James Garner’s folksy charm and adventurous spirit won over audiences for the past half-century. He first shot to fame with the subversive western “Maverick,” starring as cheeky card shark Bret Maverick. Unlike other heroes of the genre, Garner’s character was loath to fire a gun and would rather skip town than draw a weapon. Garner spent much of his career playing some variation of the lovable antihero.
Garner’s own story was rather dramatic in its own right. A self-described “scrounger,” he lost his mother at a young age, clashed with his stepmother and by the time he graduated high school, had joined the merchant marine and worked as a swimsuit model. Garner served in the Korean War, where he was injured twice and awarded two Purple Hearts — although he would have to wait until 1983 to receive the second one.
Garner starred in “Maverick” for only three seasons, leaving in 1960 over a contract dispute. In the ’60s, he focused on his film career, starring in action fare like “The Great Escape” and “Grand Prix.” The latter film would spark in him a passion for racing, one that he shared with his good friend Paul Newman.
In the ’70s, Garner returned to network television with “The Rockford Files,” a modern spin on the “Maverick” formula. Garner played Jim Rockford, a wrongly imprisoned ex-con who lives in a beachside trailer. He insisted on doing his own stunts, leading to health problems that would hasten the show’s end in 1980. Garner would return to the role for a series of television movies in the ’90s.
He was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in “Murphy’s Romance,” a 1986 romantic comedy with Sally Field. In later years, he developed his softer side, starring in “The Notebook,” “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” and two seasons of “8 Simple Rules.”
Garner was a man defined by long-term loyalty. A committed “Okie” who attended University of Oklahoma football games, he was also a devoted Democrat. He met his wife, Lois Clarke, at an Adlai Stevenson rally in 1956. They were married two weeks later, and have two daughters.
Garner died at his home July 19, 2014. He had suffered a stroke in May 2008, just weeks after his 80th birthday.
|1985||Best Actor||Murphy's Romance||Nomination|