A lot has been written in the past week about James Garner and his illustrious career. But probably the most complete – and completely entertaining – obit/bio the TVWriter™ minions have seen appeared last weekend from the sometimes hemorrhagic but always magical keyboard of Our Favorite Brit Blogger, Keef Telly Topping Himself:
by Keith Telly Topping
The film and TV legend James Garner has died at age eighty six, TMZ has reported. The star of The Rockford Files and The Great Escape was found dead when an ambulance arrived at his Los Angeles home around 8pm on Saturday evening. Amiable and handsome, James Garner obtained success in both films and television, often playing variations of the same charming anti-hero or conman persona he first developed in Maverick, the offbeat Western series which shot him to stardom in the late 1950s. ‘I’m a Spencer Tracy-type actor,’ he once noted. ‘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 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.’ Born James Scott Bumgarner in Norman, Oklahoma in April 1928, James was the youngest of three children. His two older brothers were the actor Jack Garner (1926 to 2011) and Charles Bumgarner, a school administrator who died in 1984. Their mother, who was said to be of part Cherokee descent, died when James was five years old and James grew to hate his stepmother, Wilma, who allegedly beat all three boys. When he was fourteen, Garner had finally had enough and after a particularly heated battle, she left for good. James’ brother Jack commented, ‘She was a damn no-good woman.’ Shortly after the break-up of the marriage, James’s father, Weldon, a carpet layer, moved to Los Angeles, while Garner and his brothers remained in Norman with relatives. After working at several jobs he disliked, at sixteen Garner joined the Merchant Marine near the end of World War II. In 1995, he received an honorary doctorate from The University of Oklahoma, in his home town. When speaking at the event he took the opportunity to remind the officials who had invited him to speak, of the circumstances of his original departure. ‘It’s nice to be invited back as a VIP after being run out of town on a rail!’ At seventeen, he joined his father in LA and enrolled at Hollywood High School where a gym teacher recommended him for a job modelling bathing suits. ‘I made twenty five bucks an hour,’ James recalled. ‘That’s why I quit school. I was making more money than the teachers. I never finished the ninth grade!’ He never did graduate, explaining in a 1976 Good Housekeeping magazine interview: ‘I was a terrible student, but I got my diploma in the Army.’ He served in Korea for fourteen months with the Fifth Regimental Combat Team. He was wounded twice, firstly in the face and hand from shrapnel fire from a mortar round and secondly in the buttocks due to ‘friendly fire’ from US fighter jets as he dived head first into a foxhole. James was awarded the Purple Heart for the first injury (and not, as often inaccurately reported, for ‘getting shot in the arse’, a story which James himself reportedly enjoyed telling gullible journalists). He did, finally, receive a second Purple Heart in 1983, thirty two years after his injury. Garner was a self-described ‘scrounger’ for his company in Korea, a role which he later played in The Great Escape and The Americanisation of Emily. In 1954 a friend, Paul Gregory, whom James had met while attending school, persuaded Garner to take a non-speaking role in the Broadway production of The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, where he was able to closely study Henry Fonda in the lead role. Garner subsequently moved to television commercials and eventually to TV drama roles. His first movie appearances were in The Girl He Left Behindand Toward The Unknown both in 1956. After several further minor movie roles, includingSayonara with Marlon Brando, Garner got his big break on TV playing the part of the professional gambler Bret Maverick in the comedy Western series Maverick. James was earlier considered for the lead role in another Warner Brothers Western series, Cheyenne, but that role went to Clint Walker because the casting director reportedly couldn’t reach Garner in time (this, according to Garner’s autobiography).
For more about James Garner in what may be the interweb’s longest paragraph, ya gotta go HERE.