TIME movies

James Garner: Tribute to a Marvelous Maverick

James Garner
James Garner as Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files NBC/Getty Images

As a TV and movie star for nearly six decades, the Oklahoma kid made the hard art of acting seem like a game — as deft and persuasive as a gambler's con

He was a man’s man who relied on his wits instead of his fists; a ladies’ man who wouldn’t steal a fella’s girl. Famous for his Maverick Western series in the 1950s and The Rockford Files in the ’70s, and in movies like The Great Escape and Grand Prix in between, James Garner played amiable, independent characters for more than a half-century, and never lost his comforting, enduring appeal. He was like a pair of boots you wear for decades and never want to throw out.

In real life Garner was apparently the same: straight shooter, decent guy. When he thought a movie studio or TV network was doing him dirt, he’d sue them, and win. When in 1956 he met a girl he liked, and married her two weeks later, he stayed married till he died — late Saturday night, at 86, in his Los Angeles home.

Compare him with other stars who found their footing in early TV Westerns, and see what made Garner a natural for the small screen. He lacked Clint Eastwood’s mulish brand of menace, Steve McQueen’s sexy recklessness, Burt Reynolds’s self-parodying machismo. Garner didn’t simmer with resentment, wasn’t tattooed with old traumas. “Lady,” his Bret Maverick says to a scheming woman in an early episode, “I never worry about anything.” The actor’s ease with his character and himself made Maverick a welcome weekly visitor in America’s living rooms for three seasons.

And though he graduated to leading-man status in major studio feature films before Eastwood, Reynolds and McQueen did, and stayed there for more than a decade, Garner felt more at home on TV, where he found The Rockford Files waiting in 1974, and where his nearly unique level of affability was treasured, not taken for granted.

(READ: James Poniewozik’s tribute to James Garner)

Try to describe the character Garner created, and again you have to start by saying what he wasn’t. He didn’t fit any of the extreme Hollywood fashions for its heroes. He was not a loner or a joiner, not a fighter or a father type. In performance style he was neither a comedian of the broad stripe nor a let-them-see-and-feel-my-pain dramatic actor. He was pure affability, clever, charming and confident — just about the embodiment of how Americans liked to picture themselves back then, at the postwar apex of their nation’s power.

Born in Norman, Okla., on Apr. 7, 1928, James Scott Baumgarner couldn’t have been more American: his mother was half-Cherokee. She died when he was a kid, and he took some licks from his father’s second wife. He got out of town as soon as he could, enlisting in the Merchant Marines on his 16th birthday. Later he was a soldier in Korea, earning two Purple Hearts, one for wounds caused by friendly fire — “I got in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he recalled with his usual self-depreciating wryness.

Back in the States, Jim took a while to find his calling. As he told Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies in 2001, “I worked the oil fields, I drove trucks, I worked in grocery stores, chicken hatcheries, worked with the telephone company, did a little bit of everything and never found a job I really liked, until I finally got into acting. And it took me about two-and-a-half, three years before I liked that.”

A fellow Okie, Paul Gregory, was an agent and producer. In 1954 he cast his protégé as a member of the court in Broadway’s The Caine Mutiny Court Martial. With no lines to speak, Baumgarner at first thought his biggest challenge was to stay awake. Instead he paid attention to the stars around him, especially Henry Fonda; he must have inhaled some of Fonda’s Midwestern effortlessness, since it would soon be a hallmark of his own approach. (“I swiped practically all my acting style from him,” Garner later said.) As the star of the 1969 Support Your Local Sheriff! — perhaps the Garneriest role of his movie career — he leans back on a chair, his feet propped up against a railing, just like Fonda’s Sheriff Wyatt Earp in My Darling Clementine… before idly trip-roping a half-dozen varmints. He seems relaxed, but he’s really paying attention, supremely assured of his abilities.

Warners put the actor under contract at $175 a week, shortened his name to Garner, and launched him in Maverick, a Roy Huggins Western that went on the air Sept. 22, 1957, against CBS’s The Ed Sullivan Show, the second highest-rated program at the time, and Steve Allen’s popular comedy-variety hour. Within a year Maverick had replaced Sullivan in the top 10, and Garner was a TV star.

