James Garner

  • Born: April 7, 1928
  • Died: July 19, 2014
  • Location: New York, New York


James Garner holds the 41st annual life achievement award backstage at the 11th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in this Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005 file photo taken in Los Angeles.

Film, TV legend dies

FRAZIER MOORE, The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Few actors could register disbelief, exasperation or annoyance with more comic subtlety.

James Garner had a way of widening his eyes while the corner of his mouth sagged ever so slightly. Maybe he would swallow once to further make his point.

This portrait of fleeting disquiet could be understood, and identified with, by every member of the audience. Never mind Garner was tall, brawny and, well, movie-star handsome. The persona he perfected was never less than manly, good with his dukes and charming to the ladies, but his heroics were kept human-scale thanks to his gift for the comic turn. He remained one of the people.

He burst on the scene with this disarming style in the 1950s TV Western "Maverick," which led to a stellar career in TV and films such as "The Rockford Files" and his Oscar-nominated "Murphy's Romance."

The 86-year-old Garner, who was found dead of natural causes at his Los Angeles home on Saturday, was adept at drama and action. But he was best known for his low-key, wisecracking style, especially on his hit TV series, "Maverick" and "The Rockford Files."

His quick-witted avoidance of conflict offered a refreshing new take on the American hero, contrasting with the blunt toughness of John Wayne and the laconic trigger-happiness of Clint Eastwood.

Garner displayed real-life bravery. He served in the Korean War and received two Purple Hearts for combat wounds, as he recounted in his memoir.

There's no better display of Garner's everyman majesty than the NBC series "The Rockford Files" (1974-80). He played an L.A. private eye and wrongly jailed ex-con who seemed to rarely get paid, or even get thanks, for the cases he took, while helplessly getting drawn into trouble to help someone who was neither a client nor maybe even a friend. He lived in a trailer with an answering machine that, in the show's opening titles, always took a message that had nothing to do with a paying job, but more often was a complaining call from a cranky creditor.

Through it all, Jim Rockford, however down on his luck, persevered hopefully. He wore the veneer of a cynic, but led with his heart. Putting all that on screen was Garner's magic.

Well into his 70s, the handsome Oklahoman remained active in both TV and film. In 2002, he was Sandra Bullock's father in the film "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood." The following year, he joined the cast of "8 Simple Rules ... For Dating My Teenage Daughter," playing the grandfather on the sitcom — and helping ground it with his reassuring presence — after star John Ritter, who played the father, died during the show's second season.

He even scored in commercials. During the late 1970s, he was paired with actress Mariette Hartley in a popular series of ads for Polaroid cameras. Their on-screen banter felt so authentic that many viewers mistakenly believed they were husband and wife.

When Garner received the Screen Actors Guild's lifetime achievement award in 2005, he quipped, "I'm not at all sure how I got here." But in his 2011 memoir, "The Garner Files," he provided some amusing and enlightening clues, including his penchant for bluntly expressed opinions and a practice for decking people who said something nasty to his face — including an obnoxious fan and an abusive stepmother.

And when he suspected his studio of cheating him on residual payments — a not-unheard-of condition in Hollywood — Garner spoke out loudly and fought back with lawsuits.

They all deserved it, Garner declared in his book.

It was in 1957 when the ABC network, desperate to compete on ratings-rich Sunday night, scheduled "Maverick" against CBS's powerhouse "The Ed Sullivan Show" and NBC's "The Steve Allen Show." To everyone's surprise — except Garner's— "Maverick" soon outpolled them both.

At a time when the networks were awash with hard-eyed, traditional Western heroes, Bret Maverick provided a breath of fresh air. With his sardonic tone and his eagerness to talk his way out of a squabble rather than pull out his six-shooter, the con-artist Westerner seemed to scoff at the genre's values.

After a couple of years, Garner felt the series was losing its creative edge, and he found a legal loophole to escape his contract in 1960.

His first film after "Maverick" established him as a movie actor. It was "The Children's Hour," William Wyler's remake of Lillian Hellman's lesbian drama that co-starred Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine.

He followed in a successful comedy with Kim Novak, "Boys Night Out," and then established his box-office appeal with the 1963 blockbuster war drama "The Great Escape" and two smash comedies with Doris Day — "The Thrill of It All" and "Move Over Darling."

Throughout his film career, Garner demonstrated his versatility in comedies ("The Art of Love," ''A Man Could Get Killed," ''Skin Game"), suspense ("36 Hours," ''They Only Kill Their Masters," ''Marlowe"), and Westerns ("Duel at Diablo," ''Hour of the Gun," ''Support Your Local Gunfighter").

