Cowboy, gambler, detective, Formula One racer — James Garner landed all the cool roles. The tall and rugged Oklahoma native endeared himself to Americans in the seminal television series Maverick and The Rockford Files, as well as gripping flicks like Grand Prix.
Sadly, Garner left us too soon, passing away in 2014. We celebrate his birth with some things you might not know about the eternally cool leading man.
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Studio changed his name without his permission.
On April 7, 1928, in Norman, Oklahoma, he came into the world as James Bumgarner. Who can say? Perhaps that is how would we know him today had it not been for Warner Bros. After an array of jobs, he got his break as an actor in 1956. The studio started billing him as Garner instead of Bumgarner without asking the young man.
He and Jim Rockford have the same first and middle names.
Oh, we should mention his full name was James Scott Garner. Sound familiar? His beloved detective character was named James Scott Rockford.
The license plate on his Firebird in 'The Rockford Files' has special meaning.
Garner had more personal connections to the Malibu P.I. His "Copper Mist" colored Pontiac Firebird carried the California tag 853 OKG. The first half referred to August 1953, when Garner landed his first acting job. The OKG stood for his home state and last initial.
Rockford had the same phone number as the Ghostbusters.
Who you gonna call? Jim Rockford, apparently. In the opening credits of The Rockford Files, a camera pushes in to the detective's phone as his answering machine picks up. The number listed at the bottom of the phone is 555-2368. A decade later, the blockbuster sci-fi film Ghostbusters would feature a commercial in the film that listed the paranormal crew's contact as 555-2368.
He filed a lawsuit against Universal Studios over 'The Rockford Files.'
In the early 1980s, Garner sued Universal over profit shares from The Rockford Files in a legal battle that dragged for eight years. "You show me anybody who has done enough television as an actor and I'll show you somebody who is beat to a pulp," he told a paper after the ordeal. He had asked for $22.5 million. He won, though the precise amount was never allowed to be spoken over. Still, he seemed rather pleased with the result, if that tells you anything.
He met his wife at an Adlai Stevenson rally.
Garner bumped into Lois Clarke at a 1956 political event for the former governor of Illinois and presidential candidate. The couple remained together until Garner's death in 2014. "Stevenson lost. I won," he wrote in his autobiography, The Garner Files: A Memoir.
Image Source: Everett Collection
He played Bret Maverick in three different 'Maverick' TV series.
It is the rare actor who can claim two iconic television characters and a successful big screen career. Garner became a household name thanks to the witty and fun 1957 Western series Maverick. The gambling Bret Maverick proved to be so beloved that numerous reboots followed over the decades. In 1979, a TV movie led to Young Maverick, an incredibly short-lived sequel that hardly featured Garner. In 1981, Maverick was dealt another hand in the series Bret Maverick. NBC surprisingly canceled the solidly performing show after a season.
He was on Variety's list of Top 10 Overpriced Stars of 1968.
Seems rather silly in hindsight, no? The list also included Glenn Ford, Brigitte Bardot and William Holden. That year Garner headlined the films The Pink Jungle, pictured, and How Sweet It Is!
He bottled a wine called Chateau Jimbeaux.
James and Lois Garner purchased a vineyard in Santa Ynez, California, dubbed "White Rhino." In his brief time on the vineyard, Garner bottled his own Chardonnay — Chateau Jimbeaux. We'll raise a toast to that!