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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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Making It Look TOO Easy

During the last decade or so, the word I've been hearing the most about Jim is "underrated." Seems the Powers That Be have finally seen what I saw all along. James Garner is a unique talent, and he is SO good, SO natural that everyone said he was "just playing himself," when nothing could have been further from the truth.

It still makes me mad, but at least he's getting his props while he's still alive. No, it's not just me. Read on...

Updated Thursday, June 16, 2005

How does a star last for 50 years in the cut-throat world of show business? Just ask James Garner. Author Ed Robertson gives us a behind-the-scenes look at one of America's most beloved stars.

James Garner: True Blue from Maverick to Eight Simple Rules

by Ed Robertson

James Garner is one of the few actors whose film and television career spans three generations.

Baby Boomers remember him as the star of Maverick (ABC, 1957-1962) and many movies from the ‘60s, including The Great Escape; Move Over, Darling; The Thrill of It All; The Children’s Hour; The Americanization of Emily; Grand Prix; and Support Your Local Sheriff.

Those who came of age in the ‘70s know him as Jim Rockford, the wise-cracking hero who changed the way we looked at television detectives in The Rockford Files (NBC, 1974-1980).

Then there’s that impressive string of films he did in the ‘80s and ‘90s, including Heartsounds, Promise, My Name is Bill W., Barbarians at the Gate, Breathing Lessons, Twilight and his Oscar-nominated performance in Murphy’s Romance.

Young people today know him as Grandpa Jim on 8 Simple Rules (ABC, 2002-2005), not to mention his roles in Space Cowboys, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and The Notebook.

An actor must be pretty special to enjoy that kind of longevity. That’s exactly what James Garner is. Here’s a look at why he appeals to so many of us, filmmakers and filmgoers alike.

Garner is admired throughout the industry for the environment he creates on the set. Ask anyone who has ever worked on a Garner film or television series—actors, writers, directors, producers, crew members, stunt people, extras, and anyone else who’s part of the production—and they will invariably mention the word family.

My wife and I saw this firsthand in 2001, when we visited the set of Garner’s Supreme Court drama First Monday. The entire soundstage crackled with energy the minute Jim arrived. Everyone knew that they were in the presence of a real star, the kind who instantly lends gravitas to a project by virtue of his participation. That kind of stature not only creates excitement throughout the set, it raises the bar for everyone and inspires them to do their best.

Garner also inspires loyalty because he looks after the needs of his cast and crew. He takes care of the little things, such as making sure people on the set have the best coffee and food available. And he takes cares of the big things, such as giving cast and crew the room they need to do their job.

“I like to let people do what they were hired to do,” Garner told me when I interviewed him for my book, Thirty Years of The Rockford Files. “I think you get better work that way. They know that they won’t have somebody looking over their shoulder all the time.

“Now, I know what everyone does on the show, and they realize that, but they also don’t feel as if I’m looking over their shoulder.”

Jim has always respected the work of his writers—and the feeling is mutual. Television writers especially love him, knowing that even an ordinary line will sound that much better because Jim is the one who’s saying it.

As for how his peers view Garner, consider the tribute by Morgan Freeman on the night of the Screen Actors Guild awards earlier this year.

The Guild honored Jim that night with its prestigious Life Achievement Award for career achievement and humanitarian accomplishments. After a 20-minute ceremony that culminated with a heartfelt speech by Garner, the show resumed with the award for Best Supporting Actor in a Dramatic Film. Although Jim was among the nominees in that category for his performance in The Notebook, the award went to Morgan Freeman in Million Dollar Baby.

When Freeman took the stage to accept the award, he could still feel the glow in the room emanating from the ceremony honoring Garner. Instead of delivering the usual acceptance speech, Freeman smiled warmly at Jim and immediately led the entire audience in a rousing rendition of the theme song from Maverick—the show, of course, that originally made Garner a star in 1957.

Garner’s approach to acting has always been internal. He doesn’t so much “learn lines” as he “learns thoughts”—that is, the thought process of whatever character he is going to play. According to the late Marion Hargrove, who wrote multiple episodes of Maverick as well as many of Jim’s movies in the early ‘60s, this is a trait the actor developed as a young man growing up in Oklahoma.

“The South is a richer environment to grow up in than any other part of the country,” said Hargrove in Maverick: Legend of The West. “You can get to know more people in the South: you watch them, you know what they’re like. That can be a great benefit to a writer or an actor.

