James Garner: An actor for all seasons passes away (Slideshow)

James Garner in Streets of Laredo
James Garner in Streets of Laredo

CHARLOTTE, NC, July 20, 2014 – America needs more heroes like James Garner. OK, so he was an actor. So was Ronald Reagan. Garner also served in the Korean War where he was wounded twice and earned two Purple Hearts.

When asked about his service, Garner said with his typical modesty, “I wasn’t a hero. I just got in the way a lot.”

It was that likability and personality that made James Garner something more than a handsome on-screen presence. When Garner played a role, his persona was such that as a viewer if he was a military man you wanted to be in his platoon or if was a cowboy you had to be his sidekick.

James Garner had a comfort and ease about him that transcended the roles he played. Oddly enough, it wasn’t always that way. In a 2004 interview with Reuters he recalled “I used to have this temper. I used to get in a fight in a heartbeat. But that was many years ago.”

Whatever changed that feisty personality into the fan-favorite charmer that spanned a 60 year career worked and it made him bigger than life. Garner had the sort of presence that made you believe he was just as nice a person away from the spotlight as he was on-camera.

Nothing displayed that charisma better than his first starring television role as Bret Maverick on the hit television series Maverick. In later years, Garner returned to Maverick on the big screen playing Mel Gibson’s (Maverick’s) Pappy who was the never-seen father on the television show.

Interestingly enough, most of the obits about Garner’s life center around his second major television role as detective Jim Rockford, a wrongly accused ex-convict, in The Rockford Files.

The Oklahoma native, who was born James Scott Bumgarner, began his show business career in the 1950s following his service in the Korean War. At the time he rose to stardom, westerns were all the rage on TV, and Garner’s character as a sardonic, cardsharp, womanizer filled with charm, wit and a touch of wisdom soon captured the imagination of viewers across the nation.

He later played a similar role in the under-publicized yet highly popular film Support Your Local Sheriff.

The legendary performer starred in more than 50 films during his career. He was equally adept at playing both comedic and dramatic roles. Among his most popular movies was the classic World War II film The Great Escape which featured an all-star cast including Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, James Coburn and Charles Bronson among others.

It was Garner who coaxed McQueen into doing the picture after McQueen opted out because he felt he would be overshadowed in the presence of such a notable cast. Under Garner’s influence, McQueen quickly gained huge audience approval with a dramatic motorcycle sequence at the end in which he did much of his own riding.

Always a supporter of the underdog because of an abusive father, Garner once said, “I cannot stand to see little people picked on by big people. If a director starts abusing people, I’ll just jump in.”

For James Garner fans, here is a list of ten must-see movies from his illustrious career: The Americanization of Emily, 36 Hours, The Great Escape, The Thrill of it All, Support Your Local Sheriff, Space Cowboys, Victor/Victoria, Grand Prix, Murphy’s Romance, The Notebook.

Spend a few hours watching James Garner’s work and you will quickly understand that he was far more than a movie star. He was truly a gentleman and, even more, he was a gentle man with a winning smile. James Garner was an actor for all seasons.

Garner’s last major film role was in The Ultimate Gift in 2010. He died of natural causes in his Los Angeles home. He was 86.

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod

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  • Chester Fields

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