American actor, voice artist, singer, producer, and comedian James Garner born James Scott Bumgarner died on July 19, 2014 of acute heart attack at age 86.
Born on April 7, 1928 in Norman, Oklahoma, the youngest of three sons of Weldon Warren Bumgarner, a carpet layer, and his wife, Mildred Scott (Meek), his brothers were actor Jack Garner (1926–2011) and Charles Bumgarner, a school administrator who died in 1984.
His mother died when he was five years old. After their mother’s death, Garner and his brothers were sent to live with relatives.
Garner was reunited with his family in 1934, when Weldon remarried.
Garner came to hate his stepmother, Wilma, who beat all three boys, especially James.
When he was 14, Garner had enough and after a heated battle, she left the family, never to return. Jack Garner later commented, “She was a damn no-good woman”.
Garner stated that his stepmother punished him by forcing him to wear a dress in public, and that the boy finally engaged in a physical fight with her, knocking her down and choking her to keep her from killing the boy in retaliation. This incident ended the marriage.
In 1954, a friend, Paul Gregory, whom Garner had met while attending Hollywood High School, persuaded Garner to take a nonspeaking role in the Broadway production of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, where he was able to study actor Henry Fonda night after night.
During the week of Garner’s death, TCM broadcast most of his movies, introduced by Robert Osborne, who said that Fonda’s gentle, sincere persona rubbed off on Garner, greatly to Garner’s benefit.
In 1957, he had a supporting role in the TV anthology series episode on Conflict entitled “Man from 1997” playing Gloria Talbott’s (as Maureen) brother “Red”; the show stars Jacques Sernas as Johnny Vlakos and Charlie Ruggles as elderly Mr. Boyne, a librarian from 1997, and involved a 1997 Almanac that was mistakenly left in the past by Boyne and found by Johnny in a bookstore.
The show’s producer, Roy Huggins, noted in his Archive of American Television interview that he subsequently cast Garner as the lead in Maverick because of Garner’s comedic facial expressions while playing scenes in Man from 1997 that were not originally written to be comical.
Garner found great success in the western comedy Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969). He tried to repeat his success with a sequel, Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971), but it wasn’t up to the standards of the first one.
After 11 years off the small screen, Garner returned to television in a role not unlike that in Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969).
The show was Nichols (1971) and he played the sheriff who would try to solve all problems with his wits and without gun play.
When the show was canceled, Garner took the news by having Nichols shot dead, never to return in a sequel.
In 1974 he got the role for which he will probably be best remembered, as wry private eye Jim Rockford in the classic The Rockford Files (1974).
This became his second major television hit, with Noah Beery Jr. and Stuart Margolin, and in 1977 he won an Emmy for his portrayal.
However, a combination of injuries and the discovery that Universal Pictures’ “creative bookkeeping” would not give him any of the huge profits the show generated soon soured him and the show ended in 1980.
In the 1980s Garner appeared in few movies, but the ones he did make were darker than the likable Garner of old. These included Tank (1984) and Murphy’s Romance (1985).