He played — pretty much was, in that no-sweat, convincing way of his — Bret Maverick, gambler-rogue, inspired bluffer at five-card stud, with an eye for working scams that would rob the robbers and help the helpless. Though the show’s first three episodes (directed by Western B-movie genius Budd Boetticher) were relatively straightforward, Huggins soon exploited its young star’s way with a wry line, and Maverick became more comedy than Western. The show’s trump card was Garner’s strong, smiling demeanor, which made it a pleasure, almost an honor, to be defrauded by him. Viewers quickly afforded him the same welcome, trusting that he wouldn’t reach through the home screen and pocket the silverware.

Shooting a 50-min., dialogue-heavy episode each week proved impossible, so Huggins invented a younger Maverick brother, Bart (Jack Kelly), to fill out the season. Later an English cousin, Beau (Roger Moore), joined the series. By that time Garner had left the show, having sued his employers for breach of contract when they stopped paying him during a writers’ strike. He won by proving that Warners had secretly been banking scripts. Now he could go be a movie star.

On the big screen Garner occasionally played the dramatic stalwart; he was Audrey Hepburn’s fiancé in William Wyler’s 1962 film of Lillian Hellman’s lesbian-accusation play The Children’s Hour. (“First time I ever cried on screen,” he told Osborne. “Might’ve been the last time.”) But his usual job was squiring top actresses through romantic comedies: Doris Day in The Thrill of It All and Move Over, Darling,
 Kim Novak in Boys’ Night Out. Often his rom-com roles had clear echoes of Bret Maverick’s 


con-artistry. In the 1960 Cash McCall, he’s an early practitioner of the leveraged buyout — a Mitt Romney decades ahead of his time — with Natalie Wood as his prettiest acquisition. In The Wheeler Dealers (1963) he plays Texas oilman Henry Tyroon, as in tycoon, cozying up to stock analyst Lee Remick.

Too young to serve in World War II, Garner spent 45 years, off and on, playing roguish combatants or grizzled veterans of the European campaign, from his film-star debut in Darby’s Rangers (1959) through the 1984 Tank and up to The Notebook (2004). In his biggest movie hit, the 1963 The Great Escape he’s Lt. “Scrounger” Hendley, another gloss on Bret Maverick: he knows how to find the materials needed for a group of British and American officers to tunnel out of a maximum-security German camp. Hendley shows his skill by flim-flamming or skim-scamming the main guard, and his valor by taking a fellow prisoner who is nearly blind along the escape route. But like Maverick, Hendley discounts any heroic impulses: he says he’s getting out just so he can get home.

Based very loosely on a true story, The Great Escape is mainly remembered for the scene in which McQueen (actually a stunt double) pilots a motorcycle up a ramp and over a barbed-wire fence; the scene was there because the star, a racing aficionado, insisted on a bike stunt. Garner got second billing to McQueen, who came to early fame in the 1958 TV Western Wanted: Dead or Alive. A few years later, Garner out-McQueened McQueen by starring in John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix, a three-hour action film about Formula One drivers, their women and their cars (but mainly their cars). At the same time, McQueen was planning a similar film, Day of the Champion, that never got made. The actual Formula One drivers on the Grand Prix location said Garner was a natural behind the wheel. Score one for the Maverick.

Once in a while, a Garner character could be on the other side of the con, as in 36 Hours (1964), which casts him as a U.S. soldier knocked out and kidnapped by the Germans just before D-Day and told, when he comes to, that the war is over; the nasty Nazis hope to extract secrets of the imminent invasion. Here, as in the modern-day, Stateside Mister Buddwing (1966) — where he’s an amnesiac seeking his identity and pulling the veil off a convoluted business scheme — Garner was the potential victim. But furrowed brows and helplessness didn’t suit this emblem of congenial self-confidence. He was much more at ease playing a man at ease, who never breaks a sweat, even in the tightest corner, because he figures he can talk his way out of it.

Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky took note of this Garner gift and ran amok with it in his script for the 1964 The Americanization of Emily, directed by Arthur Hiller. Garner is Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Madison, who has blustered his way onto a peaceful island owned by the Brits. When his superior officer goes bananas, Charlie must take on the assignment of filming the D-Day invasion, in the company of his starchy English driver, Emily Barham — Julie Andrews in the movie she made between Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. (Garner is billed first.)

Covering the Maverick character with the soot of misanthropy, and testing Garner’s ability to spit out tongue-twister dialogue, Chayefsky handed the actor reams of cynical soliloquies, a few of which can be found here. We’ll settle for this denunciation of war lovers: “We shall never end wars, Mrs. Barham, by blaming it on the ministers and generals, or warmongering imperialists, or all the other banal bogeys. It’s the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers — the rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widow’s weeds like nuns, Mrs. Barham, and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices.” Harrumph and gotcha! Chayefsky’s film rants would get even riper in his screenplays for The Hospital and Network, but they were never delivered with handsomer authority than Garner invested in Charlie’s antiwar speeches.

More comfortable in a saddle than on Chayefsky’s high horse, Garner made his share of movie Westerns. He played legendary lawman Wyatt Earp twice — in the 1967 Hour of the Gun and, 21 years later, in Blake Edward’s Sunset — and established a little franchise with director Burt Kennedy’s low-key hit Support Your Local Sheriff!, in which he agrees to the job because he thinks it’s easy pay. (‘Tain’t.) In Kennedy’s informal sequel, the 1972 Support Your Local Gunfighter, Garner amiably inhabits one of the oldest Western plots, of a grifter mistaken for a famous gunfighter, and sells it like the Brooklyn Bridge.

By then he was tiring of occupying the second tier of movie stardom. He returned to series TV with another Huggins show, Nichols, a slow-paced, quick-witted Western that ran only one season. (It remained Garner’s favorite TV gig.) By the ’70s, oaters were out of fashion on the small screen; detectives were in. So Garner played P.I. Jim Rockford on The Rockford Files, also produced by Huggins and with 20 of the scripts written by David Chase (The Sopranos). Over the six-year-span of the show, Garner and the writers fought with their studio, Universal, to keep injecting behavioral comedy — what the star was best at — into the whodunit plots. Eventually, Garner successfully sued Universal for his rightful share of the Rockford profits, netting a reported $14 million.

He never gave up movie work, earning an Oscar nomination for the 1984 Murphy’s Romance as the small-town druggist who loves rancher Sally Field. In Blake Edwards’ 1982 Victor Victoria he reteamed with Andrews (now Mrs. Edwards) as King Marchand, a shady Prohibition entrepreneur who falls in love with a female impersonator — that is to say, Andrews is a female, impersonating a man impersonating a woman. In their big scene, King tells Victoria, “I don’t care if you are a man” and kisses her. She says, “I’m not a man,” and he replies, “I still don’t care.” Edwards had acceded to the producers’ insistence that King know in advance the gender of the person who has smitten him; but it’s still evidence of a he-man star’s willingness to shatter what was then one of Hollywood’s sexual taboos.

In his seventies, long after quintuple-bypass surgery in 1988, Garner lassoed two of his strongest movie roles. In Clint Eastwood’s Space Cowboys (2000), he costarred as a NASA pilot from the 1950s who’s de-mothballed four decades later to help Eastwood’s Frank Corvin fix a Soviet satellite that’s about to crash to earth. Frank, who had built the technology the Russkies swiped, goes up to fix the damn thing and takes his pals along for a senior-citizen road trip to outer space. The Over the Moon Gang rides again, in an alterkocker Armageddon.

(READ: Corliss’s review of Space Cowboys)

He capped his career with a rare weepie role, in the 2004 smash The Notebook, from Nicholas Sparks’s novel. As Duke, a retirement-home resident, he reads aloud passages from a diary kept by a patient (Gene Rowlands) succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease, with flashbacks of the World War II love story enacted by Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. Directed by Rowlands’ son Nick Cassavetes, The Notebook is 99 and 44/100th-percent pure soap opera, given heft and conviction by two stars with a combined century in the business. In this tale of two ordinary people living together — till death do them part, and unite — Garner strips himself naked of all smooth pride to utter his last words to his beloved: “Good night. I’ll be seeing you.”

