Actor James Garner passed on July 19, 2014 at the age of 86. When I jump on IMDb, he is accredited with an incredible 95 movies; which includes roles as an actor and voice. As the writers at LTBM discussed Mr. Garner’s passing, it quickly became apparent that I had the most knowledge about and experience with his movies. (Another reflection of my age.) Having gone through the list, I have seen a little over 75% of the things that Mr. Garner has been in. It is my pleasure to offer the following as a small glimpse into the movie life of Mr. James Garner as I touch on some of the more prominent roles that I have enjoyed.
It will help some of our younger readers to know that Mr. Garner has not been in anything over these last 4 years of his life. His most recent accreditations are for his voice. He voiced in the 2010 DC Showcase Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam as Shazam. Prior to that he was the voice of Doron in another animation film, Battle for Terra. However, looking at his animation characters, we have to go back to 2001 for my favorite. Garner was the voice of one Commander Tiberius Rourke in Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire.
Mr. Garner hasn’t been seen on film since 2006 where he played the not so caring, but very wealthy grandfather, Howard “Red” Stevens, in The Ultimate Gift. Red isn’t the kindest grandfather in the world, and he is aware of it. At his passing, he leaves a video-will challenging his grandson to 12 tasks to help him find happiness. This is a touching and feel-good movie on the important things in life.
His most noticeable and known characters of recent films would be those, like myself, who enjoy what have been dubbed “chick flicks”. In The Notebook, Mr. Garner played the main character Duke that is in a nursing home sharing a love story with a lady named Allie, played by Gena Rowlands. This is a fantastic film. One part that draws me to it is that you see a side of Garner that you seldom see on film: his soft side. Duke is a man in love who on a daily basis displays that love and must suffer a broken heart. Having worked in a nursing home for 5 years when I was younger, I found this to be a very touching film. Garner portrayed a character full of love, compassion, patience, and even a vulnerability that I am not use to seeing in this actor. His youngest of 2 daughters, Gigi, has been quoted in saying the soft side of Duke is one of the few times she saw the true personality of her dad on film.
Another aged character that displayed his whit and sharpness that he is known for was the Grandpa/dad, Jim Egan, on 8 Simple Rules. He enjoyed this sitcom, but the sudden passing of its star, John Ritter took the sow in a path is simply couldn’t re-coop from.
Prior to those roles he is speckled on the big screen and television, acting in at least one thing a year. Some of the most prominent roles that I enjoyed were in The Last Debate (2000), Space Cowboys (2000), Twilight (1998~ NO not the sparkling vampire movie), and My Fellow Americans (1996). My favorite of these would be Space Cowboys. 4 retired astronauts going active into space for one final Hurrah. Garner plays Tank, but what I love about the movie is the combination of the 4 stars: Garner, Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, and Donald Sutherland. It’s a fun film with 4 strong personalities playing off of each other.
Another favorite is the 1994 Mel Gibson film, Maverick, where he plays Marshal Zane Cooper. Growing up I have always been a fan of Westerns. My dad and I have been known to watch old black and white westerns for hours. The old western television shows continue to play of our televisions: Have Gun Will Travel, The Rifleman, Bonanza, and the series Maverick. Maverick ran from 1957-1962, 1978, 1981-1982 titled Maverick. See a connection? Mr. Garner made the role of Maverick what it was. I have sat through this series probably a dozen times through my years and I still never tire of it. It is because of his acting ability, his charisma, and the legend of the Maverick character that he created that he was asked to co-star in the 1994 film along Mel Gibson.
When it comes to talking about Mr. Garner and his acting legacy there are 2 more blockbuster films and 1 series that jumps out to me that would be a shame if I didn’t mention them in this homage: The Great Escape (1963) where he stars as Hendley, the Scrounger, alongside Steve McQueen. He and McQueen were neighbors and friends for years. Garner had said that his role of The Scrounger in the film was very similar to the role he took in his real-life war time in Korea.
Then in 1966 he zoomed on to the big screen in Grand Prix. He stars as Pete Aron, the racer. I’ve never been a big racing fan; however, I am a fan of tis movie. He brings off the manly confidence and determination that he was well known for in his films.
In his second most prominent series, Garner played the Private Eye that lived in a trailer, Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files (1974-1980). This was one of my favorite shows to watch on television. Garner enjoyed his role, but ended the series himself when he found out that the production company was embezzling money from him. He said one of his favorite parts of the series was being able to act with his brother Jack, who played Capt. McEnroe.
I am sure I have left off a major film or show that I should have probably mentioned. However, as impressive as some as his roles are, his acting consistency is even more impressive. He acted for 51 years consecutively (1956-2007).
Even more impressive, he leaves us a legacy that most of Hollywood has failed to leave. The Garners were married for almost 58 years. [His passing was just shy of their anniversary.]
Things you may not know:
He was an active in the Merchant Marines, National Guard, and Army.
He fought in the Korean War.
He was the recipient of 2 Purple Hearts.
He was an avid racing fan and financial backer of a race team.
Had money embezzled from him by the Rockford Files production company.
He won an Emmy for his portrayal of Jim Rockford.
Was a student of Bruce Lee’s.
Use to be a swimsuit model.
Married his wife after knowing her for… 2 weeks!
Was a private man that was well known as a devoted and loving husband and father.
Has 2 daughter: Kimberly (Clarke) Garner and Gigi Garner
Has been a 3 time pace car driver for the Indianapolis 500.
As most of our regular readers know, we look at movies from a Christian perspective. We don’t know Garner’s religious beliefs and it’s not our place to dissect that here. But, as with any passing of life comes the reminder that this life is too short. It is “like a vapor” (James 4:14). James Garner lived a full life of 86 years, but that doesn’t make dealing with his passing any easier. The words of Jesus are a good reminder for what this world has to offer and what we have to look forward to if we put our faith, hope and obedience in Him. “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you into myself, that where I am, you may be also.” (John 14:1-3). From all of us here at LTBM we give our thoughts and prayers to James’s family. We pray that they are comforted through this time of grief and suffering, and that through this trial they may draw near to God.