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Info 101: Movieclips 220: James Garner (1928-2014)

James Garner was liked by nearly all of his co-stars, including James Whitmore on the Rockford Files.
James Garner was liked by nearly all of his co-stars, including James Whitmore on the Rockford Files.
1977: NBC publicity shot; James Whitmore (l.) and James Garner in The Rockford Files.

Born in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1928, just as America was about to enter the Great Depression, James Garner's life began in the presence of an abusive stepmother. From age 5, he suffered nine years of almost daily beatings until he finally fought back, ending his father's marriage to this woman and freeing him and his two brothers from her tyranny. From this tortured beginning, Garner was able to become one of the most successful actors in history and one of the "nice guys" who finished higher than last.

Garner's career took off in 1967 when he got the role of Bret Maverick in Maverick. The television show was a tremendous hit but Garner lasted only three seasons from 1957-1960 due to a dispute with Warner Brothers. One of the guest stars on the show was Clint Eastwood with whom he remained friendly. He was ultimately replaced by Steve McQueen but many fans preferred Garner's performances.

Garner stuck with movie roles during the1960s, appearing in such films as "The Great Escape", "Duel at Diablo" and "Grand Prix". For his role in that film, he did his own diving stunts, a rarity for actors in those days. As a result, he became more interested in the sport and developed his skills in that business.

Garner's film career overlapped into the 1970s, one highlight being "Skin Game" opposite Louis Gossett, Jr. The two portrayed con men in pre-civil war times. Garner would "sell" Gossett, his 'slave', help him escape and move to the next town to sell him again.

The 1970s also brought the television series The Rockford Files onto the air, starring Garner, Stuart Margolin, Noah Beery, Jr., Joe Santos and Gretchen Corbett. The series, created by Roy Huggins and Stephen Cannell, was an updated remake of Maverick with Garner as a private detective who hated guns. The series was a huge hit and Garner lasted for six seasons, having to leave due to problems with his back and knees from the demanding stunt work.

Garner stayed active in television and film, acting and performing voice-over parts. A highlight of his later career was his reunion with Clint Eastwood in "Space Cowboys". Garner, who claimed that smoking pot made him mellower and more forgiving, died at his home in Brentwood, Calif., of natural causes on July 19, 2014. He married only once in his life and is survived by his wife, Lois Clarke, and their two daughters.

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