The Norman Transcript - Actor James Garner, who is best known to some for his roles as the Western man Brett Maverick and the cool private eye Jim Rockford, will pay his hometown, Norman, a visit Oct. 16-18. Weekend events with Garner will be hosted by the Norman Film Society, which includes OU, The City of Norman, the Downtowners Association, Campus Merchants and the Sooner Theatre.
The Sooner Theatre will host the James Garner Film Festival Oct. 17-18. The public is invited to a presentation for Garner as well as a double feature, with films chosen by Garner himself, Oct. 17 at 7:45 p.m. at the Sooner Theatre, 101 E. Main St.
Beginning at 7:45 p.m., Garner will be recognized for his invaluable contribution to films and will be presented with a key to the City by Mayor Ron Henderson. The double feature will follow at 8 p.m. and costs $20, which includes one free popcorn.
There is no confirmation Garner will be at the Sooner later than the award ceremony, said Amy Wood, marketing director of the Sooner Theatre. “Garner is a very private man, so it’s a great honor for him to agree to speak to the audience,” she said. “So many different generations know who James Garner is. From his TV career, to his older films to some of his newer films with Mel Gibson — he spans such an age group that it really hits a vast audience here in Norman."
The James Garner Film Festival will continue Oct. 18 at 9:30 a.m. with a showing of one of Garner’s favorite Westerns at the Sooner Theatre, which is open to the general public. Admission is free on a first-come, first-serve basis (555 seats are available).
Although Garner is not scheduled to be at Saturday’s film screening, the event is something the community of Norman has not had an opportunity to do, Wood said. “This is a unique opportunity for a native to come back to Norman, for us to celebrate his film career and for the public to show their appreciation of his success,” she said.
Wood said people of all ages are going to come see Garner for what they remember him for — “from 50 years ago to 15 years ago. It’s a neat variety and we’re thrilled,” she said.
Jennifer Heavner Baker, artistic director for the Sooner Theatre, said a committee at the Sooner Theatre chose Garner for the festival because he is one of Norman’s favorites. “We just brought back films to the Sooner Theatre a month ago and now we have James Garner,” she said. “It just seemed natural to start with Garner. I’m tickled pink.”
At first, Garner wasn’t sure he would be able to make it to the film festival because of his current production work in England; however, the filming was post-poned and he was able to come for the festival, Wood said.
“I think there are a number of different things people will enjoy about this film festival,” Wood said. “Number one, seeing a double feature in the historic theater. It brings it back what a lot of people remember the theater being — the moviehouse on Saturday afternoons. I think that will be a big draw. Number two, seeing James Garner himself. They’re going to be able to come watch and listen to him talk about his movies.”
The Sooner Theater is lending its space for free for the festival. The City of Norman also donated a film projector to the Sooner Theatre earlier this year, which makes events like the James Garner Film Festival possible, Wood said. “A lot of this would not happen if it were not for the support of the city,” she said. “It not only allows us to do our Sunday films, but we also can do film festivals like this now without any rental fees or costs.”
Although the film titles cannot be named due to advertising restrictions, a screening schedule for the James Garner Film Festival is available at the Sooner Theatre and at www.soonertheatre.net.
When asked which Garner flick was her all-time favorite, Heavner Baker was almost stumped. “Oh my goodness, that’s a hard question for me,” she said. “I love ‘Murphy’s Romance.’ That’s probably one of my favorites. I also love ‘Victor Victoria’ because, you know, I’m Miss Musical Theater.
”The James Garner Film Festival is sponsored by The City of Norman, the Sooner Theatre and the University of Oklahoma.
For more information or for tickets to next Friday’s double feature screening, call the Sooner Theatre at 321-8091 or visit www.soonertheatre.net.
BIOGRAPHY: Born James Scott Bumgarner in Norman in 1928 as the son of an Oklahoma carpet layer, James Garner dropped out of high school at 16 years of age to join the merchant marines. He worked in a variety of jobs and received the Purple Heart when he was wounded during the Korean War.
Garner had his first chance to act when a friend got him a non-speaking role in the Broadway stage play “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial” (1954). The play lead to small television roles, television commercials and a contact with Warner Brothers.
After co-starring in a handful of films from 1956-1957, Warner Brothers gave Garner a co-starring role in the television series “Maverick” (1957). Originally cast as an alternating series between Bart Maverick (Jack Kelly) and Bret Maverick (Garner), the show quickly turned into the Bret Maverick Show.
As Maverick, Garner was cool, good-natured, likeable and always ready to use his wits to get him in or out of trouble. In the early ‘60s, Garner portrayed many character roles similar to “Maverick.” His successful films included “The Thrill of It All” (1963) “Move Over, Darling” (1963) “The Great Escape” (1963) and “The Americanization of Emily” (1964). Garner appeared in the automobile racing movie “Grand Prix” in 1966 and 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 found success with his role in a Western comedy “Support Your Local Sheriff!” (1969) and followed it up with “Support Your Local Gunfighter” (1971).
In 1974, Garner became the classic television private eye in “The Rockford Files” (1974), a role that made him a very well-know actor. In 1977, he won an Emmy for Best Actor in his portrayal of Rockford.
In 1985, Garner was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for “Murphy’s Romance.” Three years later, Garner returned to the Western mode and co-starred with the young Bruce Willis in “Sunset,” a mythical story of Wyatt Earp, Tom Mix and Hollywood in the 1920s.
In 1994, Garner reprised his role of the leading Western man in “Maverick,” a movie co-starring Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster.
Garner continues his acting career to this day. In 2002, he starred with Sandra Bullock in “The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.” Garner’s lastest project, “Notebook,” is due out sometime in 2004. The film, directed by Nick Cassavetes, stars Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling and Gena Rowlands and centers around a lost love from World War II.
— Pop staff
By Helen PryorThe Norman Transcript