James Garner Biography

James Garner was a popular American film and television actor, best-known for his roles in ‘Maverick’ and ‘Murphy’s Romance’. Explore this biography to learn more about his childhood, life, film career, achievements, facts and timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: April 7, 1928

Nationality: American

Famous: Actors Voice Actors

Died At Age: 86

Sun Sign: Aries

Born in: Norman, Oklahoma, U.S.

political ideology: Democratic


Spouse/Ex-: Lois Clarke (m. 1956)

father: Weldon Warren Bumgarner

mother: Mildred Scott

siblings: Charles Bumgarner, Jack Garner

children: Gigi Garner, Kimberly Garner

Died on: July 19, 2014

place of death: Los Angeles, California, U.S.

U.S. State: Oklahoma

More Facts

education: University of Oklahoma, Hollywood High School

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James Garner was a celebrated actor known for his tremendous ability to captivate audiences through his character portrayals in both, television and films. He was lauded for his acting skills in shows such as ‘Maverick’, ‘The Rockford Files’ and ‘8 Simple Rules’. He worked in more than 50 movies over a period of five decades, giving one hit after the other such as ‘Decoration Day’, ‘Murphy’s Romance’, ‘The Great Escape’ and ‘The Notebook’. He started with a non-speaking role in a Broadway production before he was signed on for commercials, television roles and finally, movies. Owing to the hardships suffered by the Garner family during the Great Depression, James set an ambition to earn big bucks and make a name for himself. After leaving school, he took up a number of unrelated, unspecialized jobs including pumping gas, modelling for bathing suits etc. He never graduated from an academy or school but has received his diploma from the US Army. He was winner of various notable awards and is widely known as one of America’s greatest Academy Award-nominated actors. He had lasting friendships with Paul Newman and Bill Bixby.

