It’s putting it lightly to say Noah Beery Jr. came out of an acting family. His father, and namesake, Noah Beery Sr., much like his son, was a character actor well respected during the dawn of the film industry. He appeared in both silents and talkies as diverse as The Mark of Zorro (1920) and She Done Him Wrong (1933). Young Noah’s uncle Wallace Beery achieved a wide degree of fame during the 1930s with such classics as The Champ (1931), Grand Hotel (1932), and Dinner at Eight (1933). Even Noah’s mother Marguerite Walker Lindsey was an actor at one point.
Thus, it makes complete sense that Noah Beery Jr. followed in the footsteps of the family lineage. Some of his most notable films included: Only Angels Have Wings (1939), Of Mice and Men (1939), Sergeant York (1941), Red River (1948), Jubal (1956), and Inherit the Wind (1960). And he could always be counted on to play a slightly pudgy, generally good-natured side kick or victim. That was his niche in Hollywood and it served him well even if it was not the most prominent of careers. However, it would prove useful in his later years.
For most of us, including myself, Noah Beery Jr. will always and forever be the beloved “Rocky,” the concerned and often comical father of Private Investigator James Rockford (James Garner) on The Rockford Files (1974-1980). What made the show work was the fact that they gelled so well together, because the roles already seemed to fit who they were so perfectly. It could have been just another cop show from any decade really, but that duo made the show a cut above. We wanted to watch them together, because it was good old-fashioned fun and we actually cared about them as individuals.
Fittingly Beery and Garner began in westerns. Beery in mostly films and Garner as the gambling drifter Bret Maverick in the TV western Maverick. By the 1970s they were both a pair of vets and the chemistry they created was perfection. There was no need to don a role, because they appeared to be playing themselves or at least the version of themselves that they had played for so many years now. It felt like a genuine relationship between a son and his father. Even facially they share some resemblance.
I truly love James Garner, undoubtedly like many others. He made the Rockford Files a perennial favorite, but Rocky gives the character of Jim even more depth. In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that in the world of fictional television parents Rocky is one of my personal favorites. Maybe he feels different than most because his son is grown up, but he still has such a tremendous relationship with him. Rocky’s a bit of a country bumpkin,and still a generally caring man who worries about his son and can be a nag like any good parent. He has to let Jim be, and yet that doesn’t mean he can’t worry about him still.
Invariably some of the greatest moments in Rockford came not in the climatic car chases or frequent fist fights (which are great!), but in the equally frequent family squabbles between father and son. Maybe Jim borrowed something like Rocky’s truck or Rocky needs a favor, but in every one of these instances we feel connected with these two. Their lives play out in that beat up Malibu trailer much like our lives play out in reality. They come across as so human, and that has been rewarded over the years by a dedicated fan base.
I just hope no one every calls me “Sonny.” Rocky can get away with it but no one else! Here’s to you Noah Beery Jr. Here’s to you Rocky!