Jim Rockford (television character)

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James Scott Rockford
James Garner as "Jim Rockford".jpg
First appearance"The Rockford Files"(TV pilot), retitled for syndication as "Backlash of the Hunter"
Last appearanceIf It Bleeds... It Leads (TV movie)
Created byStephen J. Cannell
Portrayed byJames Garner
In-universe information
AliasMany, including "Jim Taggart" and "Jimmy Joe Meeker" (two used most often).
OccupationPrivate Investigator
FamilyJoseph "Rocky" Rockford (father)
Unnamed mother

James Scott Rockford is a fictional character on the television series The Rockford Files. The character, played by James Garner, is a struggling private investigator operating in the greater Los Angeles area. Rockford is the principal character of the series, and Garner was the only actor to appear in every episode of the series.

Character background and investigation agency[edit]

Unlike many other fictional "private eyes", he is an ex-convict, albeit one who was falsely imprisoned (at San Quentin Prison) and later fully pardoned. One episode tells that because of the carelessness of his parole officer, Rockford had to hire an attorney to be free of parole requirements.[1] Although he was innocent of the charge for which he was imprisoned, in several episodes it is suggested that Rockford had at one time been a mostly successful con artist. Except when being specifically threatened by hoods he gets along amicably with them, better than he does with high ranking police officers, who almost without exception despise him.

Rockford operates a small private investigation service out of his beachside mobile home in Malibu, California. The trailer was parked in the lot for Paradise Cove next to a restaurant. To avoid confrontations with the LAPD, he will not take on open police cases. He also refuses to do domestic cases. He specializes instead in cold cases, missing person cases and small-time insurance scams. At one time, in addition to other clients, he worked on a retainer basis for a major insurance company, but the company scrapped the deal when a case went sour, and Rockford lost the annual income. He charges a flat rate of $200 a day plus expenses for each case, which, in a running gag, he seldom actually receives. Over the years he was involved in several cases for which his investigative efforts should have gained him significant bonuses, but he was never able to collect them. He is consistently shown to be short on money, or trying to keep creditors at bay; he typically wears sport coats and low-priced off-the-rack suits and his lone indulgences are an answering machine (the source of another running gag at the beginning of each episode) and the latest gold colored Pontiac Firebird Esprit automobile, traded in each year of the series for the newest model. (Garner did not like the look and handling of the 1979 model, so the 1978 was reused for the final season in 1979–80; this was an apparent use of product placement in the series.) Rockford is an outstanding driver, on several occasions getting out of tricky situations when being followed merely by skillfully maneuvering his vehicle away.

Rockford’s investigative style is to use his wits and a good measure of deception to get useful information from those he interviews. In one episode he is derisively described by a rival private investigator as “the con bull artist”. In addition to posing as insurance investigators and government officials, he sometimes invents preposterous characters and scenarios to confuse people, which usually gets them to reveal some valuable information. He has a portable printing press, which he keeps in his car and uses to prepare business cards that lend credibility to his guises. He is adept at using a lockpick, illegal to possess.

His contact inside the police department is his friend, detective (later lieutenant) Dennis Becker, who will on occasion, albeit grudgingly, run car license plates and do criminal record checks for him. Rockford in return gives information on criminal activity he digs up to Becker, allowing him to get the credit for any arrests that follow.

Rockford shared many personality traits with the lead characters of two of Garner's previous series, Maverick's Bret Maverick and Nichols's Frank Nichols. Rockford was usually unarmed (he occasionally carried an unlicensed pistol – which he kept in a cookie jar in his home – but hardly ever used it) and, despite trying to avoid trouble and use reason and negotiation to solve problems, would sometimes be pressed into a fistfight as a last resort.

Military service[edit]

During the series, it is also revealed that Rockford was wounded in action and awarded a Silver Star while serving in the Korean War[2] with the 24th Infantry Division. After being busted to Private he was promoted to Sergeant after conning the North Koreans to exchange a tank for 400 cases of K rations so his encircled unit could escape; however he was soon busted back to PFC when it was discovered he was running a string of pool halls in Busan and stealing a Major General's car.[2] He also forgot to return his service pistol and gets a call from the army about it after 23 years.[3] A running gag is that, whenever Rockford gets involved with cases connected to members of his old Division, Jim is usually in trouble.[4][5] (The reference to the 24th Division is an inside reference to James Garner's real-life service; Garner actually served in the 5th Infantry Regiment (United States) of the 24th Infantry Division, a.k.a. "Taro Division" during the Korean War.)