In the 1966 racing film "Grand Prix" he starred as an American driver in the Formula One series. Garner, who loved auto racing, formed and owned the American International Racers auto racing team from 1967 through 1969, and drove the pace car at the Indianapolis 500 in 1975, 1977 and 1985.

In the 1980s and 1990s, when most stars his age were considered over the hill, Garner's career remained strong. He played a supporting role as a marshal in the 1994 "Maverick," a big-screen return to the TV series with Mel Gibson in Garner's old title role. His only Oscar nomination came for the 1985 "Murphy's Romance," a comedy about a small-town love relationship in which he co-starred with Sally Field.

He starred in a musical, "Victor/Victoria" (1982), and a romantic drama, "The Notebook" (2004).

His favorite film, though, was the cynical 1964 war drama "The Americanization of Emily," which co-starred Julie Andrews.

Unlike most film stars, Garner made repeated returns to television. The show he often cited as his favorite, "Nichols" (1971-72), and "Bret Maverick" (1981-82) were short-lived, but "The Rockford Files" proved a solid hit, bringing him an Emmy.

Among his notable TV movies: "Barbarians at the Gate" (as tycoon F. Ross Johnson), "Breathing Lessons," ''The Promise," ''My Name Is Bill W.," ''The Streets of Laredo" and "One Special Night."

He said he learned about acting while playing a non-speaking role as a Navy juror in the 1954 Broadway hit play "The Caine Mutiny Court Martial," starring Henry Fonda and Lloyd Nolan.

"I had no lines, and I had trouble staying awake," Garner recalled.

After "Caine Mutiny," Garner found work in Hollywood as a bit player in the "Cheyenne" TV series. Warner Bros. gave him a screen test and signed him to a seven-year contract starting at $200 a week.

The studio cast him in supporting roles in three minor films, followed by the important break as Marlon Brando's sidekick in "Sayonara." When Charlton Heston declined a war movie, "Darby's Rangers," because of a money dispute, Garner assumed the role.

"Maverick," which co-starred Jack Kelly as brother Bart Maverick, made its debut on Sept. 22, 1957, launching him as a star.

Garner was born James Scott Bumgarner (some references say Baumgarner) in Norman, Oklahoma. His mother died when he was 5, and friends and relatives cared for him and his two brothers for a time while his father was in California.

In 1956, Garner married TV actress Lois Clarke, who survives him. She had a daughter Kimberly from a previous marriage, and the Garners had another daughter, Gretta Scott.

In the late 1990s, the Garners built a 12,000-square-foot house on a 400-acre ranch north of Santa Barbara, California.

"My wife and I felt ... we'd just watch the sunset from the front porch," Garner said in 2000. "But then the phone started ringing with all these wonderful offers, and we decided, 'Heck, let's stay in the business for a while.'"


AP Television Writer Lynn Elber in Los Angeles, AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer in Charlotte, North Carolina, AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston in Philadelphia and the late AP writer Bob Thomas contributed to this report.


Reactions to the death of James Garner

The Associated Press, The Associated Press

"Jim was a mentor to me and a friend, and I will miss him." — Tom Selleck, who early in his career guest-starred on Garner's series "The Rockford Files."


Garner was "a hell of a driver. He truly was a 'man's man.' Jim was a friend, and when he came to Indianapolis as a spectator and pace car driver we obviously welcomed him with open arms." — Parnelli Jones, two-time Indy 500 winner.


"My heart just broke. There are few people on this planet I have adored as much as Jimmy Garner. I cherish every moment I spent with him and relive them over and over in my head. He was a diamond." — Sally Field, who co-starred with Garner in the 1985 film "Murphy's Romance."


Shirley Jones recalled that in the mid-1950s she arrived in Hollywood and landed the lead role in "Oklahoma!" Before location shooting began, she was invited by a photographer to join him for dinner with another promising young star — James Garner. "I see this gorgeous man and I said, 'Oh, my!' He was very sweet. We went to this little restaurant and I told him, 'You're gonna be a giant star.' He said, 'How? I'm not sure I know how to act.'"

Jones said she followed his ascent but didn't run into him again for decades until they co-starred in the 1984 film "Tank." ''Not only was he a great actor, but he didn't hit on me," she said. "He didn't have that reputation, like a lot of actors I worked with. He was very married, a family man. And a real straight-on guy."


