The Garner Files: A Memoir
By James Garner and Jon Winokur, Simon & Schuster, 2011
A Pretty, Funny Guy
When you looked up "strapping" in Webster's dictionary cerca 1960, was it James Garner's picture you saw? If not it should have been. Oklahoma-born James Garner had that all-American, non-douchey-jock good looks and likability, bestowing those traits on some of my favorite television men: Bret Maverick, Jim Rockford, and Mariette Hartley's "husband" on those awesome Polaroid commercials of the 1970s and 80s..
The youngest of three boys, James was born to a carpet layer father and part-Cherokee mother. His mother died when he was five years old, and James and his older brothers were sent to live with relatives until their father remarried in 1934. The new Mrs. Bumgarner was a horrible woman who beat and humiliated the children at every opportunity. A final terrible fight with 14-year-old James finally broke up the marriage. James went into the merchant marine at age 16 and his father moved to Los Angeles, where James joined him to finish school at Hollywood High School.
After a brief stint modeling bathing suits (um...eBay ad collectors?Anyone?), Garner joined the National Guard and served in the army during the Korean war, where he was wounded twice. A friend from high school suggested he should try his hand at acting, which he did, first on Broadway, then in television commercials, small TV roles, then his breakout starring role in the excellent Western series, Maverick.
Throughout the 1960s, Garner had solid leading man roles in both dramas and comedies, though frankly, I prefer him in the latter, especially with Doris Day. I came to know him as Doris Day's "other" husband (the anti-Rock) and to adore him through The Rockford Files, which my mother, sister, and I watched every Friday at 9:00 p.m. until it was stupidly taken off the air.
Garner has been acting steadily and constantly on small screens and large for the thirty-odd years since the end of Jim Rockford. My favorite thing about him, though, is that he met his wife, Lois, at an Adlai Stevenson rally in 1956, married her two weeks later, and has been married to her ever since.
What a man!
Happy 86th Mr. Garner.
May You Enjoy Your Upcoming YouTube Binge
Synthesizer + Harmonica = Awesome Theme Song