The View from Writers Roost
by WILLIS WEBB
Aug 07, 2014 | 1050 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
One of my favorite actor-entertainers of all time, James Garner, died recently but I had already forgiven him for embarrassing me in a public setting.

All right, you guessed it, there’s a story behind this and it goes back more than half a century.

Garner first came to my attention, as he did just about everyone’s, as the sometime hero, occasional heel in Maverick, a tongue-in-cheek Western about a gambler who always tried to talk someone out of their anger before he displayed his superior fast draw and a hawk’s eye shot. Then Bret, as he was known, was joined after a season or two by a brother, Bart.

The late 1950s TV series was a big hit and lasted several seasons. I tried to never miss an episode, having grown up with movies and television that featured, as my cowboy daddy would say, “smelling some dust and horse manure.”

It was a love-hate relationship from the word “go,” as I loved his action and wit and hated his dazzling, matinee idol looks that caused young ladies with whom I was enamored to swoon. Uh, “swoon,” young people, is an old-fashioned term meaning to feel faint with your heart going pitty-pat quicker than sound.

When he first hit the screens and news media, I was a journalism student at the University of Houston. And, being in Houston where big name stars came regularly to promote the premiers of their pictures, we clever devils at UH decided to arrange for one to occasionally come to the campus for an event. We’d then invite the teacher-sponsors and the editors of the Houston high schools’ newspapers to interview the celebrity du jour.

My job was to get all the students and sponsors into a classroom and settled in for interviews and photo ops, then to escort the entertainment personality into the room and introduce them, which was kind of dumb anyway, since everyone knew who was coming and why we were all there.

Of course, people who “handle” stars schedule them for more appearances than is practical in order to milk the opportunity to publicize the event and build box office.

So, I had a crowd of about 25 editors and sponsors for the interview, all seated in individual desks in a classroom.

Swave and deboner WW Joe College met Garner and company outside the journalism building. I was all clad in sport coat, slacks and TIE! Of course, since I considered myself the “good college Joe,” I was puffing on a Kent cigarette with the baby blue micronite filter (ain’t gonna hurt none of me).

As I stuck out my hand and greeted Garner and his manager, the latter grabbed me by the shoulder and turned me back to the building and said, “We’re a little late and we need to catch our schedule up.” So, we parade into the classroom, I open the door and let Garner in and on the back wall is a black board with a large chalk-written message: “NO SMOKING!”

Quick as a struck match, Garner held his hand up with his index finger pointing upward, waved it at me, said “Tsh! Tsh!” and pointed at the sign.

Well, of course, that embarrassed the heck out of me and I temporarily removed myself from Garner’s growing list of fans for, oh, a day or so.

Naturally, he charmed them beyond belief and was a hit for our journalism department as we tried to attract budding high school journalists into our program.

And, of course, I became a lifetime fan of his.

Some of the better tongue-in-cheek things he did were couple of spoofs about western lawmen. One featured as his sidekick, great character actor Jack Elam.

There was a house of ill repute at the end of the main street with a sign that blared in large, red all-capital letters: Madame Orr’s House.

One day, Garner and Elam are sitting on a bench on the sidewalk, and Garner asked: “What’d you do before I hired you to be my deputy?”

Elam nodded down the street and said, “I used to be a whore holder, er, I mean, a horse holder at Madame Orr’s.”

I loved Garner westerns. They were always full of tongue in cheek.

Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at wwebb1937@att.net.
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