"R.I.P James Garner. Such a lovely man"— Gary Sinise, who appeared with Garner in the 1989 TV film "My Name is Bill W." (Twitter)


"So sad to hear that James Garner has gone. A real part of my childhood Rockford and the Maverick especially" — actor-comedian Stephen Fry (Twitter)


"Away from home; can't sleep. Now sad to read my dear friend & costar James Garner passed. RIP sweet Jim Rockford" — Marlee Matlin, who appeared with Garner in the 1997 TV film "Dead Silence" (Twitter)

Condolence & Memory Journal

Sometimes I wish I were a little kid again, skinned knees are easier to fix than broken hearts. - Author UnknownSometimes I wish I were a little kid again, skinned knees are easier to fix than broken hearts.

Posted by Collie Deloach - Los Angeles, CA - Student   December 25, 2014


I learned to appreciate watching James Garner films and my family always watched Rockford Files when
I was kid. He was a very versatile actor. Many fans, like me ,will miss him, but always will remember the great
Career he had, as an actor.

Posted by Joanne - Las Vegas,, NV - Fan   July 28, 2014

James Garner was my favorite actor he was humorous fun and sardonic I loved watching Maverick, and the Rockford files and the other movies he starred in. RIP James Garner I will see you in Heaven.

Posted by Fred Smith - Cincinnati, OH - Fan   July 28, 2014

The best movie he ever played in that made me cry and still does every time I watch it was the notebook. Gonna miss u.

Posted by Ryan Cheney - laconia, NH   July 28, 2014

What a humble & wonderful man you were. Your movies were made just for you. I grew up with Maverick & other movies you made possible by your wit & willingness to change. God Bless you & to those you leave behind. May you go with God & Thank You for you being you. You will be truly missed.

Posted by Rhoda Compestine - Pleasant Hill, CA - Fan   July 26, 2014

I meet you at President Ford's golf tournament in Vail and I believe also at Willie/Darrell Golf tournament at The Woodlands in Houston. You were the ultimate handsome gentleman and will be missed by all. Lois Shanks

Posted by Lois Shanks - Cat Spring, TX - Not related   July 25, 2014


My girlfriend and I met you in 1958 on Warner's lot while you were filming Maverick. You were so kind, friendly and witty to two young girls visiting CA from Detroit and to the crew also. Thanks for Maverick, Rockford and all your splendid performances. A class act for sure.
My condolences to your family.

Posted by Rosemary Egan-Gouin - South Lyon, MI - Fan   July 24, 2014


Always loved you James...RIP

Posted by El - Los Angeles, CA   July 24, 2014

James Garner a fantastic human being, as well as an actor. My favorite.

Posted by Brian - Freehold, NJ - fan   July 24, 2014

My mom never missed The Rockford Files so I grew up watching you.Once grown everytime I saw you it brought back childhood memories.RIP Sir and may God Bless your family and your friends.

Posted by Barbara Binyon - SanAngelo, TX - Fan   July 24, 2014

you will be missed I enjoy all your movies I know the good Lord has you in His house now. No more pain

Posted by Jesus Reyna - Robstown, TX   July 24, 2014


Posted by MARIA T REYNA - BANQUETE, TX   July 24, 2014


god bless james garners he wil be miss, one great actors the tartaglia family baltimore maryland

Posted by philip - baltimore, MD - fan   July 24, 2014

It's really sad to see another great actor pass. I will forever rememeber him for the many smiles he gave me. My thoughts are with your family now...RIP.

Posted by Astalos Family - Federal Heights, CO, CO - Fan   July 23, 2014


my deepest sympathy to james garners family and to his many friends and associates..he put himself into every role he took on, along with his talent, wit and sense of humor..he epitomized to me what a true gentleman should be..i met him once several years ago and I will not forget it because as an airline employee we encountered so many "celebrities" that were very self centered and demanding..mr garner was down to earth,very polite, and went out of his was to advise us of a blind lady needing assistance to board an aircraft..that sort of kindness in a person says a lot..he epitomized what everyone would like to have in a brother,husband,father or grandfather.."rest in peace" sir...

Posted by m s. watkins - spring, TX - a fan   July 23, 2014

You will be missed alot,You are one of a great actor.My prayers to your family.My Mom adores you and so do alot of people.Betty A. Brooks fan Watertown,Wis.

Posted by Betty Ann Brooks - Watertown, WI - Fan   July 23, 2014

I have always loved a movie when James Garner was in it. One could tell he was a man with good morals. He always played a part as a man who would not be in a "sex" movie. I was right when I saw how long he had been married to his wife. God bless her. They were best friends and my heart goes out to her. He will be missed for sure but not forgotten.

Posted by Karen Cochran - Aurora, CO - Fan   July 22, 2014


RIP Mr. Maverick. God bless you and your family. A fan 4ever.

