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James Garner: Hollywood’s Whimsical Hero
Posted By Patrick Kiger On July 20, 2014 @ 5:38 pm In Legacy | No Comments
As a twice-wounded U.S. Army combat veteran of the Korean War and as an actor who was frequently injured performing his own stunts, James Garner qualified as a real-life tough guy. But you’d never know it from the characters he portrayed, such as card-shark Bret Maverick and ex-con-turned-private detective Jim Rockford. They were clever, charming, self-effacing guys who seemed eager to avoid trouble, and when they were pressed into action anyway, eschewed the rough stuff and relied upon their wits and well-timed wisecracks to save the day.
Garner, who died on July 19 at age 86 in Los Angeles, was one of Hollywood’s most likable stars during a career that spanned nearly a half-century and included more than 90 roles, ranging from TV series such as Maverick and The Rockford Files to movies such as The Great Escape, Grand Prix, Support Your Local Sheriff! and Murphy’s Romance.
Garner’s rugged good looks – he stood a broad-shouldered 6 feet 3 inches, with a mane of wavy dark hair and a face that belonged on a classical Greek sculpture – were coupled with a gift for comic timing. That synergy enabled him to concoct a charming, none-too-serious counterpart to stoic roughnecks such as John Wayne.
Los Angeles Times critic Charles Champlin once called Garner the American version of David Niven – “a sort of innocent rogue with an easy way with urbane dialogue.” But Garner himself was more modest.
“It’s not something I wanted to achieve, being famous,” he explained in an interview with the Archive of American Television. “I was just trying to make a living.”
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