One of the first TV stars to successfully cross over into film, James Garner was a familiar and welcome sight to audiences for five decades.
A friend’s encouragement steered Garner towards acting; early outings led to understudying Henry Fonda in a Charles Laughton stage production and co-starring with Marlon Brando in Sayonara (1957). It was on set that Garner got his television break, cast as hustler Bret Maverick in comedy western Maverick. The series’ popularity propelled Garner from supporting actor to leading man.
His biggest film role was in the iconic The Great Escape in 1963. Among the ensemble cast of Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Richard Attenborough and James Coburn, Garner was the team’s ‘scrounger’.
Garner’s best known role came as private eye Jim Rockford in 1974’s The Rockford Files and he would revisit the character for eight TV movies in the 1990s. He remained prolific on television and film across the decades, most recently in the sitcom 8 Simple Rules (2002-05).
Plagued by poor health in recent years, Garner suffered a stroke in 2008, effectively ending his career. A Hollywood maverick, Garner’s death on Saturday is the end of an era.