Here are 10 trivia facts about James Garner which originally appeared as our “Who Am I?” Quiz on our Facebook page. There are hundreds of pieces of behind-the-scenes information about this great actor. Please feel free to comment and add more trivia we might have missed.
1. Mr. Garner succeeded in more than one facet of the entertainment business.
Since his high school years, when his gym teacher recommended him as a model for Jantzen bathing suits, Garner has gone on to acheive success in legitimate theater, Hollywood films, and the world of TV. Looking back at the beginning of his career and his modeling days, James said, “I made 25 bucks an hour! That’s why I quit school. I was making more money than the teachers. I never finished the ninth grade.”
2. One of his siblings was also an actor.
Jim had two brothers, one of whom was also an actor. Although less successful, Jack Garner appeared in more than 50 movies and TV shows. Early in their acting careers, both Jim and his sibling Jack changed their surnames from Bumgarner to Garner.
3. His first leading film role was in a war movie.
Although James Garner appeared in some big-scale films in the Fifties (from his debut in 1955′s Toward the Unknown to Sayonara (1957) with Marlon Brando), his first full-fledged starring role was in Warner’s 1958 WWII action classic, Darby’s Rangers.
4. Due to illness, Jim had to abandon one of his most famous roles.
Garner was riding a wave of popularity as easygoing private eye Jim Rockford on NBC’s The Rockford Files, which premiered in 1974, but the actor was extremely disappointed when a combination of illness and injuries threatened his continuing the series. He eventually accepted the advice of his doctor and stepped down from the show after six seasons in 1980 (although he would reprise the role in several made-for-TV movies in the 1990s).
Adding insult to injury, it was at this time that Garner learned about “creative bookkeeping” when Universal wasn’t willing to give up some of the huge profits generated by The Rockford Files. Universal was not the only studio with which Garner locked horns; the actor also had problems with Warner Brothers over his hit series Maverick that culminated in his leaving the frontier comedy/drama after the third season in 1960. Years later, Jim confided, “About everything I ever have done, in the way of lawsuits against studios, I’ve won them all, because I was right every time.”
5. Some of Jim’s films are true stories.
Much of Garner’s output was high on entertainment value and mostly fiction; even those roles based on real events contained less truth and more fabrication, but there were exceptions. The Great Escape (1963) was actually a true story, although given the Hollywood treatment; in My Name Is Bill W. (1989), Jim played opposite James Woods as real-life founders of Alcoholic Anonymous; and in 1993, Garner was businessman F. Ross Johnson in HBO’s Barbarians at the Gate, the somewhat comical true story behind the corporate takeover of the RJR Nabisco empire.
6. Over studio objections, he was cast in a film that got him nominated for a Best Actor Oscar.
The first time Garner was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award was for 1985′s Murphy’s Romance. Director Martin Ritt and co-star Sally Field, who also produced, both lobbied for Jim, but Columbia Pictures wanted Marlon Brando. Columbia’s reasoning at the time was that Jim was known primarily as a TV actor, and that Brando was more identifiable with film (Oddly enough, Garner had starred in the hit Victor/Victoria just two years earlier). Originally not happy with casting Jim in the lead but eventually agreeing, Columbia (then owned by Coca-Cola) required a scene where Field and Garner would mention the word “Coke.” In addition, Coca-Cola signs had to appear in the movie.
7. Garner had the honor of appearing in three films with one of his favorite co-stars.
In his illustrious career, James Garner has been paired with many of the Hollywood elite. After appearing with Julie Andrews in 1964′s The Americanization of Emily, he co-starred with her again in Victor/Victoria, and the two were reunited 17 years later in the tender TV holiday movie One Special Night in 1999.
8. He appeared in a series of well-known TV commercials.
In 1977, Jim became even more of a superstar when he did a series of commercials with Mariette Hartley for Polaroid cameras. Thanks to the more than 300 ads that appeared, viewing audiences found the pair’s on-screen chemistry to be so natural that many assumed they were married in real life, leading Mariette to have a T-shirt made stating, “I am NOT Mrs. James Garner.”
9. He learned acting at an early age studying the styles of one of Hollywood’s greatest actors.
In 1954, an old friend from his days at Hollywood High convinced Jim to get involved in theater, persuading him to take a non-speaking role in the Broadway production of The Caine Mutiny Court Martial. Part of his job was to read lines to the cast members during rehearsals, and at each performance he was able to study their acting techniques…particularly stage and screen icon Henry Fonda’s delivery and movements, thus allowing the young actor to hone his own craft along the way. This led to some small roles in TV shows and commerials, until Garner finally landed a Warner Brothers contract that jump-started his Hollywood career.
10. One of Garner’s acting roles led me to one of his hobbies.
After appearing in Grand Prix in 1966, Jim took a serious interest in the world of professional racing and developed his own racing team, very much like fellow actor Paul Newman’s penchant for motorsports after starring in 1969′s Winning.
Now sit back and enjoy James Garner at his best in theese scenes from the theatrical trailer for 1959′s Up Periscope: