‘Maverick’ Star James Garner Differed From His On-Screen Characters in One Key Way

by Suzanne Halliburton

James Garner was that everyman kind of heartthrob in shows like Maverick or The Rockford Files.

In his private life, he fell in love with a woman he met at a party and married her two weeks later. They remained married for nearly 58 years before Garner passed away in 2014.

But here’s a detail you may not know about the charming, but unassuming Maverick star. He was scared of women. Honest to God, hand to your heart, Garner admitted this, on the record, for an interview in 1981. An old-school, Hollywood hunk never fancied himself a ladies’ man.

He described how he felt around women to Panorama Magazine. “Not frightened, scared,” said the actor who portrayed Bret Maverick.

“I don’t know why. I’ve known women I just melt around. 

“I can’t talk ‒ I’m afraid I might do something or say something wrong, that they’ll dislike me. So I don’t do anything ‒ it’s my own fear.”

Admit it, Outsiders. We all probably get tongue-tied around a man or woman who momentarily rocks our world. And even famous folks feel the same way. Garner met Lois, his future wife, at a party. It was August, 1956. The two went out every night for the next two weeks then decided to marry.

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The wedding was two years after he earned his first acting role. It was a non-speaking part in a Broadway play, with one Oklahoma native doing a favor for another. Months after Garner married Lois, he earned the career-defining part of Bret Maverick, the charming professional gambler. The show followed two brothers and liked to mock the traditional western.

Gigi Garner, the couple’s youngest daughter, talked about her beloved father in a 2020 interview.

“My dad was a very complex human being,” Gigi said. “In real life he wasn’t exactly what you saw on TV, but he was still able to bring certain elements of his real character to the characters he played. There’s definitely a thread from Maverick to Rockford. He played this tongue-in-cheek kind of guy: laugh at yourself and people will laugh with you, not at you.”

That kind of charm is certainly endearing for fans. Garner stuck with Maverick for three seasons, then tried his luck in movies. By 1974, he was back on television, playing private detective Jim Rockford in the Rockford Files. Roy Huggins, who created Maverick, also helped launch Rockford Files. And the show reached back to Maverick for some of its storylines, albeit ones set in the 1970s. Garner won an Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama in 1977.

He also inspired and mentored several of the best-known actors in today’s TV landscape. Tom Selleck, the Magnum PI and Blue Bloods star, said fellow actors still could take “star lessons” from Garner’s example.

“He understood that leads in a show like a television series involved leadership, probably,” Selleck said. “When you’re not feeling so good, put on a happy face, it’s infectious—these things sound kind of corny and stupid, but this is our life.”

Mark Harmon, the NCIS star, said similar things about Garner. “That was the kind of career I wanted,” Harmon said of his friend. “For him, it was all about the long haul. I never forgot that.”