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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Friday, September 14, 2007

Sooner Ties Help Bind Family-Friendly Ultimate Gift

By Matthew Price
Staff Writer

"The Ultimate Gift” has a message for everyone. But the film may find special favor with Oklahomans, as star James Garner and Jim Stovall, author of the original book, both hail from the state.

Garner plays Red Stevens, the benevolent businessman who wants to leave his grandson more than simply money.

Stovall, a fan of "The Rockford Files” and "Maverick,” said Garner's casting was serendipitous, with the movie coming out during Oklahoma's Centennial, and shortly after Garner was honored with a statue in his hometown of Norman.

"When our casting people brought him to me as a selection, I don't think they ever thought about the fact that we were both Oklahomans, but it was such a tremendous thing,” Stovall, of Tulsa, said.

"He has been just everything you would hope he would be,” Stovall said. "He just instantly became Red Stevens to me.”

"The Ultimate Gift” is the story of Red Stevens and his grandson, Jason. When Red dies, he leaves Jason a mysterious inheritance. To receive the inheritance, Jason must complete 12 "gifts,” to learn lessons imparted by Red in his will.

"Since nearly 4 million people have read the book now, it was very important to me to get all 12 of the gifts in there,” Stovall said. "One of the things we did, while the credits are rolling at the end: Each of the gifts, there's a little vignette that plays from the movie showing what the gift was, just so people know it's all really still there.

"But obviously, to have a commercial movie, we had to have a little romance and a little danger.”

At the heart of the romance, and the danger, is Drew Fuller, who was cast as Jason Stevens. Fuller bought into the "Ultimate Gift” message, and in fact, still takes part in special events promoting the book and the message.

Stovall talks to students across the country about "The Ultimate Gift,” which is taught in many curriculums. Fuller recently appeared with Stovall to talk to the students about the message.

"These are people who made this movie over a year ago, but they still believe in what we're doing and they come out and do things with us,” Stovall said.

Also starring in the movie are Brian Dennehy, Lee Meriwether, Bill Cobbs and Abigail Breslin ("Little Miss Sunshine.”)

"Abigail Breslin, who plays little Emily, when we got her to do this film, it was really before ‘Little Miss Sunshine' had hit and earned an Academy Award nomination, and that was a real gift to us,” Stovall said. "Because right now, we probably couldn't afford to get Abby on a film like this, so that was a great opportunity.”

Stovall said Dennehy's portrayal of Texas rancher Gus Caldwell motivated Stovall to add the Gus character into the sequel to "The Ultimate Gift.”

"Gus was not going to appear in the next book, but once I experienced Brian playing Gus, now he's in the new book,” Stovall said.

The next book, called "The Ultimate Life,” is due out in October and follows the continuing adventures of Jason Stevens.

Stovall was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disorder at age 17; by age 29, he lost his sight. He is founder of the Narrative Television Network, which makes movies and television accessible for the nation's 13 million blind and visually impaired people and their families.

"As a blind person myself, my characters are kind of sketchy to me,” Stovall said. "These characters, since I was involved in making the movie, they came to life and were real people to me. So, it was more fun for me to write the next book.”

Sunday, September 2, 2007