James Garner and The Garner Files


Sunset in Oklahoma. Image courtesy of zaccrain, Morguefile.

The movie “Support Your Local Sheriff” with James Garner playing sheriff Jason McCullough has to be one of the funniest Western spoofs ever made.  One of the best scenes has Garner walking out of the sheriff’s office during a gunfight, hollering “Hold it! Just hold it!” A bunch of puzzled gunfighters stop shooting as the sheriff makes his way across the street. As Garner reaches the other side, he shouts, “Okay, go ahead!” and dives behind a woodpile as the shooting resumes.

Humor seems to have played a large part of Garner’s career as an actor. With Jon Winokur, James Garner wrote a wonderful memoir called The Garner Files. (Hey, when a book has an introduction by singer/actress/legend Julie Andrews, can it fail to be good?) In the book, James Garner talks about growing up in Oklahoma, what it was like working on “Maverick”, “The Rockford Files” and other productions, and his life experiences.

Reading between the lines, it sounds like James Garner was somebody well worth knowing. He made sure that a set was a fun place to work and was supportive of his fellow cast, crew members, family and friends.

The book’s tone reminded me of the one Patrick Swayze wrote about his life. It feels as if he’s right there in the room, talking with you.

James Garner had a rough, almost Dickensian life growing up in Oklahoma. One of the most telling paragraphs in the book is this one: “You want to put pressure on somebody, live through the Depression. In Oklahoma. In the dust. After that, studio executives don’t bother you at all.”

He hated bullies, injustice and deception, and would stand up for what was right, no matter what the risk was to him professionally or personally.

The book gives some portraits of well-known Hollywood performers and directors that James Garner met. I learned some things I didn’t know about actors such as Peter Fonda and Marlon Brando, and I found that James Garner was in the audience when Dr. King gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.

There’s a few surprises in there, too. There’s a 1951 picture of James Garner as a military private, grinning at the camera. In this shot, he looks exactly like actor David Boreanaz (from the TV shows “Bones” and “Angel”). The resemblance is eerie.

If Hollywood ever makes a biopic about James Garner, I know a guy………

The end of The Garner Files has an unusual feature I’ve never seen in any autobiography. It’s called “Outtakes” and is a collection of stories about James Garner from his family, friends and colleagues. The stories provide additional insight into what he was like as a person: a good dad, great with kids, no pushover, smart, a talented entertainer and supportive.

He mentioned the answer he’d give if anyone asked him, “How do you want to be remembered?” The answer: “With a smile.”

Works for me.

Here’s a funny excerpt from “Support Your Local Sheriff”, courtesy of patrioticamerican on YouTube. It features James Garner at his comic, deadpan best and a really young Bruce Dern.



Filed under Writing

28 responses to “James Garner and The Garner Files

  1. Thanks for this great post!!

    I’ve read that autobiography twice by myself — text and audio (I was very sorry he didn’t read it himself, but the narrator manages to catch Garner’s cadences surprisingly well) and then, a third time, in audio with Garry. James Garner was one of our favorite performers throughout his career.”Sheriff” is probably his best remembered (most popular?) movie.

    “Murphy’s Romance” is a personal favorite in this house. And “The Americanization of Emily” will always stand head and shoulders above *all* as a movie and for the best performance by Garner (James Coburn, too) and an extraordinary Paddy Chayevsky script. It’s actually one of our favorite movies, period. James Garner was a much underrated performer. I miss him.

  2. Reblogged this on SERENDIPITY and commented:
    I reviewed this a couple of times. Now, yet another great review by a great blogger. James Garner was an under-appreciated performer, but turned out a wonderful body of work. His autobiography is worth reading … much better than you might expect from a celebrity bio. And this is a fine review.

  3. I always like James Garner and thought he was a better at acting than he was given credit for. I loved him in “Barbarians at the Gate” and in just about any other role. I’m going to have to look up that autobiography!

  4. A blissful man. I always suspected he was a real treat to know. I must add his autobiography to my list.

  5. Garner was one of the coolest actors – probably because he was so well grounded from childhood ( love the paragraph about growing up. Struggling to survive as a child tends to make people know what is important and give a solid perspective on life.)
    An example of that old strong and silent type?
    We sure could use a few like him around. Post gave me a smile

  6. One of my favorite movies and favorite actors. Might have to add this one to my 2015 challenge list.

  7. Mission accomplished. I smiled when I read this. I always loved James Garner. My favorite movie “One special night” with him and Julie Andrews is a “must” in our house during the Holiday Season. Thank you for that post. I love biographies and will look into it.

  8. Jackie Saulmon Ramirez

    James Garner is one of my all-time favorite actors. “Support Your Local Sheriff” was a favorite and I watch it whenever it’s on TV. The scene above with Bruce Dern is a classic.

  9. I will look out for the book. I always liked James Garner.

    • Don’t miss the stories of when he accidentally backed into a water hazard on a golf course or when he brought hot coffee to a complete stranger who was cold at a racetrack! (they’re at the end)

  10. Thanks. Really enjoyed reading this. JG had immense charm and a lightness that was very winning. Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox.

  11. I have very fond memories of the Rockford Files! I seem to recall that he lived by the sea in a caravan (mobile home) on the west coast.

  12. When asked if she had ever been tempted to be unfaithful with a co-star, Julie Andrews said, yes, with Jim Garner. I loved him in Sayonara. One of my favorite actors and a very nice chap.

  13. I loved this post because I loved James Garner. His ‘Sheriff’ movies (did he do three in the end?) were wonderful parts of my childhood and I remember him with great fondness. A true hero 🙂

    • He performed in “Support Your Local Sheriff” and “Support Your Local Gunfighter”, but there were other Western movies he did.

      I’m glad you liked the post. It would be fun if one day one of his family members stumble across it — I think they’d be pleased to know JG is still remembered with such affection.


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