The Other Eyes of The Rockford Files
Much like Maverick, Rockford co-creator Roy Huggins‘ other hit show starring James Garner, The Rockford Files delighted in poking fun at its own genre, seeding the show with numerous cock-eyed takes on the private eye. Here are the most memorable:
- Gandolph “Gandy” Fitch
Created by Gordon Dawson
First appearance: “The Hammer of C Block” (January 9, 1976)
Isaac Hayes kicked out the jams as Rockford’s old inmate pal from San Quentin; the surly, hot-tempered “Hammer of C-Block” who saw every problem as a nail. Try as he might, “Rockfish” couldn’t shake him.
- Marcus “Gabby” Hayes
Created by Chas. Floyd Johnson, Dorothy J. Bailey & Stephen J. Cannell
First appearance: “Foul on the First Play” (March 12, 1976)
A con man after Rockford’s own heart, duplicitous former parole officer, Hayes (Louis Gossett Jr.) first popped up in “Foul on the First Play” (March 12, 1976), having changed his last name to “O’Brien,” and posing as a high-end P.I. But it’s really just another hustle, right down to sharpening his refined image by driving around in a Rolls Royce on an extended test drive. Even better, though was when Gandolph Fitch teamed up with Gabby in “Just Another Polish Wedding”
(February 18, 1977).
- Richie Brockelman
Created by Stephen J. Cannell & Steven Boccho
First appearance: The Missing 24 Hours (October 27, 1976, NBC; made-for-television movie)
Co-creator Cannell must have loved Richie–he introduced the rookie motormouth private eye in a made-for-TV movie as a potential pilot, folded him into The Rockford Files, launched a standalone five-episode series (that aired in the Rockford times lot), and brought him back to The Rockford Files for one last appearance–all to no avail. Still, a fondly remembered character.
- Vern St. Cloud
Created by David Chase
First appearance: “Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones, But Waterbury Will Bury You” (January 14, 1977)
Conniving, deceitful, cowardly blowhard Vern St. Cloud, masterfully played by Simon Oakland, was possibly the most conniving, deceitful and cowardly recurring character on The Rockford Files, second only to Angel himself–and that’s saying something.
- Freddie Beamer
Created by Stephen J. Cannell, Booker Bradshaw & Calvin Kelly
First appearance: “Beamer’s Last Case” (September 16, 1977)
This bumbling, bespectacled garage mechanic and wannabe private eye had decided Jim was his hero, and insisted on following Jim to pick up pointers, inevitably screwing things up. He only appeared in a couple of episodes but, as played by James Whitmore, Jr., he was a genuine hoot.
- Lance White
Created by Stephen J. Cannell
First appearance: “White on White and Nearly Perfect” (October 20, 1978)
The last and arguably most memorable of Rockford’s “colleagues” was Lance White, the whiter-than-white private eye who was “nearly perfect,” and thus drove Rockford insane. Lance would blindly miss stepping into a puddle; Rockford would fall in. Of all the eyes introduced in the show, Lance seemed to me to be the most obvious choice for a spin-off, but the young, then almost unknown actor who played Lance, next showed up in a whole new private eye show, that borrowed more than a few moves from the Rockford playbook.
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- “NICE GUYS FINISH DEAD” | Buy this season on DVD
This November 16, 1979 episode of The Rockford Files takes place at a private investigators convention, where Rockford is due to receive an award. But murder, of course, rears its ugly head. Fortunately, Rockford is on the scene, as well as Lance White, Freddie Beamer, Vern St. Cloud and his asshole nephew, Larry St. Cloud (played by Larry Manetti).
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.