“And, of course, Garner went through many odd jobs before he settled onto acting, so he would’ve met a lot of different people. He told me that he learned a lot from listening to people while he worked at the filling station [while he was a student at Hollywood High School]. He’d take in the different conversations people had as they passed through.”

Garner himself has said that listening has always been a key to his success as an actor. “One of the first things I learned in this business is how to listen,” he said in an interview with ABC. “By listening, you put yourself in it. You know what’s going on. You’re reacting to it.”

Indeed, Jim is one of the finest reactors film or television has ever known. Whether he’s playing Jim Rockford, Grandpa Jim, or the Chief Justice of the United States, you can often tell exactly what his character is thinking simply from the look on Garner’s face.

James Garner is so good, the effort he puts into each of his roles is sometimes overlooked. “Jim makes acting look so easy, he hasn’t gotten the credit he deserves,” said writer/producer Juanita Bartlett (Nichols, The Rockford Files). “When you see him on Rockford, he’s playing a character. He isn’t playing himself. But because he makes it look so real, you think you’re looking at James Garner.”

I had a chance to see just how hard Jim works during my visit to the set of First Monday.

It was a scene between Garner and Joe Mantegna. Their characters were engaged in conversation while walking down a long corridor. The dialogue was mostly expository, fairly routine stuff. From where I stood, Garner could do this in his sleep.

Suddenly, Jim stopped and shook his head. He was not satisfied with his performance. He’d gotten the words right, but he hadn’t delivered them quite the way he wanted. He motioned to the director, “Could we take it again from the top?”

The cameras rolled. The director called out “Action!” Once again, Jim and Joe went through their paces. This time, Garner nailed it. The director said, “Cut and print it,” and they went on to stage the next scene.

Now here’s a man who has been doing this for 50 years, yet he still believes in working just as hard as he did as a young actor. I couldn’t help but be impressed.

Garner also still believes in taking chances, as he did when he joined the cast of 8 Simple Rules following the untimely death of John Ritter in 2003.

Ritter was a television icon, beloved throughout the industry. Rules was built around Ritter. Not only was it sacrilege to continue without him, no network show had ever survived the death of a lead actor. That was what all the experts were thinking.

Yet 8 Simple Rules proved everyone wrong, thanks to James Garner.

Jim’s steady presence helped stabilize the cast and crew, especially during those first few days without Ritter. And though Rules did lose viewers who were loyal to Ritter, it picked up many more new viewers who tuned in simply to watch Garner. As a result, Rules not only survived, it continued to thrive for another two seasons before leaving the air earlier this year.

It’s that steady presence that has made James Garner a part of our lives for almost 50 years. He plays the kind of characters on film and television we’d all like to have for a friend.

Ed Robertson has written five books, including two on the television career of James Garner: Maverick: Legend of The West (pomegranate Press, 1994) and Thirty Years of The Rockford Files (ASJA Press, 2005). Ed was also a consultant and onscreen commentator on the documentaries “James Garner”(MSNBC, 1999) and “Hollywood Maverick” (A&E, 2000), which airs regularly on the Biography Channel. For more information on Ed’s books and articles, drop by his web site www.edrobertson.com.


Lance Mannion

One of my favorite actors talking about one of my very favorite actors:

I also loved working with James Garner, who is so unsung. When we were shooting the scene where we have lunch together, I'm throwing grapes up in the air, catching them with my mouth, and he's just sitting there. "Doncha want a cuppa coffee?" I ask him, and he says, "No, you're doing it all." I'd love to work with him again. He's in the same league with Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Gielgud, in a different way. All of them are coming from the inside, and all their thoughts have to be right. James Garner makes acting look effortless – that's hard work.

That's Malcolm McDowelll talking about working with Garner in Sunset. Quote's from an interview McDowell did with N.P. Thompson of The House Next Door. Thompson was focused on McDowell, naturally, so he didn't chase that down---Garner in the same league as those three great British hams? What did McDowell mean?

I'm guessing that when he says that, like those three, James Garner is "coming from the inside" he means that when you watch Garner you have to look into his eyes. He makes you read his thoughts. His characters don't move about much (neither do Olivier's but he vibrates so intensely when he's just standing still you feel as if he's moving as much as Gene Kelly does when he's dancing) but they're always thinking. You can see their minds working, which is how Garner can dominate a scene in which he has few lines, he's playing opposite an actor as volatile as McDowell, and that other actor is doing something as flamboyant as tossing grapes up in the air and catching them in his mouth. McDowell appears to have been worried about upstaging Garner but Garner knew. He can afford to give away space to anyone who's onscreen with him.