As faithful in life as in his craft, Garner held true to the Democratic Party, for which he campaigned on behalf of civil rights and a greener Earth, and to his wife of 58 years, Lois Clarke. (Their daughter Gigi also survives him.)

Calling himself “a Methodist but not as an actor,” Garner considered acting a job; golf was his passion. He knew his lines, stood on his mark and told the truth of his characters. Is that Acting? Not in the grand sense of Stanislavski or his heirs, from Brando to Gosling. But, as Garner plied the trade, it certainly was acting of the most persuasive order. “I think Jim is such a good actor because he leaves his actor at home and brings himself to the screen,” said Gretchen Corbett, one of his Rockford Files costars, in the 2001 book The Garner Files. “He’s also a very appealing human being. Both men and women feel safe with him; they feel like they get him.”

Everyone did. And anyone would want to spend more time with that engaging maverick, that rock of American confidence, James Garner.

TIME Theater

Elaine Stritch: How to Be a Broadway Diva

Elaine Stritch attends the "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me" New York Screening at Paley Center For Media on February 19, 2014 in New York City.
Elaine Stritch attends the "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me" New York Screening at Paley Center For Media on February 19, 2014 in New York City. Walter McBride—WireImage/Getty Images

The iconic Broadway star was always a commanding presence on stage

When she left New York for good in early 2013 — retiring from show business and moving back to her home state of Michigan — it was as if some fundamental life force had suddenly disappeared from Broadway, like the demolition of a storied old theater or the closing of Mamma Mia. Elaine Stritch didn’t deny, in the few interviews she gave after she left, that she missed the city that she loved and came to embody. (“I’m about as unhappy as anybody can be” she told an interviewer last June.) And when she died on Thursday, at 89, it was perhaps a confirmation of what every New York theater lover already knew: neither Broadway nor Elaine Stritch could live without each other.

She was brassy (her name could almost define the word in Webster’s) and boozy, a salty broad with a gravely, gin-soaked voice bursting forth from an improbably pixie-like figure. Even in her late 70s, when she starred on Broadway in a one-woman show, Elaine Stritch at Liberty, she could show off her still lean and lithe gams in sheer black tights, and make you think that Broadway performers really are immortal. For many, she was.

“She was an indomitable spirit,” said Christine Ebersole, the two-time Tony Award winner who became close friends with Stritch in her later years. “I always felt really close to her — kindred spirits in a way. I admired her tenacity. She was a staunch character.”

Stritch was born in Detroit and began her Broadway career in the late 1940s. She understudied for Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam; sang one of Rodgers and Hart’s most scintillating comic numbers, “Zip,” in Pal Joey; starred in Noel Coward’s 1961 musical Sail Away; and replaced Uta Hagen as Martha in the original Broadway production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (a show, she later claimed, in which she experienced her first orgasm onstage).

But her career-defining turn came in Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 musical Company, in which she played a hard-drinking society dame and delivered her signature number, “The Ladies Who Lunch.” Stritch’s raspy voice and boozy defiance — “another vodka stinger!” — was the perfect match for Sondheim’s urbane cynicism, and she became one of his greatest muses and interpreters. A few years later she appropriated another Sondheim number as her own, his rousing anthem to show-business survival, “I’m Still Here.”

The song symbolized her own career, which seemed to keep hitting new heights as she aged. Woody Allen gave her juicy characters to play in his movies September and Small Time Crooks. On TV, she co-starred in the British comedy series Two’s Company and had frequent guest-starring roles in American sitcoms, most recently as Alec Baldwin’s hard-bitten mother in 30 Rock. She got a Tony nomination (one of five) for her co-starring role in the acclaimed 1996 Broadway revival of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance.

