James Garner biography
Date of Birth: April 7, 1928
Date of Death: July 19, 2014
The son of an Oklahoma carpet layer and part Cherokee Indian, James Garner dropped out of high school at 16 to join the Army and merchant marines before working as a male model. During his service, he worked in a variety of jobs and received the Purple Heart when he was wounded during the Korean War.
His professional acting career commenced with a non-speaking part in the Broadway play The Caine Mutiny Court Martial (1954), in which he was also assigned to run lines with stars Lloyd Nolan, Henry Fonda, and John Hodiak. Given that talent roster and the fact that the director was Charles Laughton, Garner managed to earn his salary and receive a crash course in acting all at once. This play lead to small television roles, television commercials and a contact with Warner Brothers.
Garner was cast in the Warner Bros. TV western Maverick. The series was originally supposed to have alternate stars: Gambler Bart Maverick (Jack Kelly) would carry the ball one week, while his brother Brett (Garner) would handle things the next week. After a few months, it was clear to Warners that the public regarded Garner as the only true star of the series. The scriptwriters latched on to his gift for understated humor, and before long, Maverick had as many laughs as shoot-outs.
Garner was promoted to starring film roles during his Maverick run, but by the third season, he chafed at his low salary and insisted on better treatment. Warners refused, so he walked. Lawsuits and recriminations were exchanged, but the end result was that Garner was a free agent as of 1960.
His successful films included The Thrill of It All (1963), Move Over, Darling (1963), The Great Escape (1963) and The Americanization of Emily (1964). After that, his career wandered and when he appeared in the automobile racing movie Grand Prix (1966), he got the bug to race professionally. Soon, this ambition turned to supporting a racing team, not unlike what Paul Newman would do in later years.
Garner fared rather better in variations of his "Maverick" persona in such westerns as Support Your Local Sheriff (1969) and The Skin Game (1971), but he eventually tired of eating warmed-over stew; besides, being a cowboy star had made him a walking mass of injuries and broken bones. He tried to play a more peaceable westerner in the TV series Nichols (1971), where he played the sheriff who would try to solve all problems with his wits and without gun play. But when audiences failed to respond, his character was killed off and replaced by his more athletic twin brother (also Garner).
In 1974, Garner became the classic television private eye in The Rockford Files (1974). This was his second major television hit with Noah Beery Jr. and Stuart Margolin. Rockford would be hired by people who lied, cheated and were usually unable to pay for his services. In 1977, he won an Emmy for Best Actor in his portrayal of Rockford.
Rockford resulted in even more injuries for the increasingly battered actor, and soon he was showing up on TV talk shows telling the world about the many physical activities he couldn't do anymore. Rockford ended in a spirit of recrimination, when Garner, expecting a percentage of profits, learned that "creative bookkeeping" had resulted in the series posting no profits. Garner's health problems led to quintuple bypass surgery in 1988, and in his having both knees replaced in 2000.
In the '80s, Garner appeared in few movies, but the ones that he did appear in were darker than the likeable Garner of old. His films included Tank (1984), The Glitter Dome (1984) (TV) and Murphy's Romance (1985). For the latter, he was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.In 1994, Garner came full circle in the profitable feature film Maverick (1994), wherein the title role was played by Mel Gibson.
In 2002, he returned to series television with the CBS weekly drama First Monday, playing Chief Justice Thomas Brankin. He returned to features with a supporting role in Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002), the played a leading role in The Notebook (2004), starring opposite Gena Rowlands.
Garner, who died of natural causes at age 86 in his Brentwood home on July 19, 2014, was married to Lois Clarke for 58 years. They have a daughter, Gigi, together, and Garner also adopted Lois' daughter Kimberley from her first marriage.