‘Maverick’: What Was James Garner’s Real Name?

by Keeli Parkey
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Actor James Garner rose to fame thanks to his role as character Bret Maverick on the beloved television Western “Maverick” during the 1950s. Garner brought charm and charisma and his good looks to the show.

But, long before he was known for playing Bret Maverick, James Garner wasn’t known as James Garner at all. The famous actor was actually given the name James Scott Bumgarner when he was born on April 7, 1928, in a town then known as Denver, Oklahoma. Garner’s hometown later became known as Norman.

According to IMDb.com, Garner’s father was Weldon Warren Bumgarner. He reportedly earned his living as a carpet layer. Garner’s mother was Mildred Scott (Meek). The actor did not graduate high school. Instead, he chose to stop his education when he was 16 years old so he could sign up with the Merchant Marines.

This didn’t work out for him. Flash forward to 1950. It was during that year that the man who would later become Bret Maverick was drafted into the United States Army. In fact, he was the first man from Oklahoma to be drafted into the Army. Garner, who was still going by James Scott Bumgarner at the time, served in the Korean War. He was injured on two occasions during his service. Therefore, he received two Purple Hearts.

‘Maverick’ Actor James Garner Began Acting Career with a Non-Speaking Role on Broadway

In the years after his military service ended, James Garner found that he really enjoyed acting. And, according to IMDb.com, he got his first chance to act on a professional level in a Broadway play. That play was “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial.” The production was staged during 1954. Garner’s role was non-speaking. However, working with other professionals helped him learn how to act.

The future “Maverick” star was soon cast in commercials and in television shows. This work led to a contract with Warner Brothers. There, he worked in several films, including “The Girl He Left Behind” in 1956.

It was during 1957 that the Warner Brothers studio decided to give James Garner the role of Bret Maverick. According to IMDb.com, the original plan for the show was to focus on Bret and his brother, Bart Maverick, equally. However, thanks to Garner’s work, “Maverick” soon began to focus on Bret.

James Garner worked on “Maverick” until the early 1960s. In order to leave the show, the famous actor had to file a lawsuit against Warner Brothers.

“What happened was there was a writers’ strike. I had a 52-week contract with Warner Brothers,” Garner shared during a 1999 interview with the Archives of American Television. “And, not very much money – $1,250 a week as a matter of fact. And, of course, we didn’t get residuals in those days. The writers’ strike came along in about January, I don’t know. And, uh, Warner Brothers laid me off because they said they couldn’t get scripts.”

Garner sued the studio for breach of contract. He won that lawsuit and went on to a very successful acting career. The actor died on July 19, 2014, in Los Angeles, California. He was 86 years old at the time of his death.

Outsider.com