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Actor James Garner dead at 86

James Garner as Bret Maverick
public domain image

James Garner, popular veteran actor in films and television, was found dead in his home by paramedics on July 19, 2014.

The 86 year old actor’s film and TV career dates back to 1956, when he made appearances on TV’s “Cheyenne” and movies like “Shoot Out at Medicine Bend” (1957). He won the starring role in the western TV series “Maverick” (1957-1962), but continued to appear in movies like “Darby’s Rangers” (1958) and “Up Periscope” (1959).

Garner’s affable personality in his western films and TV series lent itself well to romantic comedy once “Maverick” left the air and he returned to making movies. He appeared in “Move Over Darling” (1963) opposite Doris Day, which was noted for having originally been planned for Marilyn Monroe and Dean Martin (under the title “Something’s Got To Give”). When Monroe died, Martin left the project, and Garner and Day were cast. Other comedies at this time included “The Thrill of it All” (1963) and “The Americanization of Emily” (1964).

While succeeding in comedies, Garner never strayed too far from the western, appearing in films like “Duel at Diablo” (1965) and “Hour of the Gun” (1967). Two of his more popular films, “Support Your Local Sheriff” (1969) and its sequel “Support Your Local Gunfighter” (1971) blended the western and comedy genres effectively. Garner also appeared in the noted war film “The Great Escape” (1963) and the racing drama “Grand Prix” (1966), the latter generating an interest in racing and his support of a racing team.

It was with the TV show “The Rockford Files,” which premiered in 1974 that allowed the actor his greatest success. The show ended in 1980 due partly to injuries the actor incurred doing stunts on the program. When Garner found that his share of the profits were limited due to some “creative bookkeeping” by the studio, he sued Universal for $16.5 million. The suit was settled out of court.

In the 1980s, Garner played mostly dramatic roles, except for an attempt made to resurrect his Bret Maverick role in a new, albeit short-lived TV series. He also appeared as Wyatt Earp opposite Bruce Willis as Tom Mix in a fanciful comedy about their supposed friendship during 1920s Hollywood. However the movie, “Sunset” (1988), achieved limited success.

Garner was decelerating his activities by the 1990s and 2000s, appearing in a cameo in Mel Gibson’s movie version of “Maverick” in 1994, as well as opposite Jack Lemmon in the comedy “My Fellow Americans” (1996). Garner also appeared in Clint Eastwood’s “Space Cowboys” (2000) and the popular romantic drama “The Notebook” (2004).

Along with his award winning work as an actor, James Garner joined Martin Luther King on his march on Washington in 1963, and was sitting in the third row when King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

An amiable, likeable presence in films and TV for nearly 60 years, Garner achieved major success in many timeless films and TV shows, winning him generations of fans.

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