Posted by The Reedy Family - Spring Hill, FL - Fan   July 22, 2014

RIP Jim.Thank you for so many years of wonderful entertainment on both T.V. and the big screen . My prayers to your family. You will be missed by many including me.

Posted by Laurie Denegar - West Easton, PA - fan   July 21, 2014

I grew up watching James garner on television he will be greatly missed he was a great actor

Posted by Nancy Luna - Mason city, IA - Fan   July 21, 2014

My prayers and thoughts to the family of James Garner "Maverick", he will truly be missed in the film industry. I have watched his career from the beginning and loved every film. He could pull off any role from serious, funny, anything. Loved him most in his westerns and The Notebook. He is another cowboy riding off into the sunset. I will really miss your performances Mr. Garner, but at least we do have reruns to keep his memory alive for those of us that love him.

Posted by Gloria Travis - Fort Worth, TX - Big Fan   July 21, 2014

I'm saddened to learn of the news of the late actor James Garner's death. He was, perhaps best known for playing the lead title role of "Jim Rockford" in the Mid/Late-1970s NBC-TV Network-aired Crime-Drama series "Rockford Files", which ran for 5 1/2 seasons on the "peacock network" (NBC). In the Late-1950s/Early-1960s he also starred in the ABC-TV Network-aired Western drama series "Maverick" and then in the Early-1980s he starred in the NBC-aired "Maverick" descendant series called "Bret Maverick". He also appeared in numerous movies over the yrs. incl. the 1969-released film "Marlowe", which also starred the late Carroll O'Connor (who later went on to star in the 1970s/Early-1980s landmark CBS sitcom series "All In The Family"-"Archie Bunker's Place" where he'd play "Archie Bunker"), Rita Moreno, Sharon Farrell and co. Perhaps my most favorite "Rockford Files" episode was from its 1974/1975 debut season called "Dexter Crisis" which featured a good car chase thru the Nev. desert. The late James Garner also appeared in TV spots for Mazda cars and Polaroid cameras over the yrs. He'll be deeply missed. May he R.I.P.

Posted by Christopher Hagee - Phoenixville, PA - N/A   July 21, 2014


James Garner was a natural born star. His presence, his rugged complexion and his friendly voice were always a true indicator of a good movie or television show.
We wish to offer our condolences to those family members and friends he left behind. If there is "another side" to this life, perhaps, someday, but not too soon, you can all meet him there.
Thank you for entertaining us Mr. Garner!

Fans forever,
Thomas, Carolyn & Shadow "The Cat" Walker
Truro, Nova Scotia

Posted by Thomas, Carolyn & Shadow "The Cat" Walker - Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada - Not related. Just fans of his.   July 21, 2014


So sorry for the family's loss. He will always be remembered and missed. Praying for family and friends of this great and versatile actor.

Posted by Phyllis Presnell - Greensboro, NC - fan   July 21, 2014


Thanks James for all those wonderful movies!...may God bless you and your family

Posted by Jacqueline - Owensboro, KY - Fan   July 20, 2014

Family Album

Veteran actor James Garner, seen in 2009 file photo taken in Los Angeles, stars as RJR Nabisco CEO F. Ross Johnson in the upcoming HBO film "Barbarians at the Gate". Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86.
James Garner at the 1978 Grammy Awards, held in Los Angeles, California on March 1978.
Actor James Garner is shown in character in this undated photo.
Actor James Garner is pictured during an interview in Norman, Okla., Garner's hometown, in this Friday, April 21, 2006 file photo. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86.
James Garner holds the 41st annual life achievement award backstage at the 11th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in this Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005 file photo taken in Los Angeles.
Actor James Garner, center, poses for a photo with Rosemarie Mesis, left, and Jimmie Mesis, right, the owners and publishers of PI magazine, and an award presented by the magazine to Garner as television's most famous private detective, during an appearance in Norman, Okla., Garner's hometown, Friday, April 21, 2006.

Family Album

Kathryn Grayson, left, who accepted on behalf of Phyllis Dalton for best color picture costume design for Dr. Zhivago, poses with presenters were Lana Turner, right, and James Garner, April 18, 1966, Los Angeles, Calif. (AP Photo)
In this Feb. 5, 2005 file photo, James Garner, arrives for the 11th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)
Legendary singer/actress Dame Julie Andrews, center, is kissed by her former co-stars Dick Van Dyke, left, and James Garner during a reception honoring Andews with the 10th annual ELLA award in Beverly Hills, Calif., Wednesday, April 25, 2001. The award is given to singers whose contribution to the music world is equaled by a singer's humanitarian causes and community support. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)