‘The Garner Files’ reveals Okie actor as true to his red-dirt roots
There’s a red-dirt grittiness in the voice of James Garner that marks him an unmistakable son of Oklahoma, and it comes through with honest if at times pugnacious clarity in the actor’s tell-all autobiography, “The Garner Files: A Memoir” (Simon & Schuster, $25.99).
Co-written with veteran editor Jon Winokur (appropriately enough, author of several “Portable Curmudgeon” collections), Garner’s frank recollections offer up a warts-and-all portrait of a man who achieved remarkable success in film and TV even as he scorned movie moguls, scoffed at high-flown acting techniques and waged court battles with studio bean counters that many warned might ruin his career.
Ever the rebel and outspoken liberal, Garner now looks back on his successful career with an uncommon willingness to own up to his own flaws as well as to point out those of his fellow stars. And that makes for some juicy anecdotes in this highly entertaining, behind-the-scenes show-biz saga.
Born James Scott Bumgarner in Norman on April 7, 1928, the actor who later adopted the stage name James Garner endured a rough-and-tumble life before he discovered acting. His half-Cherokee mother died when he was five, his alcoholic father bounced around from job to job and his wicked stepmother – whom Garner simply calls “the redhead” – beat and humiliated James and his brothers regularly. That is, until one day when James snapped and nearly strangled her to death.
After a stint in the merchant marine, an injury-plagued football career with the OU Sooners and an enlistment in the Army in which he saw combat and was wounded in Korea, Garner decided in his mid-20s to try acting. Small Broadway parts led to auditions in L.A. and his big break – being cast as the witty, free-wheeling gambler Bret Maverick in the late -1950s TV Western series, “Maverick.”
Garner minces no words in describing his legal battles with Warner Bros. over what he viewed as short pay for a lucrative, hit series. So he left the show and went to court against the studio to win his contract release and a cash settlement. He would do the same again the late 1970s, suing Universal Studios over money issues related to his hugely popular TV series, “The Rockford Files.”
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