Vintage Hunk: James Garner

By: Mike McCrann

James Garner is best remembered from his hit TV shows Maverick and The Rockford Files, but this popular actor also had a very successful movie career.

He was handsome, sexy, talented and gave some very underrated film performances.

James Garner James Scott Bumgarner (Gay fans may have wished he had kept his real name!) was born in Norman, Oklahoma in 1928. His mother was half Cherokee and she died when Garner was five. Garner's father remarried and his new stepmother reportedly beat James and his two brothers. She finally left after a physical battle with young Garner; he later had a stint in the Merchant Marines, then followed his father to California and entered Hollywood High School. It was there that a high school gym teacher recommend him for a job modeling bathing suits. (We won't go there!)

After being wounded and winning two Purple Hearts in the Korean War, Garner began his career with a non-speaking role in the play The Caine Mutiny Court Martial. His movie career began with a few small roles at Warner Brothers, then Garner got his career break with the title role as professional gambler Bret Maverick in the smash hit TV series Maverick. When the series ended in 1960, Garner began a busy decade of starring in films like The Thrill of It All and Move Over, Darling with Doris Day (whom he Amercanizationofemilylobby_1reportedly adored); his best films included The Children's Hour (as the man who comes between Audrey Hepburn and Shirley Maclaine in this then-daring lesbian-themed drama based on the famous Lillian Hellman play) and the exciting The Great Escape.

However Garner's finest film and performance was in The Americanization of Emily. Co-starring Julie Andrews, this Paddy Chayefsky comedy/drama was a critical and popular hit. Among his other hit films were 36 Hours, a taut World War II thriller, the racing drama Grand Prix, and even playing sleuth Philip Marlowe in Marlowe—perhaps the least-known of all the films made from Raymond Chandler's books.  Garner's low-key acting style suited all these parts, and he never seemed to be "acting." While his contemporaries (Brando and Clift, for example) were delving into the "Method" right and left, Garner just played his characters with a minimalist style that has aged very well.

In the 1970s Garner hit TV pay dirt again with The Rockford Files even winning an Emmy for Best Actor in 1977. In the 1980s James Garner3Garner had a major success with the Blake Edwards/Julie Andrews movie Victor Victoria, and he was nominated for an Academy Award for his 1985 hit Murphy's Romance co-starring Sally Field. (Field later stated in A&E's James Garner biography that he was the best cinematic kiss she ever had.) Garner worked steadily for the next 20 years. One of his funniest roles was in the Clint Eastwood-directed Space Cowboys, where all of the aging male stars had a group rear nude scene. 

Garner married in 1956 after a two week courtship. The Garners have two children and their marriage of over 50 years is considered one of the happiest in Hollywood.

James Garner was a natural. His all-American, handsome face and sexy physique complimented his totally natural acting style. You never caught James Garner "acting" like some of his more famous contemporaries. He was the quintessential American in every respect, and his TV and film legacy is one of the finest in entertainment history.