She was 77 when she had her greatest role on Broadway — as herself in Elaine Stritch at Liberty, for which she won a Tony. She commanded the stage, delivering her signature numbers in between stories about her show-business career and her checkered personal life, from her romantic flings with stars like Marlon Brando and Rock Hudson to her blown audition for the starring role in the TV sitcom Golden Girls.

Backstage, too, she was reputedly a tough broad — always a big drinker, sometimes temperamental and insecure. Even at her last New York cabaret appearance — a farewell show at the Cafe Carlyle in April of last year — she berated the audience for interrupting her and laughing in the wrong places. But she was a Broadway diva who earned the right. She never gave less than her all, and the audience never gave her less than its unconditional love.

TIME remembrance

Patti LuPone Remembers Elaine Stritch

Elaine Stritch's Final Night At The Carlyle
Patti LuPone and Elaine Stritch attend the final night of "At Home At The Carlyle: Elaine Stritch Singin' Sondheim...One Song At A Time" at the Cafe Carlyle on February 2, 2010 in New York City. Elaine also celebrated her 85th Birthday on the final performance of her cabaret show. Jim Spellman—WireImage

"She was the type of Broadway actress that they don’t make anymore"

There was no one like Elaine Stritch and I doubt if there will ever be anyone again like Elaine Stritch. Whenever they say “old school,” you don’t really don’t know what that means, but she was the type of Broadway actress that they don’t make anymore.

The first time I actually met Elaine, it was maybe 20 years ago, and it was—where else?—in Sardi’s! It was all so cliché. There were a bunch of people in the business sitting around tables, and I think Elaine was sitting with Celeste Holm and one other person. Elaine all of a sudden said, “Patti! Come and sit with us!”

We worked together on 30 Rock, and one of my first appearances was a scene with Tina and Elaine and some other women. Elaine had great generosity towards her colleagues. And she again welcomed me into the environment of 30 Rock. Not that Tina didn’t! It was a great environment. But I come from the theater, as does Elaine, and she just motioned me over to come and sit with her, and we talked, and we did the scene.

The most personal recollection I have was Stephen Sondheim’s birthday with the New York Philharmonic in 2010, where everybody performed for Steve on the Avery Fisher Hall stage, and the director, Lonny Price, asked me to sing “Ladies Who Lunch” [Elaine’s signature song from Company]. I suppose if I hadn’t known Elaine, and if I hadn’t gotten a seal of approval from her as a human, it would have been more difficult. But I just thought it was such a gas that I would be singing her signature song at that event. I remember I said to Lonny, “Where’s Elaine? Where’s she sitting?” He said, “She’ll be the first person on the left.” So in the performance, when I said, “Does anyone still wear a hat?” I turned directly to Elaine, who of course, was wearing a hat! It took her totally by surprise. It was my tribute to her, as well as Steve.

My son recorded a message that she left for me on my answering machine afterward, which was a validation from Elaine to me—which my son has kept, so I’ll always have a piece of Elaine. So I’ll have something that makes me proud to be in the business and to have had validation by someone like Elaine.

I am very critical of what I see on Broadway, because I’ve seen greatness. Watching Elaine in At Liberty, was witnessing greatness. So she became the benchmark for whatever you see after that in solo shows. When you have that kind of history, that’s real, you are in the history of it—it’s a powerful thing.

As told to Sarah Begley.

TIME remembrance

Elaine Stritch on Learning About Yourself: “They’re Hard Lessons”

Elaine Stritch performs at the Kennedy Center Honors on October 29, 1994.
Elaine Stritch performs at the Kennedy Center Honors on October 29, 1994. CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

The late, great actress spoke to TIME earlier this year

Elaine Stritch, who died Thursday at 89, was best known as the legendary stage performer who made Broadway brassier — but her most recent acclaimed performance had been as herself. Stritch was the subject of a documentary, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, which was released in February.

Then, Stritch spoke to TIME about the release of the film. What she had to say about seeing herself on film in that manner was a lesson that can apply much more broadly:

What did you learn about yourself from [making the documentary]?