Garner once said he learned everything he knows about acting from watching Henry Fonda in the stage version of The Caine Mutiny Court Martial. It was one of Garner's first acting jobs. He played a member of the panel of naval officers trying the case and he had no lines. He kept himself occupied by studying Fonda, another actor who I'd say worked "from inside."


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Afterthoughts on older movies

by Clay Patrick

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J u l y


James Garner

Logically, of course, this month’s column should belong to Marlon Brando, who died recently at 80. He was, after all, widely considered to be one of, if not the, premiere actors of his time, and his legend is such that typically I would say few careers are more deserving of a tribute, along with a weekend’s viewing.
The thing is, I didn’t care for him all that much.
I don’t mean as a person, of course—I didn’t know him. But outside of The Godfather I am no particular fan of his film work. I guess that holds true in my estimation for a number of the early Method/Lee Strasberg students. Over the years (and after spending some time studying it myself), I have come to a somewhat unfavorable opinion about Method acting and actors—some of those early so-called New York actors who developed their style under that particular discipline gave performances that were overwrought, sometimes incomprehensible (especially Brando), and, well, sloppy. Don’t even ask me what I think of James Dean these days. That’s just one opinion, of course, and oh my, would I have loved to see Brando on stage. But of his film work? Well, in good conscience I must leave it to others to recommend films worthy of your time.
I decided the other day, upon reading one of my fellow Audience writer’s reviews on The Notebook, that James Garner’s career is one that is often overlooked, and that he is equally deserving of a column. Now him, I’m a fan of. To look at his technique you might not think there was much craft involved at all. You’d be wrong, of course. Only the very best can make it look that easy. Perhaps that’s what I perceive as the difference between the two giants—Brando I felt was always acting at me; with Garner, you never see the process. As an audience member, I pick “B.”
Without further adieu, here are five films from one of my all-time faves.

The Great Escape (1963)
Fortunately, this one plays in heavy rotation on
TCM, widescreen and uncut as it should be, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding it. It’s also available on DVD and video, of course.
Directed by John Sturges and written by James Clavell and W.R. Burnett from Paul Brickhill’s book, The Great Escape is one of the all-time great
WWII films, a fictionalized version of a real-life escape attempt from a Nazi POW camp. Garner is just one of that era’s top-notch actors in the film, both character types and leading men. Steve McQueen co-stars, with Richard “Sir Dickie” Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasance and many other recognizable faces providing critical support. It’s one of those films no studio could afford to produce today.
Garner plays Flight Lt. Bob Anthony “The Scrounger” Hendley, and he lives up to his nickname. As two groups of prisoners secretly tunnel their way below their respective barracks and plan subsequent getaways through enemy territory, Hendley is the go-to guy for materials needed to complete the mission. That is, when he’s not giving his captors a bad time.
While there’s really not a bad performance in the film, pay special attention also to longtime character actor Pleasance as Lt. Colin Blythe, aka “The Forger.” Pleasance had a very hit-and-miss career, often way over the top in his performances, but here he just shines (right up until he breaks your heart).
There are too many great sequences here to single out any one, but most folks will remember this film as the one featuring McQueen’s fence-hopping motorcycle dash for freedom. The Great Escape is also notable among
WWII films in that it does not conclude with the requisite happy ending.
For all the reasons listed above, Escape easily qualifies as Afterthought’s Top Pick o’ The Month.

Murphy’s Romance (1985)
Garner’s performance as the lively, cantankerous title character is the main reason to see this sweetly romantic May-December love story, which is otherwise only slightly above average. But that’s still reason enough.
Sally Field (who also produced and insisted upon Garner for the part) stars as Emma Moriarty, a newly divorced mom trying to make a go of a small-town horse ranch. Between her lazy lout of an ex-husband (Brian Kerwin, the weak link in the film) and a decided lack of customers, she’s not having an easy time of it.
Garner plays Murphy Jones, local druggist and political activist, whom Emma comes to rely upon for sage advice after he begins boarding his horses with her. But despite their age differences, an exasperated Murphy finally explains to the clueless Emma that he’s neither her shrink nor her “damned Dutch uncle.” Nope, Murphy has other things on his mind.
The chemistry between Garner and Fields doesn’t exactly crackle, but it’s comfortable and fun in this evenly-paced adult romance, directed with a sure hand by Martin Ritt. The slow build of their relationship, as scripted by Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravitch, is realistic, and a fine way to spend two hours. Kudos to Fields for stepping out of the limelight and giving Garner the meatier role (for which he deservedly received an Oscar nomination).
Available on
DVD and VHS.

