The World Knows James Garner as Maverick and Jim Rockford, But for Daughter Gigi He’s Just Dad

When you think of James Garner, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s TV series like Maverick or The Rockford Files, though it could just as easily have been roles in such movies as The Great Escape, Grand Prix, his Academy Award-nominated turn in Murphy’s Romance, Space Cowboys or The Notebook. And let’s not forget those enormously popular Polaroid camera commercials he used to do with Mariette Hartley. Everyone has their favorite memory, but for Gigi Garner he was simply dad.

“People have often asked me about the relationship between us,” says Gigi in an exclusive interview, “but I don’t really have anything to compare it to. To me, he was just my dad. He wasn’t perfect — no one is — but he was a great dad and we were always very close.”

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Courtesy Gigi Garner

He was born James Scott Bumgarner on April 7, 1928, in Norman, Oklahoma. He experienced a troubled and abusive childhood at the hands of one of his stepmothers following his mother’s death (including being forced to wear a dress in public). Some solace came from his father’s last wife, who he felt very close to and even referred to as “Mama Grace.” He served in the Korean War, and was awarded a Purple Heart. Following his service, he returned to America and was convinced by a friend to give acting a try. He never really looked back, moving, as noted above, back and forth between films, TV and television commercials. Outside of acting, he had a profound interest in auto racing, golf and football.

In his personal life, he married Lois Josephine Fleischman Clarke in 1956 and, despite a couple of brief separations, they were married for nearly 58 years. He had a stepdaughter from Lois’ previous marriage, Kim; and the couple had their own, Greta Garner — a.k.a. Gigi. He died on July 19, 2014, of a massive heart attack at the age of 86. Yet his legacy, in both reel and real life, lives on.

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Moviestore/Shutterstock

Ed Robertson, author of 45 Years of The Rockford Files, being published in July by Black Pawn Press and available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other retailers worldwide, notes, “Garner was one of the few actors whose film and television career spanned three generations. Baby Boomers remember him as the star of Maverick and his many movies from the ’60s. Those who came of age in the ’70s know him, of course, as Jim Rockford. Then there’s that impressive string of films he did in the ’80s and ’90s (including Heartsounds, Promise, My Name is Bill W., and Murphy’s Romance), while young people today tend to think of him as either Grandpa Jim on 8 Simple Rules or his roles in The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and The Notebook. An actor must be pretty special to enjoy that kind of longevity. That’s exactly what James Garner was.

“For me,” he adds, “Jim’s greatest appeal was his willingness to take risks. He wasn’t afraid to put himself on the line, to right what he felt was wrong. We saw that, for example, when he participated in the March on Washington for Civil Rights in 1964. We also saw that when he took Warner Bros. to court in his 1960 breach-of-contract lawsuit — a move that could have gotten him blackballed in Hollywood, had he lost. Jim took risks on camera, too, particularly in the 25 year period following the end of The Rockford Files. He allowed us to see him cry on film or play characters who were dying. He even played bad guys once in a while (as he did, most notably, in Twilight). In many cases, these roles turned out to be among the very best in his career.”

To learn much more about James Garner, we turn the focus back to Gigi Garner and the following interview, which you can access by scrolling down.