James Garner once quit high school to work as a swimsuit model. The beloved star of Maverick and Rockford Files said he was making more than the teachers, so why stay in the classroom.
Back in the late 1940s, making $25 an hour posing for photos while wearing swim trunks was easy money.
Garner hit big money a few years later, as he enjoyed a successful career on both TV and in the movies. But just how successful was the actor who played both Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford, two characters with a lot in common?
First, James Garner did real labor before he became a star. He washed dishes at a restaurant. He worked on an oil rig, at a gas station and at a chicken hatchery. And Garner even sweated with his father installing carpets. Then there was his brief athletic career. He tried playing baseball with the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system. And he wanted to be a pro golfer.
Garner also served in the Army during the Korean War. He was awarded two Purple Hearts for his service.
James Garner Landed His Acting Break, In Part, While Working at Gas Station
His paths crossed with a stage manager when Garner was working at a gas station in his hometown of Norman, Okla. It was that contact who eventually helped him land his first acting role. Garner had a non-speaking part in The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, which starred Henry Fonda. By 1957, Garner enjoyed his first significant part as professional gambler Bret Maverick in Maverick.
Garner once said of the show: “There’s a difference between humor and comedy. I don’t do comedy, I do humor.”
During the 1960s, Garner focused more on his movie career. He starred in the Great Escape with friend Steve McQueen. And he ended the decade with the lead role in the comedy Support Your Local Sheriff.
Then Garner turned to television again. Roy Huggins, the creator of Maverick, envisioned a new show called the Rockford Files. It even used some of the same plot lines. Except in this show, Garner played a modern-day private investigator. The show ran for six seasons and Garner won an Emmy for best actor in 1977.
Garner Also Did Popular Camera Commericals
James Garner also decided to dabble in commercials. He found a new audience by acting with Mariette Hartley in ads for Polaroid cameras. They were so believable as a couple that many fans assumed the two were married in real life. They weren’t. Garner met his wife, Lois, in 1956. They were married two weeks later. They stay married for 58 years.
Garner thought of the commercials as a challenge.
“I was making plenty of money. I didn’t need money. It wasn’t for the money,” Garner told the Archive of American Television in a 2010 interview. “I think I wanted to do it to see if I could.”
As Garner got older, he still was a box office draw. His first and only Academy Award nomination was with Murphy’s Romance in 1985. He was Sandra Bullock’s dad in Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood. And he played an older Noah in The Notebook, one of the most romantic movies in recent history. The story was told in flashbacks. Garner played the older version of Ryan Gosling.
Garner died in 2014 of a heart attack. He was 86. Thanks to all his TV series, movies and commercials, the site CelebrityNetWorth.com said Garner was worth a hefty $20 million.