The Rockford Files
“I’m a Spencer Tracy type actor. His idea was to be on time, know your words, hit your marks and tell the truth. Most every actor tries to make it something it isn’t (or) looks for the easy way out. I don’t think acting is that difficult if you can put yourself aside and do what the writer wrote.” James Garner
Good-natured, handsome American leading man of Cherokee Indian ancestry, James Garner, born James Scott Bumgarner, has achieved victory in both film and television during his long-term career of more than four and a half decades. A favorite among TV audiences, Garner shot to stardom as the likeable gambler Bret Maverick on the popular Western TV series “Maverick” (1957-1962), and later reprised the role for “Bret Maverick” (1981-82). Offering a superb performance, he received several nominations, including Emmys in 1959 and 1982 and a Golden Globe in 1982. He achieved additional fame and appreciation as the star of the highly successful “The Rockford Files” (1974-1980). As the private investigator Jim Rockford, Garner’s performance was critically applauded and he won an Emmy award in 1977. He also enjoyed massive success when he returned to the Jim Rockford role in a series of highly-rated TV movies from 1994-1999. Other remarkable TV performances include Harold Lear in Heartsounds (1984, earned nominations at the Emmys and Golden Globes), Bob Beuhler in the Emmy-winning film for Outstanding Drama/Comedy Special, Promise (1986, also received a Golden Globe and an Emmy nomination), Albert Sidney Finch in Decoration Day (1990, won a Golden Globe award) and F. Ross Johnson in Barbarians at the Gate (1993, netted a Golden Globe award). Recently, Garner had a recurring role in “Chicago Hope” (2000) and starred as the father of Katy Segal in the comedy series “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter” (2002-05).
As a film actor, the Oscar-nominated Garner is well-known for playing roles in such successful films as The Thrill of it All (1963, opposite Doris Day), Move Over, Darling (1963, again with Day), John Sturges’ World War II The Great Escape (1963, starring Steve McQueen), The Americanization of Emily (1964), John Frankenheimer’s racing drama Grand Prix (1966), the Burt Kennedy comedy Support Your Local Sherif (1969) and its sequel Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971), the comedy/romance Murphy’s Romance (1984, received an Oscar and a Golden Globe nomination), the modern day movie version of Maverick (1994, starring Mel Gibson), Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002) and The Notebook (2004), where he was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor SAG award. He will soon make a film acting comeback in the forthcoming Michael O. Sajbel’s drama The Ultimate Gift (2006).
Off screen, Garner has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his significant contribution to the television and film industry. He was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in 1990, and was handed the Screen Actor’s Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. One of the National Support Committee of the Native American Rights Fund and the National Advisory Board of the United States High School Golf Association, Garner has actively contributed to a number of humanitarian causes. As for his private life, Garner, who is a passionate golfer, has shared his time outside the limelight with his wife of 50 years, Lois Clarke, and their two daughters.
Childhood and Family:
Son to Weldon Warren Bumgarner and Mildred Meek, James Scott Bumgarner, who would later be popular as James Garner, was born on April 7, 1928, in Norman, Oklahoma. He left home at age 14 and joined the Merchant Marines two years later. After serving in the National Guard, he was drafted into the Korean War, where he earned a Purple Heart for being wounded during the war. In 1945, James went to live with his father in Los Angeles and briefly enrolled at Hollywood High and excelled in football. Having missed too many classes, James decided to leave his studies and attended a trade school, while also playing football for the Hollywood Boys Club. Afterward, he moved back to Norman, Oklahoma, and tried to complete high school. Unfortunately, he once again dropped out of school.
In 1956, James Garner, who was nicknamed Slick as a teenager, married Lois Clarke, whom he met two weeks before the ceremony. The couple is still together and has two daughters.
A Purple Heart recipient, James Garner got his start in the entertainment industry as a print ad model for Jantzen bathing suits. His first Broadway exposure was with a non-speaking role in a production of “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial” in 1954. Small TV roles and TV commercials soon followed and Garner eventually penned a deal with Warner Brothers. He made his film debut in 1956 with small parts in the drama Toward the Unknown and the David Butler-helmed The Girl He Left Behind, which starred Natalie Wood and Tab Hunter.
After working in a series of film and on TV during 1956-57, Garner was hired by Warner Brothers to star in the Western series “Maverick,” playing the lead role of pleasant, friendly gambler Brett Maverick. The show was commercially and critically successful and as for Garner, he was nominated for the Best Actor Emmy Award in 1959.
Lured by Maverick’s great victory, Garner established a triumphant film career in the 1960s and early 1970s. Among his notable vehicles were The Thrill of it All (1963, opposite Doris Day), Move Over, Darling (1963, again with Day), John Sturges’ World War II The Great Escape (1963, starring Steve McQueen), The Americanization of Emily (1964), John Frankenheimer’s racing drama Grand Prix (1966), and the Burt Kennedy comedy Support Your Local Sherif (1969) and its sequel Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971). The actor made his return to TV series with the title role in the NBC Western “Nicholas” in 1971, but the show was axed after its first season.
