed Robertson). Buy this book
    A new edition of Robertson's already-definitive Rockford book, "This is Jim Rockford...", with a lot more information. The book, subtitled "An inside look at America's greatest detective series," now runs close to 500 pages, more than twice as long as the previous edition.

  • The Garner Files (2011; by James Garner & Jon Winokur) . Buy this book.. Kindle it!
    For a generation, James Garner's Jim Rockford has been THE private eye: tough, shrewd, principled and ready to stand up when it's the right thing to do. Much like Garner himself. An illuminating autobiography, and oh the stories he tells. Like Garner says, "Something funny happens as you get older -- you don't hold back so much."

RELATED LINKS

  • The Rockford Files HomePage
    A great site, complete with episode guide, almost all of the phone messages, stills, links, etc. Simple, uncluttered design, well-organized. What a fan site should be.

  • Rockford Files Trivia
    Take the Rockford challenge.
    .
  • Yahoo Clubs: The Rockford Files
    An online club for fans of the TV show . Here's where you can chat about Jim Rockford, his Firebird and whatever else is on your mind.
    .
  • This is Jim Rockford...
    A few answering machine messages to whet your appetite...
    .
  • Craig Unkrich's The Rockford Files: One Small Site
    Craig is trying to collect all of the phone messages here. He's also got some images, links and some audio and text files.

  • The Rockford Style
    Clive James pays tribute to James Garner, the man and the actor. He takes a few too many swipes at Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood, but James' affection and admiration for Garner comes shining through. From the December 2012 issue of The Atlantic.

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to our good buddy Bluefox808 for his help here, and to John and Ann Ernst for resolving the coffee can/cookie jar debate.


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