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Childhood & Early Life
  • James Garner was born as James Scott Bumgarner to, Weldon Bumgarner and Mildred Bumgarner in Norman, Oklahoma.
  • He lost his mother when he was five and shortly after her death, he and his elder brothers, Jack Garner and Charles Bumgarner, were sent to stay with their kin.
  • His father remarried and the family reunited in 1934, however, the brothers were ill-treated by their step-mother, particularly, young James. His step-mother was forced to leave, which eventually, ended the marriage.
  • When he was 16, he joined the US Merchant Marine, for which he faked his age. A year after that, he returned to Los Angeles and applied to Hollywood High school. After a couple of years, he quit the school, not graduating and went back to his hometown, Norman.
  • He later enlisted in the Regimental Combat Team and fought in the Korean War, where he earned himself 2 purple hearts, one of which was handed to him 32 years later.
  • In 1954, an old school chum, Paul Gregory, convinced him to take up a non-speaking role in the Broadway classic, ‘The Caine Mutiny Court Martial’, which marked the beginning of his acting career.
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  • He subsequently began receiving roles in commercials and landed his first motion picture role with the 1956 classics, ‘The Girl He Left Behind’ and ‘Toward the Unknown’. It was around this time that he changed his last name to Garner, from Bumgarner.
  • From 1957 to 1960, his role as Bret Maverick in the critically acclaimed show, ‘Maverick’ earned him widespread fame for his talent and his on-screen charisma.
  • In 1969, he appeared in the gumshoe drama, ‘Marlowe’, featuring in a karate scene with Bruce Lee. The same year he worked in the hit comedy, ‘Support your Local Sheriff!’.
  • From 1970 to 1973, he appeared in numerous films including ‘A Man Called Sledge’, ‘Support Your Local Gunfighter!’, ‘Skin Game’ and ‘One Little Indian’.
  • The year 1974 marked the beginning of his role as the famous private investigator, ‘Jim Rockford’ in ‘The Rockford Files’ television series, for which he also received great critical acclaim. Although he became extremely popular as ‘Jim’, he ended his run with the show due to health problems.
  • In 1985, he appeared in ‘Murphy’s Romance’, opposite Sally Field and Brian Kerwin. He was lauded by critics for his stellar performance in the movie, for which he was nominated for a several awards.
  • Through the remainder part of the 80s, he appeared in ‘Promise’ and ‘My Name Is Bill W.’
  • Garner was cast in ‘Man of the People’, in 1991, which was unfortunately cancelled after ten episodes despite good reviews.
  • In 1993, his critically-acclaimed performance in the TV-Film, ‘Barbarians at the Gate’, propelled his career and also earned him the repeat role of Jim Rockford in eight of ‘The Rockford Files’ TV-films.
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  • In 1994, he was cast in the movie adaption of ‘Maverick’ as Marshal Zane Cooper. The following year, he appeared in ‘Streets of Laredo’.
  • He played a former president in the 1996 comedy, ‘My Fellow Americans’. He was then cast in ‘Chicago Hope’, ‘God, The Devil and Bob’ and ‘First Monday’.
  • In 2001, he lent his voice for the nemesis, Commander Rourke in Disney’s, ‘Atlantis: The Lost Empire’ and two years later, he was cast in ‘8 Simple Rules’ as Jim Egan, the grand-father.
  • In 2004, he played Noah Calhoun in the popular romantic movie, ‘The Notebook’, for which he was nominated for The Screen Actors Guild Award.
  • In 2010, he lent his voice as the wizard Shazam, in the animated film, ‘Superman/ Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam’.
  • His autobiography titled, ‘The Garner Files: A Memoir’, was published in 2011 by Simon & Schuster and was co-written along with Jon Winokur.
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Major Works
  • His portrayal of Jim Rockford in ‘The Rockford Files’ in 1974, earned Garner an Emmy Award. The show was featured at no. 39 in the list of ’50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time’ by TV Guide.
  • In 1985, he appeared in ‘Murphy’s Romance’, which earned him an Academy Award nomination for ‘Best Actor in a Leading Role’ and collected a total of $30,762,621 at the box-office.
Awards & Achievements
  • He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contribution to the film and television industry.
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  • He was inducted into the ‘Western Performers Hall of Fame’, in 1990.
  • In 2005, he received the ‘Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award’.
  • In 2010, he was honoured with the ‘Career Achievement Award’ by the Television Critics Association.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • He married Lois Clarke on August 17, 1956, two weeks after they first met at a rally. He had a step-daughter, Kim, from his wife’s previous marriage and a daughter Greta "Gigi" Garner with Lois.
  • James Garner died at his home in Los Angeles on July 19, 2014. He was 86.
  • He was a close friend of Actors Marlon Brando, Doris Day, Julie Andrews and Henry Fonda.
  • He loved playing golf, watching sports, racing and spending time with family.
  • His hometown has a street named ‘James Garner Ave’ in his honour.
  • A ten feet tall bronze statue of the character Bret Maverick, played by this popular actor is positioned in his home-town at Norman, Oklahoma.

James Garner Movies

1. Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969)

  (Western, Romance, Comedy)

2. The Great Escape (1963)

  (History, Thriller, War, Drama, Adventure)

3. The Notebook (2004)

  (Drama, Romance)

4. Maverick (1994)

  (Adventure, Action, Thriller, Western, Comedy)

5. Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971)

  (Comedy, Western, Romance)

6. 36 Hours (1964)

  (War, Thriller)

7. Victor Victoria (1982)

  (Romance, Comedy, Musical, Music)

8. The Americanization of Emily (1964)

  (War, Comedy, Drama)


Golden Globe Awards
1994 Best Performance by an Actor in a Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television Barbarians at the Gate (1993)
1991 Best Performance by an Actor in a Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television Decoration Day (1990)
1958 Most Promising Newcomer - Male Sayonara (1957)
Primetime Emmy Awards
1987 Outstanding Drama/Comedy Special Promise (1986)
1977 Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series The Rockford Files (1974)
People's Choice Awards
1982 Favorite Male Performer in a New TV Program Winner
1978 Favorite Male TV Performer Winner

See the events in life of James Garner in Chronological Order

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James Garner

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