James Garner was an iconic actor behind many classic roles, but his name wasn’t always James Garner. In order to give the man’s name more appeal, Warner Bros. changed The Maverick star’s name without his permission from James Bumgarner to James Garner.
The Hollywood legend was born on April 7th, 1928, as James Bumgarner. With his mother dying and his father leaving, Garner and his brothers had a difficult upbringing. Garner dropped out of high school at the age of 16 and lied about his age so he could join the merchant marines in the final year of World War II.
Unlike most other stars, Garner stumbled into acting instead of making a deliberate choice. He had a talent agent friend who got him set up with a small role on Broadway. Garner claimed he was lured into acting simply because it was another job that would help him pay the bills.
Because of his broadway role, Warner Bros. offered him a movie deal, and his career took off. It’s strange to think that an iconic household name like James Garner only exists as it does because Warner Bros. changed it without his permission. It’s likely the man would have been a success regardless of his name.
James Garner: ‘Maverick’ and Beyond
In 1957, Garner was awarded the titular role of Bret Maverick in the soon-to-be-popular western series, Maverick. Maverick would launch Garner into popularity and permanently grant him a spot in the public eye. The show focused on Bret Maverick, his brother, and their card-playing hijinks.
While Garner wound up leaving Maverick after three seasons due to a legal dispute, his career was far from over. While he was greylisted briefly in the industry over the legal dispute, he was eventually hired to star alongside the iconic Audrey Hepburn in The Children’s Hour, putting him right back in the limelight. James Garner starred in over 50 theatrical films and numerous TV shows. His career spanned over five decades.
Outside of acting, Garner loved golf and racing. He even drove the pace car at the Indianapolis 500 in 1975, 1977, and 1985. He also supported the University of Oklahoma and gave 500,000 dollars for the drama school’s first endowed position. Throughout his life, he was outspoken about what he believed in and supported many causes.
James Garner had a stroke that put him in poor health in 2008. He passed away on July 19th, 2014, at 86 years old. He inspired countless actors with his talent and work ethic, including Clint Eastwood and Tom Selleck. There’s no doubt that he left an everlasting impression on the film industry.