Determined actress Lee Purcell was a familiar face to cinema enthusiasts in the ’70s and ’80s, appearing in such esteemed projects as the coming of age drama Adam at 6 A.M. costarring a wet-behind-the-ears Michael Douglas while Steve McQueen sat in the producer’s seat, Charles Bronson’s action flick Mr. Majestyk, the cult surfing drama Big Wednesday, the high school dramedy Almost Summer, and Nicolas Cage’s breakout movie, Valley Girl.
On the eve of the 30th anniversary of McQueen’s passing from mesothelioma, Purcell graciously agreed to go on-the-record about her debt of gratitude to the late actor. As the exclusive interview ebbed and flowed over several months, Purcell found time to briefly discuss her early guest starring turn in The Rockford Files, the beloved, light-hearted detective series starring James Garner.
The leading lady’s appearance came in “The Dexter Crisis,” the 10th episode of the first season broadcast on November 15, 1974. As crafty private investigator Jim Rockford, Garner is hired by a rich business tycoon to find an alluring mistress — aka Purcell — who vanished with some prized possessions into the Las Vegas desert.
When asked point blank if she had taken anything away from the experience of working with Garner — who coincidentally lived on Oakmont Drive, the same Brentwood, California street as McQueen — Purcell fondly recalled, “James Garner taught me how to cross my eyes — one at a time. It’s a skill I have employed often to no advantage whatsoever.”
Purcell’s reminiscence appeared verbatim without any attribution two years later in Garner’s memoir entitled The Garner Files, co-written by Jon Winoker. An Outtakes appendix containing the quote began with the following description: “Family, friends, and colleagues weighed in for this book, and since their stories sound better directly from them, here they are, in their own words.”
In follow-up correspondence with Purcell, she confirmed that she was never interviewed for The Garner Files.
The day after the Maverick star passed away from a series of debilitating strokes on July 19, 2014, Purcell took to Facebook to share a final message memorializing her fellow actor. “A fond farewell to James Garner, one of the kindest, most charming and witty actors I have ever had the pleasure to work with,” said Purcell. “Thank you so much for sharing your gifts with the rest of us…bon voyage.”
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Exclusive Interview: Determined Arkansan Beth Brickell had an intimate meeting with Princess Grace Kelly at the Palace of Monaco to figure out whether it was feasible for her to pursue her dream of acting. How did she manage such an unheard-of feat? By going the tried and true route and writing a letter. After years of toiling at the prestigious Actors Studio in New York City, she found herself cast in a breakout smash television series in 1967 as the dependable wife of Florida Everglades game warden Tom Wedloe [Dennis Weaver] on the half hour family adventure series Gentle Ben. Into the late 1970s Brickell dropped by Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Emergency!, Hawaii Five-O, and Fantasy Island…occasionally enlivening a feature film such as Kirk Douglas’s underappreciated, decidedly cynical Western Posse. “The Unconventionally Persistent Journey of ‘Gentle Ben’ Heroine Beth Brickell” stands as her most comprehensive, intimate interview in years.
Visit Amazon Prime Video to watch “The Dexter Files,” a November 15, 1974, episode from season one of “The Rockford Files.” Created by Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell, the witty detective series reached a high of No. 12 in the Nielsen ratings during its debut season.
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