James Garner 1928-2014

All-American actor dies age 86

James Garner 1928-2014 Obituary

by James White |
Published on

Though his TV work outshone his big screen roles, James Garner was a legend no matter the size of the screen. So it’s sad to report that he has died at the age of 86.

Boasting an easy charm, rugged good looks and a flexible ability to inhabit comedy and drama, Garner delivered masculinity while merrily able to undercut it to supreme effect. Born James Scott Baumgarner in Oklahoma in 1928, he lost his mother when he was just four. Dropping out of high school at 16, Garner joined the merchant marine navy, only to suffer from chronic sea sickness, forcing him to quit and move to Los Angeles to live with his father. He briefly went back to school at Hollywood High and scored a swimsuit-modelling job. But further work in front of a camera would have to wait, as he spent a period drifting through odd jobs, and was then drafted into the army for the Korean War, where he was wounded twice while serving in the infantry.

Following his discharge, he attended the University of Oklahoma and then worked with his father in California as a carpet layer. But his best destiny appeared in acting, something he essentially fell into thanks to an old friend who had become a producer and agent. Scoring a part in a Broadway-bound play called The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, he had zero lines, but made an impact and was signed the following year by Warner Bros. A film career followed that would include the likes of The Children’s Hour, The Great Escape, The Thrill Of It All, Grand Prix – from which he developed a lifelong love of racing – Support Your Local Sheriff, Marlow, Victor/Victoria and, more recently, The Notebook.

But it was on television that Garner truly soared, winning two ironic roles that would cement him in the pop culture consciousness. In 1957, he became the face of TV Western Maverick, playing the quick-witted roving gambler, a role that began to evolve as the writers played to his comic abilities. After leaving the show in 1960, two years before it ended, he returned to film work, only to find his true calling once again in 1974 for The Rockford Files. As a cliché-free detective drama, it forged a new type of hero for television, one not afraid to display his foibles. Garner won an Emmy for the series in 1977 and continued working until he was medically advised to stop in 1980.

After some contract issues with Universal, Garner returned to the character for TV movies that ran in the 1990s and joined the cast of the 1994 film based on Maverick. He enjoyed a long, successful career, winning awards for TV movies and becoming a beloved regular guest star on a variety of shows.

He’s survived by his wife Lois, who he met in 1956 and married two weeks later, his daughter and stepdaughter. He was a one of a kind and our thoughts are with his family.

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