James Garner April 7, 1928 - July 19, 2014

James Garner April 7, 1928 - July 19, 2014
James Garner April 7, 1928 - July 19, 2014 He wanted to be remembered with a smile.

The Garner Files

The Garner Files
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Thursday, February 22, 2007

The American's American

Throughout his storied career – which now spans and astonishing 50 yearsJames Garner has been called an American prototype. In the 60’s it was the “all American sex symbol,” much to his chagrin, to Charlie Rose calling him the “Quintessential American” in a 2002 interview.

And so he is.

He was born in the Heartland – Norman, Oklahoma – in 1928, a child of the Great Depression. Jim was only four years old when his mother – who was one half Cherokee – died, and he’s been on his own since the was thirteen when his father moved to California to try and start over.

To this day, he remains devoted to his home state and his hometown, describing Norman as “a wonderful place to grow up.” However, many of his childhood memories were not wonderful.

When he was about six, his father married a woman who turned out to be a stepmother worthy of Hansel and Gretel. She beat all three boys, but especially young James. Not only did Jim come in for more of his share of beatings, the woman also punished him by making him wear dresses in public and referring to him as “Louise.” She did this many times over the course of the years. The abuse didn’t stop until Jim was thirteen. One evening, defending himself from another beating, “something snapped,” he says. He hauled off and decked his stepmother, knowing he would be in “big trouble.” Indeed he was. However, this night did mark the end of the marriage, and Jim and his brothers were finally free of their tormentor.

In the Korean War “I served my country to the best of my ability,” spending fourteen of his twenty-one month army hitch actually in Korea. He saw a lot of tough combat, earning two Purple Hearts for wounds suffered in the line of duty. Jim’s comment on the war? “It was cold and hard and I was one of the lucky ones.”

Jim never even considered being an actor, even though his looks had prompted almost everyone to push the idea at him all his life. He was a shy person and has said he would never have passed speech in high school if his coach had not been the teacher. His powerful fear of public speaking remains with him to this day.

In 1956 he married - for the first and only time - to Lois Clarke, whom Jim describes as "the great love of my life." They have two daughters, Kim, Lois' child from a former marriage, born in 1948, and Greta Scott (Gigi), born in 1958. Jim and Lois celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on August 17, 2006.

I became a Garner fan when I saw the first episode of the original Maverick series in September of 1957. I was thirteen and had never been particularly interested in movie/TV stars. Nevertheless, there was something about this guy…

Of course, I had a teenybopper crush on this handsome and talented actor, but, as I learned more about Garner the man, I became an even bigger fan of James Garner the person than James Garner the actor. In fact, – since my own father was hardly suitable for the job – Jim Garner became my male role model. Thank you, Jim. It’s now been 50 years, and you never let me down.

Now, on to some interesting tidbits about this Very American Idol.

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