Few actors have ever seesawed from television to movies, back to TV and back to film stardom as did James Garner.
And some really good films too. That is, at least in part, because he is in them.
They rave about Brando and (George C.) Scott, but they couldn’t hold a candle to him.
That was John Wayne talking, and the him referred to was Garner, perhaps the most successful yet underrated actors of mid-20th century America. He was part of a rare breed, a man who started in films, then made it BIG in TV, returned to films to become a top-billed leading man, then returned to TV to another hit series, then returned once more to re-succeed in films.
Garner — who died in 2014 at age 86 — could legitimately be called a STAR of television and the big screen. Fact is that for much of his active career, he juggled successes in both at the same time.
We recommend perusing of the actor’s chatty and most entertaining 2011 memoir, The Garner Files coauthored by Jon Winokeur, an excellent read for those who wonder (as we often do) about Hollywood’s byzantine business mores. Garner challenged some of those arcane practices in court, and against all odds, won his case.
Some things you should know about James Garner:
— Like many big stars, he was told at the beginning of his career that he had no future, that he’d “never be an actor.” (The culprit here was a Columbia Pictures acting coach, another of classic Hollywood’s acting “experts” getting it wrong.)
— The only movie part that Garner personally pushed for, he writes, was as Marlon Brando’s pal in 1957’s Sayonara, “the first ‘serious’ film I had ever done.” He was wise to do so.
— None other than Henry Fonda was a close friend, a personal and professional mentor for Garner.
— Garner was a scapper. He had little good to say about Jack Warner and Lew Wasserman, the powerhouse super-agent and head of MCA, former parent of Universal Pictures. He took on both Warners and Universal in court over various contractual disputes, and won.
— In filming a love scene, Garner gripped his costar so tightly that a pair of her ribs snapped.The movie was 1963’s Move Over, Darling, a remake of a 1940 screwball comedy in which Garner and Doris Day play a married couple. Day, wrote Garner, was so sweet and so professional — she made everyone around her look good. Day described Garner as funny and nice. Even though he broke two of my ribs.
— Garner admired Audrey Hepburn, his costar in 1961’s The Children’s Hour, inspiring the actor to write: I fell in love with her. (I could never figure out how she could have married that guy Mel Ferrer. She was way too good for him.) Ferrer was Audrey’s first husband from 1954 to 1968.)
— On tv, Garner starred in four series, two big hits: Maverick, an offbeat western (from 1957 to 1961, and a private eye series The Rockford Files (from 1974 to 1980). Although an try at a Maverick sequel flopped, Garner came back in 1991’s Man of the People.
— Finally, Sean Connery did not appear in Maverick, which Garner departed after its third season. Recalled the actor: They (then) tried to get Sean Connery to replace me (in the lead) and they even flew him over from England, but he ultimately passed.