‘Rockford Files’ Actor Stuart Margolin Dies at 82

Stuart Margolin has died. He was a character actor and a friend of James Garner. He was best known for playing the slick but sweet con man Evelyn “Angel” Martin on The Rockford Files. He was 82.

On Monday, his stepson, actor Max Martini (The Unit), wrote on Instagram that Margolin had died. The Hollywood Reporter heard from another stepson, director Christopher Martini, that Margolin died of natural causes in Staunton, Virginia.

Margolin also played a manic, manipulative character in the Blake Edwards movies S.O.B. (1981), as a star’s (Julie Andrews) sneaky personal assistant, and A Fine Mess (1986), as a bumbling crook in the director’s homage to slapstick.

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In both The Stone Killer (1973) and Death Wish (1974), which were both directed by Michael Winner, Margolin played opposite Charles Bronson. In the first, he was a contractor who set up mob hits, and in the second, he was the guy who gave Bronson’s revenge-seeking character, Paul Kersey, a gun.

Margolin was also a very busy TV director. He directed episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Wonder Woman, Touched by an Angel, The Love Boat, Magnum, P.I. Northern Exposure, Quantum Leap, and, as you might expect, The Rockford Files.

In 1970, Garner was about to star as the sheriff of a small Arizona town on NBC’s Nichols. It was his first network show since Maverick, and he needed a “sidekick who was a shifty-eyed, backstabbing rat, but also lovable” to play his scruffy deputy, he wrote in his 2011 memoir, The Garner Files.

“We’d made screen tests but couldn’t find what we were looking for until one day I saw a clip from Love, American Style. It wasn’t a scene that should have gotten a laugh, but the actor was so good, he broke me up. I knew he was the one for the part.” (Margolin played a drunk man who hit his head on his jail cell bars.)

Remembered Margolin in a 2017 interview: “I was being sought after as a young character actor and comedian until I had a choice to be on The Mary Tyler Moore Show or on Nichols with Jim Garner. I chose to work with Jim Garner because I thought I’d have more fun, which I never regretted.”

“It was a great series with great writers and the favorite show Jim ever did. It closed down after a year, and then I was approached by Jim’s executive producer and Stephen J. Cannell to be part of [NBC’s] The Rockford Files. So my career got a little bigger, I won a couple of Emmys, and I’ve had a real steady career over the years with a lot of parts.”

In fact, Margolin won Emmys in 1979 and 1980 as the best supporting actor in a drama series for his role as Angel, a former prison cellmate of P.I. Jim Rockford, played by James Garner, who is always getting himself into trouble.

The Rockford Files ran for six seasons, led to several telefilms, and was a huge hit when it was shown over and over again. “I confess I’ve never understood why Rockford likes Angel so much because he’s rotten to the core,” Garner wrote in his book. “But there’s something lovable about him. I don’t know what it is, but it’s all Stuart’s doing.”

Margolin was born on January 31, 1940, in Davenport, Iowa. He grew up in Dallas. After getting kicked out of several public schools, he went to a boarding school in Nashville and a private school in Dallas.

He moved to New York to live with his older brother Arnold, who was in the original Broadway production of The Diary of Anne Frank as a replacement actor. He then went to a summer theatre camp in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where he met Barney Brown, who taught Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, and Robert Duvall.

After he graduated from Scottsdale (Arizona) High School in 1958, he moved to Southern California with Brown, who is now a teacher and director at the Pasadena Playhouse. He went there to study for two years, then came back to New York for another year.

Margolin first appeared on TV in 1961 on an episode of CBS’s The Gertrude Berg Show. He then played a Navy man on NBC’s Ensign O’Toole, starring Dean Jones, and kept busy with roles on shows like Burke’s Law, The Fugitive, 12 O’Clock High, Occasional Wife, and The Monkees.

On Love, American Style, he was part of a group of actors like Phyllis Davis, James Hampton, and Barbara Minkus, who all appeared every week in blackout sketches that connected the scripted parts. (His brother was one of the show’s producers, helped write the theme song, and wrote for TV.)

Margolin’s first important movie role was as Pvt. “Little Joe” in the war/heist movie Kelly’s Heroes, which came out in 1970. Master Sergeant “Big Joe” was played by Telly Savalas.

Then, he was in The Gambler (1974) with James Caan, the sequel to Westworld called Futureworld (1976), Days of Heaven (1978) as a mill foreman, and a few episodes of M*A*S*H.

In 1981, when Garner came back to play Bret Maverick in a new NBC show, Margolin played a bad guy named Philo Sandeen who said he was an Indian scout and went by the name Standing Bear.

The Long Summer of George Adams (1982) and The Glitter Dome (1984), both starring James Garner, were both directed by Margolin and had music written for them. (The Arizona rocker Jerry Riopelle recorded a few of Margolin’s songs, and he also sang his own songs on the 1980 country rock album And the Angel Sings.)

More recently, Margolin was on 30 Rock and The X-Files and he was in Arbitrage (2012) with Richard Gere. He also wrote and starred in What the Night Can Do (2017) when the original lead actor, Martin Sheen, got hurt. His stepson Christopher was the director.

Aside from his brother and stepsons, his third wife, Pat, and her daughter, costume designer Michelle Martini, are also still alive. They met in Dallas in the mid-1950s and were married for 40 years… Follow us only on Lee Daily for more news like this.

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