‘The Rockford Files’ Involved Recording Over 100 Answering Machine Messages Behind the Scenes

For people who grew up in the mid-1970s, The Rockford Files is probably a recognizable TV show that brings back fond memories.

Those born after the 1980s may be less inclined to have heard of the show, but some may have watched reruns with their parents or other family members and enjoyed the compelling story of Jim Rockford. Learn more about what The Rockford Files is and who starred in the show. Plus, take a behind-the-scenes look at an iconic recurring bit that was present in each and every episode. 

What was ‘The Rockford Files’?

James Garner as Jim Rockford
James Garner as Jim Rockford | NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

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The Rockford Files is a television show that aired on NBC from 1974 to 1980, and it follows the story of a private investigator named Jim Rockford. Rockford lives in a trailer near the beach in Malibu, and he was earlier put in prison in the 1960s for a wrongful conviction.

He is later pardoned for the crime he did not commit, but that does not erase it from his record. Rockford becomes a private investigator and works out of his mobile home. 

Many fans enjoyed the character of Jim Rockford thanks to his laid back personality, casual wardrobe, and ability to talk himself out of most binds rather than resorting to violence. Fans also appreciate his relationship to his father, Rocky, who nags his son about finding a more stable career and settling down to start a family. 

The Rockford Files was a highly successful show in its day, and one of the writers, David Chase, went on to create The Sopranos. In 2002, TV Guide listed The Rockford Files as the 39th on its list of The Greatest TV Shows of All Time according to CBS NEWS

Who was in ‘The Rockford Files’?

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James Garner starred as Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files, somewhat reprising his role as Maverick that he had played in the 1960s. The creators of The Rockford Files wanted to remake Maverick with a more modern twist and add a private detective spin. Maverick was Garner’s big break earlier on in his career. 

Noah Beery Jr. played Rocky, Rockford’s father and retired truck driver. Beery Jr. was also known for his roles in the films The Trail Beyond (1934), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), and Red River (1948). He was 61 years old when he got the part as Rocky in The Rockford Files

Joe Santos played Sergeant Dennis Becker, who serves on the Los Angeles Police Department. Becker is friends with Rockford, and Rockford frequently calls Becker for information on cases and for favors. This creates conflict within the LAPD because many police officers disliked private investigators, especially those who frequently made them look incompetent. 

Stuart Margolin portrayed Angel Martin, who served as an informant for Rockford occasionally. Martin was Rockford cellmate when they were in prison together, and he would supply Rockford with information about street occurrences. 

‘The Rockford Files’ answering machine messages

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Each episode starts with a message left on Rockford’s answering machine. The series ran for six seasons, and according to Wide Open Country, a total of 122 answering machines were recorded behind the scenes to play at the beginning. The recordings usually didn’t pertain to the current episode, instead of alluding to a different episode or providing more insight into Rockford’s life. 

After several dozen of these messages, writers began running out of ideas for the bit, so they often asked for answering machine message suggestions from the crew. 

Although the show didn’t enjoy super high ratings at the time of its airing, it still holds a special place in the hearts of many fans.