Saturday, July 26, 2014

James Garner: In Memoriam

TCM to Show 24 Hours of Garner's Movies

By The Editors

TCM has preempted its regularly scheduled programming on July 28, starting at 6:00 am, in order to honor the late James Garner with a 24-hour marathon of his films.

Garner, who passed away on July 20 from natural causes, began his film career in 1955 with Warner Brothers, cutting his teeth in supporting roles. His first starring role came in the film Darby’s Rangers (1958), when he replaced Charlton Heston, who walked off the film.

However, he achieved stardom as a result of Warner’s placing him in a television series the studio launched in 1957, Maverick. Garner played Bret Maverick in the comedic Western, a role that fit his personality like a glove. The series was originally supposed to alternate between the Maverick brothers, played by Garner and Jack Kelly, but Garner became so popular that the show quickly became all about Garner’s character, who used his wits, rather than a gun, to settle disputes.

When it came to his onscreen roles, however, Warner’s stuck him in dull fare, such as Up Periscope (1958) and Cash McCall (1960). Garner took advantage of a suspension during the 1960 writer’s strike to sue Warner’s for breach of contract. He won and became a free agent, able to demand more for his services.

His first major role after his victory was a supporting one in The Children’s Hour (1961), starring Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn. Starring roles soon followed in such films as Boy’s Night Out (1962) and the acclaimed The Great Escape (1963). He followed that success with The Americanization of Emily with Julie Andrews (1964), and the war thriller 36 Hours (1965).

But Garner’s fame really came from television, and he returned to the small tube in 1971 with the short-lived western Nichols. In 1974, he took on his most renowned role, that of investigator in the hit series The Rockford Files (1974-1980) playing investigator Jim Rockford. A combination of injuries (suffered from doing his own stunts) and frequent pay disputes led to his quitting the series while it was still a hit.

He returned to the movies with choice roles in such hits as Blake Edwards’ musical, Victor/Victoria (1982), playing once more opposite Julie Andrews. He also won a plum role opposite Sally Field in the comedy Murphy’s Romance (1985), playing an older Wyatt Earp alongside Bruce Willis as Tom Mix in Sunset (1988), and a role as an ex-president in the comedy My Fellow Americans (1996), with Jack Lemmon.

He also returned to his television roots, reviving the role of Bret Maverick in a short-lived return on the iconic series (1981-1982), and also accepted a small role in the big screen version of the show (1994) opposite star Mel Gibson playing the role Garner made famous.

He filled in the time between big screen appearances bringing back his character of Jim Rockford with a series of television movies from 1994-1999, and playing Mark Twain in the TV movie Roughing It (2002). His last hit movie was the tearjerker The Notebook (2004), with Gena Rowlands.

Garner was also famous for a series of commercials he made with actress Marianne Hartley for Polaroid in the 1970s. The commercials became so popular people thought Garner and Hartley were married in real life.

A stroke suffered in 2008 led to retirement from films and television in 2010, and Garner lived quietly in Los Angeles until his death. He is survived by his wife, Lois Clarke, to whom he was married in 1956, his daughter Greta “Gigi) Garner, and his adopted daughter Kimberly, from Clarke’s first marriage.

Among the films to be shown on July 28 are his first, Toward the Unknown (1956) at 6:00 am, Grand Prix (1966) at 9:30 am, Darby’s Rangers (1958) at 4:00 pm, The Thrill of It All (1963) at 8:00 pm, The Americanization of Emily (1964) at 10:00 pm, The Children’s Hour (1961) at midnight, and Victor/Victoria (1982) at 2:00 am.

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