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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Monday, January 16, 2012

Jon Winokur to Discuss His James Garner Book at Library

Pacific Palisades -- Palisades-Post

Pacific Palisades author Jon Winokur. Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer
Jon Winokur to Discuss His James Garner Book at Library

Special to the Palisadian-Post

What do Palisadian author Jon Winokur and the popular television actor James Garner have in common? Not only did they collaborate on Garner's new memoir, 'The Garner Files,' released in November by Simon & Shuster, but both are curmudgeons.

Winokur will discuss the memoir and his experiences with Garner at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 19 at the Palisades Branch Library, 861 Alma Real. This is the first of a monthly author series to be held on the third Thursday of each month.

In case you aren't certain exactly what a curmudgeon is, the American Heritage Dictionary defines it as an ill-tempered person full of resentment and stubborn notions.

Jon Winokur, however, might take issue with that characterization. If anyone should know what defines a curmudgeon, it is this 36-year resident of Pacific Palisades and author of more than 20 books. He is probably best known for 'The Portable Curmudgeon' (1987) and its various curmudgeonly sequels.

Winokur thinks that curmudgeons have received a bad rap and says curmudgeons are neither warped nor evil at heart. They don't hate mankind, just mankind's absurdities. They're just as sensitive and soft-hearted as the next guy, but hide their vulnerability beneath a crust of misanthropy. They ease the pain by turning hurt into humor.
  Winokur and Garner first crossed paths a few months after 'The Portable Curmudgeon' was published.

One day Winokur's phone rang, and it was Garner, best known for his long-running roles as Bret Maverick in the ABC series 'Maverick' (1957-62) and Jim Rockford in the NBC series 'The Rockford Files' (1974-80). Garner had found Winokur's number in the phone book and was calling to thank him because he so enjoyed 'The Portable Curmudgeon.'

Garner began the conversation by saying, 'This is Jim Garner, I'm an actor.' Jon responded, 'I know. How are you?' Jim's response was, 'I'm fine. What kind of curmudgeon has a listed number?'

Turns out one of Garner's fans had sent him a copy of the book to cheer him up while recovering from heart surgery'in fact, Bob Newhart and Dick Martin had also sent him a copy'and the book had done the trick, lifting him out of post-op depression.

A few weeks later, Garner was a guest on 'The Tonight Show' and talked to Johnny Carson about his surgery. He brought out the book, told how he got it and proceeded to read from it until the first commercial, after which he handed it to Johnny, who read it until the next commercial.

This put the book on the map and really launched Winokur's career as a writer. As he puts it, 'I've been allowed to publish a couple of dozen other books, all, I'm convinced, on the strength of that 'Tonight Show' appearance, without which I'd probably be selling real estate instead of collaborating with James Garner on his memoirs.'

Winokur and Garner maintained a friendship that began with that first phone call and continues to this day. About two years ago, Winokur asked Garner why he had never written a memoir. Garner's response was 'Why would anyone care about my life?' but after further prompting from Winokur, the book project took off.

The author spent several hours a week sitting and chatting with Garner, and also interviewed over 100 people who worked with or knew him. According to Winokur, every person he contacted was eager to share their thoughts and memories about Garner, and he heard story after story of Garner's quiet acts of generosity and kindness.

Garner was born in 1928 in Norman, Oklahoma, with the birth name of James Scott Bumgarner. He and his two older brothers had a tumultuous childhood. Their mother died when Jim was four, and their father was ill-equipped to care for them. The three boys were passed around to family members, spent a disastrous time with their father's new wife 'Red,' an apparent poster woman for evil stepmothers, and basically learned to fend for themselves.

Garner left home at the age of 14 and later was Oklahoma's first draftee of the Korean War. The book includes a chapter on his war experience and the events that led to two Purple Hearts for combat wounds and a great story of how his aversion to garlic may have saved his life. Upon his return from Korea, Garner bounced around between visiting his dad in California and trying to go back to school in Oklahoma.

