Remembering the James Garner-Mariette Hartley Polaroid Commercials

It was while watching an episode of The Rockford Files that we were reminded of the old television commercials for Polaroid. That's because this particular episode — Episode 1 of Season 6 — guest starred Mariette Hartley.

I assume the Rockford Files poobahs, including star James Garner, were hoping for a ratings boost. Because at that time (1979), Garner and Hartley were the stars of an ongoing TV advertising campaign by the Polaroid (affiliate links used in this post) camera company that was, quite possibly, more popular than The Rockford Files was.

It's funny (or is that weird?) to think that there are many people alive today who don't know Garner, Hartley or Polaroid. But in the late 1970s/early 1980s, when the commercials were running, they were extremely well-liked and very widely known and admired.

While Garner was, and had been for a while, a big star, and Hartley had acted on TV and in movies for a long time, one could argue that it was the Polaroid commercials that gave Hartley her widest recognition. The easygoing chemistry between the two commercial stars was so endearing and seemed so authentic that many television viewers became convinced they were married in real life. (They weren't.)

And so, as Season 6 of The Rockford Files began in 1979, it is easy to think that the show's creators and runners were hoping for a ratings boost by casting Hartley as the Episode 1 guest star. We don't know if the show actually got a boost, but it might surprise you to learn how badly the show needed a boost.

The Rockford Files, it turns out, was never a highly popular show during its initial run on television. It did manage to finish 12th overall in Season 1 (1974-75), a very good start. But it declined rapidly, falling to No. 32 at the end of its second season. It never made the Top 40 again, and by its final season was in the bottom third of the Nielson ratings.

The Polaroid that exists today is not the same company that James Garner and Mariette Harley were pitching for in those camera commercials. The original Polaroid company dates to 1937 and became famous as the makers of instant cameras using instant film. Snap a photo, out pops the film, wait a short time and the image appears before your eyes. Polaroids were very cool in the 1960s and 1970s, and the company stayed strong into the 1990s.

But the original Polaroid Corporation went bankrupt in 2001. A new company was formed and acquired the name, and it went bankrupt in 2008. Then another company acquired the name, and in 2017 the brand and its instant cameras were re-launched.

James Garner and Mariette Hartley were first paired for Polaroid commercials in 1977, and their spots were an immediate hit with viewers, which means they were a hit for the company. The pair continued doing the spots into the mid-1980s.

Here is James Garner many years later speaking briefly about the ads:

Garner and Hartley made a lot of Polaroid commercials, and you can find many more of them on Youtube. If you want to see what products today's Polaroid company makes, check 'em out on