Jackie Cooper, who guest-starred in the previous ROCKFORD FILES episode, "Claire," returned to the Universal lot to direct his third episode of the season. THE ROCKFORD FILES was not generally known for heavy dramatics, but "Say Goodbye to Jennifer" is one of the best acted episodes of the season. The final scene, played by James Garner in silence, is particularly touching and closes an atypically downbeat episode with a lump in its throat.
Writers Juanita Bartlett and Rudolph Borchert (working from creator Roy Huggins' story) do an excellent job filling in all the necessary backstory at the beginning, as fashion photographer John "Mitch" Micelli (Hector Elizondo) and his Korean War buddy Jim Rockford (Garner) spend about a minute setting up their relationship and that between Mitch and model Jennifer Ryburn (Pamela Hensley) in narration over home movies of Mitch and Jennifer. Jennifer, accused of killing her boyfriend Ricky Pont (Vince Cannon), disappears, but is found a few days later in the morgue, a victim of a car accident (sloppily depicted using stock footage of decade-old automobiles). Mitch, who was in love with Jennifer and obsessed with her, believes she's still alive, hiding out in Seattle, and urges Rockford, who's convinced of her death, to find her.
A white-haired Thayer David is a quietly menacing heavy in his single scene as Carl Birrell, an L.A. mobster who wants revenge against Pont's murderer and sends his goons (one of whom is portrayed by reliable character actor Len Lesser, now best known as SEINFELD's Uncle Leo) to lean on anyone who may know where Jennifer is hiding. The lovely Kate Woodville unfortunately has little to do as the coroner who signs Jennifer's death certificate, but gets better billing than Regis Cordic, who takes a few shots as the dentist who provides the model's records to confirm her death. In an episode pouring with drama, Ken Swofford adds a necessary light touch as a private eye whose help Rockford enlists in Seattle.
Elizondo, still a busy actor in films and television (CANE), was just coming off United Artists' successful suspenser THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE, and later appeared in another ROCKFORD FILES as a supercop reminiscent of the then-hot Joseph Wambaugh. The sexy Hensley waggled tongues of teenage boys across the country as BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY's seductive Princess Ardala. She later married her MATT HOUSTON producer, E. Duke Vincent, and left the business.