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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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His big break was just around the bend. (Meanwhile, Warner Bros. started billing him as Garner instead of Bumgarner, without ever asking for his permission.)
Garner's acting career really picked up when he was awarded the lead role in a Western television series called Maverick, in which he played the title character, Bret Maverick,
from 1957-60. The fact that he was already under contract for a regular (and relatively low) fee may have had something to do with the studio's decision to cast him; at least, Garner seemed to think so. Westerns were big on American television in this period, and Maverick was initially conceived to be typical of the genre. Over time, though, the show found its niche by painting Garner's character as somewhat lazy and unwilling to be bothered, yet nonetheless essentially good-hearted and effective at catching the bad guys. Fans embraced the show's gentle mockery of Western conventions and Garner's likeable, unconventional character.
Just as he was getting his first taste of what it was like to play a lead role, Garner was also learning about a darker side of the entertainment business. His tenure on Maverick ended with a successful lawsuit against Warner Bros. During a writers' strike in 1960, the studio suspended Garner without pay, claiming that they had no scripts to work from, so they couldn't pay him. A judge sided with Garner; it turned out that the company had plenty of writers writing plenty of scripts during the period, so they had breached Garner's contract by suspending him without pay.
Actually quite happy to be out of his low-paying contract with Warner Bros., Garner moved on, appearing in such feature films as The Great Escape (1963), The Americanization of Emily (1964) and Grand Prix (1966). It was only when he returned to television, though, that his career reached another high point.
Garner attained small-screen fame once again as Jim Rockford, a private detective, in the series The Rockford Files (1974-80). Much like Maverick, the series presented a subtle parody of its own genre headed by a likeable anti-hero. Again, too, Garner's tenure on the series would end in a lawsuit. Strenuous production work had aggravated his old Korean War injuries and left him with several new ones, so Garner tried to leave the show. NBC wanted him to fulfill his contract, so he took parts on a couple of short-lived Maverick spin-offs, but those fizzled. Garner ended up suing NBC for cheating him out of his fair share of the profits from The Rockford Files. Garner won the suit, receiving an undisclosed sum from NBC. During the 1970s, Garner also became recognizable for the Polaroid ads he appeared in with Mariette Hartley.
In the 1980s, Garner returned to the big screen. He appeared alongside Julie Andrews in the Oscar-winning Victor Victoria (1982) and was nominated for an Oscar himself for Murphy's Romance (1985), in which he starred opposite Sally Field. Garner also acted in several television movies, racking up awards nominations and winning a best actor Golden Globe for Decoration Day (1990). In 1990, Garner received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
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