A series of coincidences led Garner to stage producer Paul Gregory, who saw his potential and sent him to New York City and his first acting gig: in Gregory's production of 'The Caine Mutiny Court Martial.' The rest, as they say, is history.

Garner had so many adventures and interests over the course of his life that it's hard to believe he fit it all into one lifetime. Instead of telling his life story in strict chronological fashion, the chapters are in loosely chronological order, but deal with the major events or interests in his life.

Topics include the two popular television series; his politics (he's an unabashed 'bleeding-heart liberal'); his love of race car driving, inspired by his role in the movie 'Grand Prix' and hanging out with Steve McQueen, who he met while filming 'The Great Escape'; his love/hate relationship with golf; and his thoughts on acting (he respects the writers and believes the script is sacred).

Also included are chapters on producing, including 'My Name is Bill,' the story of the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous; Garner's 'romantic' films such as 'The Notebook'; and commentary on his long marriage to Lois Clarke, whom Garner met and fell in love with on Aug 1, 1956 ('she reminded me of Audrey Hepburn, only full-bodied, like Sophia Loren').

The book concludes with commentary from friends and colleagues (several of whom lovingly refer to him as a curmudgeon, including Julie Andrews in her introduction) and a glossary of his film and TV works, annotated with Garner's thoughts about each project.

Garner comes across as a very honest and forthright person. He has a bit of a problem with his temper, evidenced by numerous physical confrontations over the years, but also has a large and generous heart. The book opens with a letter from Jim to his readers, wherein he states that one of the purposes in writing the book was to acknowledge those who've helped him along the way, from friends and family to the actors, directors, writers and crew members he has worked with over the years. That is a tall order, but with the able assistance of Jon Winokur, he accomplishes that and much, much more.

In addition to next Thursday's library event, interested readers can follow Winokur on his two Twitter feeds: Advice to Writers and The Daily Curmudgeon, or visit his Web site: advicetowriters.com.

(Katie O'Laughlin owned Village Books on Swarthmore from 1997 until last June. She continues to have an online business through palivillagebooks.com, where one can order books with a discount and free shipping.)
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  1. Hi there Suzanne

    great page - I've always been a big fan of JG and often tell the story of his successful marriage after two weeks of knowing his wife - very romantic.

    ANYWAY - thought you might find the following interesting and maybe even change IMDB if you think I am right - I don't have an IMDB account... IMDB says his first acting was in 1954 on Broadway. But I just started watching a 1952 Film Noir - "The Turning Point" on NetFlix. At about 1 min 20 seconds, a group of reporters pours into the lobby following some police detective or whatever - and I SWEAR James Garner is the main reporter asking him most of the questions. Very tall - looks like him - seemingly affected voice though. Anyway - since you went to the trouble of setting up this page - thought you might be interested.

    1. HI Bob ~ Glad you enjoyed yourself.

      I'm 100% sure the person you saw in "The Turning Point" wasn't Jim though. He really didn't do any acting before his old friend, Paul Gregory, talked him into joining the "Cain Mutiny" company on Broadway.

      Jim had - still has - severe stage fright and never even considered acting until Gregory talked him into it. And that was a non-speaking role. Jim has spoken so often of his first speaking roll on tour with that play and how everyone in the company was so helpful and encouraging to him.

      Don't think he could possibly have done a speaking roll in 1952. Interesting though. Wonder who it really was?

    2. I think the actor in question was Robert Rockwell. Rockwell may be remembered as "Mr. Boynton" on "Our Miss Brooks".

  2. I've always loved James Garner - he's my favorite actor. Does anyone know how he is currently doing as of now (November 2012)? I haven't heard anything new about him for a few years now since he had a stroke. I sure hope he is doing well!

    1. He recovered fully from that stroke and has no permanent damage. You should read his memoir, The Garner Files. You will find the link at the top of this blog's pages. Great read and written since the stroke.

      His main problem is the arthritis in almost every joint in his body after years of injuries doing his own stunts.