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. with a wet-behind-the-ears Michael Douglas [Steve McQueen produced the picture], 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 with this writer 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 Nov. 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. Thank you so much for sharing your gifts with the rest of us…bon voyage.”
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