Personal life[edit]

Jim Rockford maintains a close relationship with his father Joseph "Rocky" Rockford, and his closest friend is LAPD Sgt. (later Lt.) Dennis Becker (who also serves as his LAPD contact). He remains in contact with a number of ex-cons whom he met in San Quentin, most prominently Evelyn "Angel" Martin (Stuart Margolin), who provides comic relief in many episodes; a running gag is that Angel's hare-brained schemes and con jobs invariably land Jim in some kind of trouble, often without his knowledge.

Jim enjoys fishing, and would rather spend time doing that than almost anything else. He is a fan of the basketball Lakers, but when he makes plans to attend a game something usually happens and he has to give up his tickets. His musical tastes run to classic jazz (he has tapes of Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie), though he also appears to appreciate country music, having attended and enjoyed a Barbara Mandrell concert. He is frequently seen eating tacos and sometimes has them for breakfast. During the run of the original series, Jim lives in and works out of a single wide mobile home on the beach at Paradise Cove, Malibu; though its exterior is decidedly ramshackle and something of an eyesore, inside it is relatively comfortable and homey. In the Rockford Files TV movies filmed and set in the 1990s, Jim still lives in the same location, but owns a newer and much larger trailer that is nicer and well-appointed compared to his trailer of the 1970s.

Though Jim is generally reluctant to engage in potentially dangerous situations and often describes himself as "chicken", when there is a need to act heroically, his actions often speak otherwise.

Jim dated many women during the course of The Rockford Files, with most relationships not appearing to last longer than a single episode, although there were a few exceptions. The most notable was the on/off relationship with his lawyer, Beth Davenport, whom Jim was said to have dated seriously before the series began, and appeared to casually date on several occasions during her appearance on the show (1974 through 1978). Later in the show's run, during 1978 and 1979, he had an open but still serious relationship with psychiatrist Megan Daughtery (Kathryn Harrold); Jim was quietly devastated when she announced she was marrying someone else.

At some time between the end of the series proper (1980) and the first of the Rockford Files television-movies, "The Rockford Files: I Still Love L.A." (filmed in 1994, but set in 1992 and '93), Jim married attorney Halley "Kit" Kittredge (Joanna Cassidy), who appeared in this TV movie. In a conversation about their relationship, Kit alludes to the idea that the marriage ended because both Jim and Kit were very independent and stubborn people. In later TV movies, it is established that they were a couple by 1985 at the latest, and that Kit left the marriage in 1987. However, it is unknown when they were married, or for exactly how long. They had no children.


In 1999, TV Guide ranked him # 25 on its 50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time list.[6] AOL TV named him one of TV's Smartest Detectives.[7]

References in other media[edit]

The detective story writer Stuart M. Kaminsky has written two books with Jim Rockford as the main character, entitled The Green Bottle and The Devil on My Doorstep.

In "Ruskie Business", an episode of the television series Veronica Mars, Logan Echolls calls the titular character "Rockford", referencing Jim Rockford.[8]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ [The Rockford Files 2/21 "Foul on the First Play"]
  2. ^ a b "The Rockford Files - Season 2, Episode 10: 2 Into 5.56 Won't Go - TV.com". TV.com. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
  3. ^ The Rockford Files 3/13 Phone call
  4. ^ The Rockford Files 3/9 "Return to the Thirty-Eighth Parallel"
  5. ^ The Rockford Files 4/3 "The Battle of Canoga Park
  6. ^ TV Guide Book of Lists. Running Press. 2007. pp. 190. ISBN 0-7624-3007-9.
  7. ^ "TV's Smartest Detectives". AOL TV. November 18, 2011. Retrieved February 3, 2013.
  8. ^ "Ruskie Business Cultural References". Mars Investigations: The (In)Complete Guide to Veronica Mars. Retrieved January 12, 2015.