They Only Kill Their Masters (1972)

It has been years since I saw this police story (and probably a lot more years since I’ve seen it not edited for television), but I distinctly remember it being a matinee favorite from when I was a lad, especially Garner’s performance and, well, just the very sight of the beautiful, enigmatic Katherine Ross back in her prime.
In the small, sleepy coastal hamlet of Eden’s Landing, a young woman named Jenny Campbell has been killed, apparently by her pet Doberman. But that doesn’t sit right with easygoing police chief Abel Marsh (Garner, in a Rockford-esque performance), who comes to find out that something else is going on as he begins digging into the dead girl’s past. What he discovers is a bit unsavory for such an idyllic setting—Jenny lived what would at the time have been considered a rather sordid lifestyle. Helping Chief Marsh with his investigation is Ross, playing the local vet, who may or may not have something to do with Jenny’s death herself.
Masters is a fairly standard procedural, but it boasts an exceptional supporting cast (Hal Holbrook, June Allyson, and the great Harry Guardino). Screenwriter Lane Slate and director James Goldstone (both
TV vets of the time) manage to keep the mystery going until the eventual payoff.
Available on
VHS (with some truly hideous cover art).

The Skin Game (1971)
Garner has one of his most entertaining roles (and one of his best co-stars) in this western, set in the Old South.
Garner is Quincy Drew and Louis Gossett Jr. (back when he was just Lou Gossett, with hair) is Jason O’Rourke in this comedy about a couple of antebellum con men. Their scam is this: The pair travel about the region where Garner regularly sells the strapping Gossett into slavery for exorbitant prices—and then proceeds to “liberate” him again and again, moving on to the next town afterwards. Unfortunately things go awry, as things are wont to do, and suddenly it is no longer a game for Gossett, who faces a lifetime of real servitude. Luckily, Susan Clark as Ginger, a pretty young woman with a game of her own, steps in with assistance.
Garner and Gossett are particularly well-suited to this dicey, sometimes heavy material (written by Peter Stone from a Richard Alan Simmons story), playing off each other like they’d been working together for years, and Clark holds her own against them. Also, Ed Asner gives an excellent bad-guy performance.
Directed by Paul Bogart, the film is available on
Trivia Note: Skin Game was Warner Bros.’
2000th production.

Support Your Local Sheriff (1968)

For viewers of a certain age like myself, it would be criminal not to include one of the two “Support Your…” films Garner made, either Gunfighter or Local Sheriff. Both are equally charming, but I think this one has the better script and cast. Two of the things that allow a star such as Garner to maintain a
40+-year career are the ability to pick good material and the ability to work with the right people, from Stuart Margolin and Gretchen Corbett in his Rockford days to big screen co-stars such as Doris Day in Move Over Darling, and Julie Andrews in The Americanization of Emily, both of which are worth renting as well.
Here, in this genial spoof of the western genre, Garner gets to work with such cowboy movie vets as Walter Brennen (as Pa Darby, the leader the bad guys), Bruce Dern, Harry Morgan, Henry Jones, and of course the great Jack Elam. And for his leading lady, one of the truly underrated actresses of her time, the late Joan Hackett as the hair-triggered Prudence.
The reasons Sheriff—in which Garner plays a smooth-talking gunman who decides to take the lawman job because he needs the money and it doesn’t look like it’ll require much effort on his part—works so well is that the satire is subtle and Garner is the world’s greatest straight man, allowing the lunatics who populate the town to take care of the comedy for him. Sure, some of the gags are a little dated, but it’s still worth the watch. Elam is especially great as Garner’s deputy.
Of course, if you’re in the mood for such a thing, you can always rent Support Your Local Gunfighter, the ersatz sequel, and have yourself a nice B-movie double bill right in the comfort of your own home. Both are available on all aftermarket media.
Sheriff was written by William Bowers and directed by Burt Kennedy.

Well, pardners, that’s our five (plus a couple more honorable mentions) for the month, so hitch your pony to the Netflix or Movies Unlimited websites and get started watching. I’ll mosey on back next month with a few more suggestions from the WayBack Machine.

� 2004 Audience magazine

Friday, February 23, 2007


limericks: "
A committee for a statue is formin'In the hometown of James Garner, Norman.Of the famed 'Rockford Files',He's brought Hollywood smiles,A great honor for this old 'Maverick' gunman.

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.