Best Known For
James Garner is an actor known for his lead role in the TV show Maverick and for films such as Murphy’s Romance and Decoration Day.
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James Garner, born James Scott Bumgarner in Norman, Oklahoma, on April 7, 1928, rose to fame as the star of the Western TV series Maverick (1957-60). He went on to star in hit films such as The Great Escape (1963), Grand Prix (1966) and the Oscar-winning Victor Victoria (1982). He earned an Oscar nomination for Murphy’s Romance (1985) and a Golden Globe Award for Decoration Day (1990).
Born James Scott Bumgarner on April 7, 1928 in Norman, Oklahoma. James Garner's early childhood in the Great Depression-era Dust Bowl was marked by hardships. When he was just a young child, his half-Cherokee mother, Mildred Garner, passed away. His father, Weldon Garner, who worked as a carpet layer, sent his three sons to live with relatives in a different town. James, Charles and Jack Garner remained there until their father remarried a few years later and moved the children back in with him. Although the boys had been reunited with their father, their home life was far from happy, as their new stepmother was physically and verbally abusive to her stepsons. She and Weldon Garner eventually divorced.
Remaining in Oklahoma when his father moved to Los Angeles, James Garner soon dropped out of school. At age 16, he lied about his age in order to join the Merchant Marine during the last year of World War II. After that, he decided to try living in California with his father, during which time he briefly attended Hollywood High School. But Garner didn't finish school there, either, abandoning his classes to take a job as a model for Janzen bathing suits. "I made 25 bucks an hour!" he remembered. "That's why I quit school. I was making more money than the teachers."
It didn't last long, though. In 1950, Garner became the first Oklahoman drafted into the United States Army during the Korean War. Two battlefield injuries and Purple Hearts later, Garner returned to the United States. Although he never finished high school, he did earn his GED.
Finally, Garner stumbled into acting. Approached by a talent agent friend and lured by the prospect of a new job, Garner took a small role as a judge in a Broadway production of "The Caine Mutiny Court Martial." Although Garner spent most of his time in the background, his participation gave him ample time to learn from the show's legendary lead actor: Henry Fonda. Through watching Fonda, and because he occasionally had the opportunity to read lines during rehearsals, Garner began internalizing what it took to be an actor.
Thanks to that role, Warner Bros. offered him a film contract in 1956. Unlike many future stars, though, Garner always viewed acting as a way to make a living, instead of as a dream fulfilled. "I'm a Spencer Tracy-type actor," Garner said. "His idea was to be on time, know your words, hit your marks and tell the truth." Garner's lunch-bucket approach worked well enough; the actor landed several supporting roles in films, including Sayonara (1957) starring Marlon Brando.
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