A great deal. They’re hard lessons to learn. You have to stand up, throw your shoulders back and say, ‘Go ahead, hit me.’ I think I’m better at it than I used to be. Especially when the reaction to the show was good. I think that helps a lot, when they’re entertained. Because I wouldn’t do a documentary unless I made it entertaining, and that does not necessarily mean lies. If you make a lot of lies up that make you look fun and up and attractive and all those good things, what good does it do anybody else? But if you really tell the honest-to-God truth, I think it’s a pretty revealing experiment. I think it makes a documentary honest, and your honesty spreads, and I think people are affected by it and tell the truth as well. You get a lot of people sitting around telling the truth, and you get a pretty interesting documentary.

Stritch also told TIME that, as of February, though she had left New York City for a quieter life, it wouldn’t be accurate to call her retired.

“That is not accurate at all,” she said. “I’d be thrilled to death to find a good new play.”

TIME remembrance

Mia Farrow, Lena Dunham and Others Remember Elaine Stritch

Elaine Stritch performs at the Kennedy Center Honors on October 29, 1994.
Elaine Stritch performs at the Kennedy Center Honors on October 29, 1994. CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Celebrities in disbelief about her death

Elaine Stritch, the Broadway extraordinaire whose career spanned theatre, cinema and television, died Thursday at 89 in her home in Birmingham, Mich. A slew of Twitter reactions to Stritch’s death speak to her influence on the current generation of artists.

Here is what members of the communities she was a part of tweeted in her memory:

TIME Music

Johnny Winter, Blues Star, Is Dead at 70

Texan was one of Rolling Stone's top 100 guitarists ever

+ READ ARTICLE

Johnny Winter, the Texas blues icon, died in Zurich, Switzerland on Wednesday at the age of 70.

The star guitarist—Rolling Stone named him one of the 100 best ever—was playing till the end, performing his last gig in Austria on Saturday. Since his self-titled album was released in 1969, Winter has recorded and produced dozens of albums of classic rock and blues, including several with his childhood idol Muddy Winters.

A biography on his Facebook page describes Winter as “the clear link between British blues rock and American Southern rock à la the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd.”

“His wife, family and bandmates are all saddened by the loss of their loved one and one of the world’s finest guitarists,” says a post on his page.

TIME Books

Nadine Gordimer: 5 Essential Reads from the Award-Winning Author

Nadine Gordimer
Nadine Gordimer on June 12, 1983 in Paris Ulf Andersen—Getty Images

Where to start with the author, who has died at 90

Over the course of more than six decades, the Nobel-winning South Africa author Nadine Gordimer, who died on Sunday at 90, wrote more than a dozen novels and many more short stories. It’s a daunting oeuvre, throughout which she often returned to themes related to apartheid. For those daunted by her extensive bibliography, here’s where to start:

Face to Face

Year: 1949

Gordimer’s first novel was still a few years away, but Face to Face — a collection of short stories — was the young author’s first book.

Telling Times : Writing and Living, 1954-2008

Year: 2010

Telling Times wasn’t Gordimer’s last book (in 2012, her novel No Time Like the Present was published) but it’s the place to look for Gordimer’s nonfiction. The compendium of a half-century of work ranges from autobiography and travelogue to reflections on South African history and the great leaders of her time. The New York Times review of the book said that, even though a collection so vast is bound to have ups and downs, the work “reveals the power of ‘engagement,’ in the broad and humane sense.”

Burger’s Daughter

Year: 1979

One of her best-known works, Burger’s Daughter concerns the life of a young daughter of South African anti-apartheid activists and how politics affects the personal. Along with A World of Strangers and The Late Bourgeois World, it’s one of the three Gordimer works banned by the South African government; Burger’s Daughter was the subject of a 1980 book about that nation’s censorship practices. Gordimer later said that she wasn’t surprised the book was banned, but that “if you are a writer you must write what you see.”

The Conservationist:

Year: 1974

Gordimer won the Booker Prize — one of literature’s most prestigious — for this novel, about a rich South African man who buys a farm in order to find meaning in his life. The work was later shortlisted for the extra-prestigious “Best of the Booker” prize.

