Rockford Files: The Juanita Bartlett Story
Written by Jim Suva
Juanita Bartlett was born in San Francisco and her family moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, where she spent her early years. At the age of ten she moved back to San Francisco for a while. Her next move was to Los Angeles, when she was in high school. Juanita had planned to go to a university, but she had to go to work instead.
She started working in a script typing department. Later she went to New York with a friend and started to work for a woman who had a radio interview show.
Juanita always had aspirations of being an actor. She got herself an agent and he got her a screen test at RKO Studios. Her agent told her she would have to follow his orders, one of which was that she would have to get a facial everyday for a week. She thought that was a great idea! She had never had a facial before. Then she had her first facial, which turned out to be not very enjoyable. After that she called her agent and told him that she no longer wanted to do this. Her agent said, “What I am I suppose to do with the screen test?” Juanita told him that if he had other people that wanted this opportunity, he could give the screen test to one of them.
Juanita then went to work as a secretary for Meta Rosenberg. Meta was James Garner’s agent at the time. When Meta left the agency to work directly for James Garner, Juanita went with her. One of Juanita’s jobs was to read scripts that were submitted for Jim’s approval. She started to read one of those scripts. As she read it, she was disgusted with it and threw it down. She thought maybe she should continue to read it, just in case it got better. It didn’t. In fact she threw it down several times! Jim came in and asked Juanita how the script was. She said she couldn’t finish it because it was so bad. Jim then picked it up and read it for himself. Needless to say, he never did that movie!
When The Rockford Files series began, Juanita did not have a lot of money. Her car at the time was in such bad shape she was afraid to wash it, fearing the dirt was the only thing holding the car together! The first time it broke down, she didn’t know how she would get home and then get back to work the next day. Someone told her she should take one of Jim’s Firebirds home. They gave her the “picture” car. The picture (or hero) car was used as the main car for close up filming. She was so nervous driving the car that she took great care and drove it very slowly! After all, everyone was counting on the Firebird for shooting the very next day. She also remembers driving the tow car another time when her car broke down again.
Throughout her career, Juanita has been a writer, a story consultant, a producer and an executive producer. Nichols, The Rockford Files, New Maverick, Ten Speed and Brown Shoe, The Greatest American Hero, and Spencer For Hire are just some of the shows she has worked on. These shows were some of my favorites when I was growing up!
I asked Juanita if she had a favorite show that she worked on. She said she really loves them all, although she loved working with Jim Garner. Jim is a wonderful friend who is very protective, loyal, fair, and dependable, just like a big brother. He was always making sure everyone was taken care of. Jim is someone that if he asked you for something, you would do your very best to get that done. Juanita told me she just loves James Garner.
Working with Stephen J. Cannell was also a wonderful experience. She loved him with all her heart! He was so generous, kind and talented. He was always there to help and to boost people up when they were down. Juanita remembered how they would sit in his office behind closed doors, and put stories together. They would be falling on the floor laughing, with what they had come up with!
Currently Juanita lives in New York City. Her daughter lives close by and she enjoys the view of Bergdorf Goodman, an upscale department store, from her current residence. She admits that she has been blessed with a wonderful life. To be able to do what you enjoy and get paid very well for doing it, is wonderful!
I must say that having the opportunity to talk to Juanita has been great. She, as well as others that were involved with The Rockford Files, are such down to earth regular people. It is no wonder that The Rockford Files was such a wonderful show!
Juanita passed away on February 25, 2014. Just a few months before James Garner passed away on July 19, 2014. I bet there was a wonderful reunion in Heaven.