July 20, 2014

Say what you want, the man could sell cameras

The great advertising man David Ogilvy wrote that you should get good professional actors for commercials, people with presence who know how to deliver a line.  I'm sure he had in mind (and probably envied) Doyle Dane Bernbach's 30-year relationship with Polaroid.

These DDB ads with James Garner were huge for Polaroid at the time.  James Garner not only did the voiceover and demos well, he also put together a little act with Mariette Hartley that ran over a number spots, including this early selfie demonstration.  The act worked so well that Hartley had a t-shirt made saying "I am NOT James Garner's wife".

Garner really only played one character, but that's true of a lot of these guys.  I always enjoyed his performances, though they were never individually memorable or challenging.  He had, I think, a bit of Wodehousian self-consciousness, an understanding that no matter how big you are, the joke is still on you, a trope handled less-well by Roger Moore, and picked up later by Tom Selleck (who got his start on The Rockford Files).  Unlike most leading men, Garner played well with his ensemble partners, and if someone else wanted to win the scene, oh hell, why not:

He really could act.  The New York Times obituary (probably written 30 years ago) gets it mostly right I think:
Mr. Garner was a genuine star but as an actor something of a paradox: a lantern-jawed, brawny athlete whose physical appeal was both enhanced and undercut by a disarming wit...  His naturalness led John J. O’Connor, writing in The New York Times, to liken Mr. Garner to Gary Cooper and James Stewart. And like those two actors, Mr. Garner usually got the girl.
One of his best performances was as klepto-CEO Ross Johnson in the HBO show Barbarians at the Gate.  It's really good, and faithful to the (factual) book.  Take the time to watch it in its entirety sometime:

Garner did ok of course, but with just a little more gravitas I think he could have been president.


Blogger Laird of Madrona said...

I eagerly await his arrival in heaven in next week's editorial cartoon in the Onion.

July 20, 2014 at 11:47 AM  
Blogger Laird of Madrona said...

Side note: Jamie enlightened me to the idea that audiences love cowards, and there's not better exemplar of this thesis than Angel on The Rockford Files.

July 20, 2014 at 11:51 AM  

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