Sunday, July 20, 2014

Delicious remembers talented actor and enduring Hollywood leading man James Garner (1928 - 2014)


James Garner, Witty, Handsome Leading Man, Dies at 86
By Bruce Weber, NY Times, July 20, 2014
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/21/movies/james-garner-actor-dies-at-86.html?_r=0#

James Garner, the wry and handsome leading man who slid seamlessly between television and the movies but was best known as the amiable gambler Bret Maverick in the 1950s western “Maverick” and the cranky sleuth Jim Rockford in the 1970s series “The Rockford Files,” was found dead in his California home on Saturday night, the Los Angeles Police said. He was 86.

Mr. Garner came to acting late, and by accident. On his own after the age of 14 and a bit of a drifter, he had been working an endless series of jobs: telephone installer, oilfield roughneck, chauffeur, dishwasher, janitor, lifeguard, grocery clerk, salesman and, fatefully, gas station attendant. While pumping gas in Los Angeles, he met a young man named Paul Gregory, who was working nearby as a soda jerk but wanted to be an agent.
 
Years later,  he was working as a carpet layer in Los Angeles for a business run by his father. One afternoon he was driving on La Cienega Boulevard and saw a sign: Paul Gregory & Associates. Just then a car pulled out of a space in front of the building, and Mr. Garner, on a whim, pulled in. He was 25.

Mr. Gregory, by then an agent and a theatrical producer, hired him for a nonspeaking part in his production of Herman Wouk’s “Caine Mutiny Court-Martial,” which starred Henry Fonda, John Hodiak and Lloyd Nolan. It opened in Santa Barbara and toured the country before going to Broadway, where it opened in January 1954 and ran for 415 performances. Mr. Garner said he learned to act from running lines with the stars and watching them perform, especially Mr. Fonda, another good-looking actor with a sly streak.
 
He found steady work in movies, however. In “The Children’s Hour” (1961), an adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s play, he played a doctor engaged to a schoolteacher (Audrey Hepburn) accused of being a lesbian. He appeared uncomfortable in that earnest role, but he was winning and warm in “The Great Escape” (1963), the World War II adventure about captured Allied flyers plotting to break out of a German prison camp, as Bob Hendley, the resourceful prisoner known as the Scrounger.

In 1964 he starred with Julie Andrews in “The Americanization of Emily,” which he called his favorite of all his films. He played the personal attendant of a Navy admiral, a fish out of water and the voice of the movie’s pacifist point of view.
 
He also appeared in romantic comedies, including three in 1963: “The Thrill of It All” and “Move Over, Darling,” both with Doris Day, and “The Wheeler Dealers,” opposite Lee Remick. There was also a comic western, “Support Your Local Sheriff” (1969), and a follow-up, “Support Your Local Gunfighter” (1971). Other notable films included “Victor/Victoria” (1982), in which he was reunited with Ms. Andrews, playing a man in love with a woman pretending to be a man. 
 
Garner appeared in the television films “My Name is Bill W” (1989), starring James Woods as the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, and “Barbarians at the Gate” (1993), based on the best-selling book about the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco; in “My Fellow Americans” (1996), a comic adventure in which he and Jack Lemmon played feuding former presidents who find themselves framed by the sitting president and end up together on the lam; and in the romantic film “The Notebook” (2004).
 
He reprised his Rockford character in several television movies and appeared in the movie version of “Maverick” (1994) as Marshal Zane Cooper, a foil to the title character, played by Mel Gibson.
 
Later, there were recurring roles on a number of shows, including “Chicago Hope,” “First Monday” and “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter”; in the short-lived animated series “God, the Devil and Bob,” he was the voice of God.
 
Mr. Garner, a lifelong Democrat who was active in behalf of civil rights and environmental causes, always said he met his wife, the former Lois Clarke, in 1956 at a presidential campaign rally for Adlai Stevenson, though in “The Garner Files” Mrs. Garner said they had actually met at a party earlier. She survives him, as do their daughter, Greta, known as Gigi; and Mrs. Garner’s daughter from a previous marriage, Kimberly.
 
Persuasively ambivalent as a hero of westerns, war movies and detective stories, Mr. Garner’s performances may have reflected his feelings about his profession.
 
“I was never enamored of the business, never even wanted to be an actor, really,” he told The New York Times in 1984. “It’s always been a means to an end, which is to make a living.”
 
 
 

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