Loot

Year: 2003 for the collection of the same name; the story is copyright 1999.

For those who want to read her work right away, this is the way to go: the short story “Loot” is available for free on the Nobel website.

TIME remembrance

Batman Is Celebrating His 75th Birthday and You’re Invited

Warner Bros. VIP Studio Tour Unveils The Batman Exhibit Celebrating Batman's 75th Anniversary
A general view of atmosphere during the Warner Bros VIP Studio Tour unveiling of the Batman Exhibit celebrating Batman's 75th Anniversary at Warner Bros. Tour Center on June 26, 2014 in Burbank, California. Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images

Hollywood and comic fans honor Gotham’s crime-fighting hero

One day to celebrate Batman’s 75th birthday is just not enough.

Batman Day is officially on July 23, but Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment have organized a month-long series of events to commemorate the caped one’s milestone. Think of it as Comic-Con exclusively for Batfans.

Fans around the U.S. will be able to take part in the festivities, which include a studio tour (including a peek at the Batmobile and other props) and a free special-edition comic book at participating stores. There will also be new merchandise and DVD releases.

Artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger created Batman in May 1939 in response to the success of Superman — and comic-goers soon fell for the wealthy character of Bruce Wayne, who, come nightfall, swapped his suits for a black mask and cape to fight Gotham City crime.

Danny DeVito, who starred as the villain Penguin in the 1992 film Batman Returns, discussed the edgy comic hero’s success in an interview with AFP.

“The world has no heroes … Batman gives you some hope and some faith,” he said.

DeVito added that Batman’s appeal resonated with people who have little or no faith in politicians and the present generation. “We look around at us, our leaders and the young people we are supposed to look to. There’s really nobody you can have faith in,” he said.

TIME obituary

Olympian and World War II Hero Louis Zamperini Dies at 97

Louis Zamperini gestures during a news conference, in Pasadena, Calif. Zamperini, a U.S. Olympic distance runner and World War II veteran who survived 47 days on a raft in the Pacific after his bomber crashed, then endured two years in Japanese prison camps, died Wednesday, July 2, 2014.
Louis Zamperini gestures during a news conference, in Pasadena, Calif. Zamperini, a U.S. Olympic distance runner and World War II veteran who survived 47 days on a raft in the Pacific after his bomber crashed, then endured two years in Japanese prison camps, died Wednesday, July 2, 2014. Nick Ut—AP

After a battle with pneumonia

Louis Zamperini, a World War II veteran who ran for the U.S. track and field team at the 1936 Olympics and later survived two years in Japanese prison camps, died Wednesday. He was 97 and had been battling pneumonia, his family said.

“He recently faced the greatest challenge of his life with a life-threatening case of pneumonia,” Zamperini’s family said in a statement. “After a 40-day long battle for his life, he peacefully passed away in the presence of his entire family, leaving behind a legacy that has touched so many lives. His indomitable courage and fighting spirit were never more apparent than in these last days.”

At age 19, Zamperini—who was born to Italian immigrant parents and grew up in Torrance, Calif.—qualified to run in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, becoming the youngest-ever American Olympic qualifier for the 5,000 meters category. He placed eighth, having run his last lap in 56 seconds—a feat that caught the attention of Adolf Hitler, who insisted on meeting him. Zamperini then set his sights on the 1940 Tokyo Olympics, but his plans were interrupted by the onset of war. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1941.

In 1943, Zamperini survived a plane crash in the Pacific Ocean, after which he floated on an open raft for over a month before being imprisoned by Japanese sailors. Zamperini and another survivor spent the following two years in a series of prisoner of war camps, where they were subjected to repeated torture and starvation. Zamperini authored two autobiographies, one in 1956 and another in 2003, both titled Devil at My Heels. His survival story has also been chronicled by Laura Hillenbrand in her 2010 best-selling book Unbroken. A movie with the same title—based on Hillenbrand’s book and directed by Angelina Jolie—is set to be released by Universal Pictures in December.

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