In 1974, Garner was selected by Maverick creator Roy Huggins and TV icon Stephen J. Cannell to star in the modern-day version of the 1957 popular Western series “Maverick,” “The Rockford Files.” Portraying private investigator Jim Rockford, Garner was so impressive that he received five Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor and eventually took home the award in 1977. As for the series, it was a highly successful television drama during that period. Despite high ratings, Garner chose to depart The Rockford Files in 1980 due to several physical injuries.
Following the departure, Garner moved to another series the next year, reprising his earlier role on the Western series “Bret Maverick” (1981-82). For his efforts, he received a nomination at the Golden Globes for Best Performance by an Actor in a TV-Series - Comedy/Musical and an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 1982. While working on The Rockford Files and Bret Maverick, Garner’s film career went on hold. He only made two films, Health (1980) and The Fan (1981), but both of them were disappointing.
Trying to re-launch his movie career, Garner took on the costarring role, opposite Julie Andrews, in Victor/Victoria (1982), where he stood out as King Marchand. Two years later, he headlined the action/comedy Tank, but the film was a failure. His career obtained a much-needed boost in 1985 when director Martin Ritt cast Garner as the lead, Murphy Jones, in the comedy/romance Murphy’s Romance. Delivering a fine turn as a small town druggist romancing Sally Field, the actor earned a Best Actor Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture Comedy/Musical.
The success, however, was overshadowed by his stunning body of work on the small screen. He starred as Harold Lear in the television movie Heartsounds (1984) and received Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his role in the film. In 1986, he earned another Emmy and Golden Globe nomination for his good portrayal of Bob Beuhler, opposite James Wood, in the made-for-TV movie Promise, a film that also marked Garner’s TV production debut. For his bright contribution as one of the executive producers, he shared the 1987 Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama/Comedy Special. After a praiseworthy performance in ABC’s movie My Name is Bill W (1989), which documented the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, Garner achieved further recognition by picking up Golden Globes for Best Actor in a Leading Role--Mini-Series or Television Movie for his role as Albert Sidney Finch in Decoration Day (1990, TV) and as F. Ross Johnson in Barbarians at the Gate (1993, TV).
Garner also began reprising the role of Jim Rockford in eight highly-rated TV movies from 1994-1999, and had roles in other TV movies such as Dead Silence (1997), Legalese (1998), Shake, Rattle and Roll: An American Love Story (1999) and One Special Night (1999), as well as the mini series “Streets of Laredo” (1995). Garner was soon seen on the big screen as Zane Cooper in the modern day movie version of Maverick (1994), which had Mel Gibson in the title role, as President Matt Douglas in My Fellow Americans (1996) and appeared in the thriller Twilight (1998), starring Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon and Gene Hackman.
Entering the new millennium, Garner focused his attention on TV although he made irregular returns to film. He lent his voice for the God character in the controversial short-lived animated series “God, the Devil and Bob” (2000), starred in the TV movie The Last Debate (2000) and joined the cast of the 1994 series “Chicago Hope” (2000) in the recurring role of the hospital’s paternal CEO Hugh Miler. Also in 2000, Garner was seen on film when he teamed up with old friends Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland in the astronaut movie Space Cowboys. After providing the voice of Commander Lyle Tiberius Rourke in the animated film Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), Garner returned to TV as the archconservative US Supreme Court Justice Thomas Brankin in the little-seen drama “First Monday” (2002), and then played aged Samuel Clemmons/Mark Twain in the made-for-TV film Roughing It (2002).
Next up for Garner, he enjoyed a box office smash hit with the 2002 film Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, where he was cast as the affectionate, co-dependent father and husband Shep. Following the real-life death of John Ritter, Garner joined the cast of the comedy “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter” in 2003, as Katy Segal’s dad Jim Egan, and stayed with the role until the show ended in 2005. During the period, the actor gave a SAG-nominating performance with his attractive and heartbreaking supporting turn as Duke, the loyal, hopeful husband of Alzheimer-ravaged Allie (Gena Rowlands) in Nicholas Spark’s The Notebook (2004).
After disappearing from the silver screen, 78-year-old Garner is scheduled to make his way back with a costarring role in the forthcoming The Ultimate Gift (2006), a drama directed by Michael O. Sajbel. Among his costars are Drew Fuller, Ali Hillis and Abigail Breslin.
Screen Actor Guild: Lifetime Achievement Award, 2005
Golden Boot: Golden Boot, 1999
Western Heritage: Bronze Wrangler, 1996
Golden Globe: Best Actor in a Leading Role--Mini-Series or Television Movie, Barbarians at the Gate, 1993
Golden Globe: Best Actor in a Leading Role--Mini-Series or Television Movie, Decoration Day, 1990
Emmy: Outstanding Drama/Comedy Special, Promise, 1987
Emmy: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, The Rockford Files, 1977