Saturday, November 22, 2014


FILE - Actor James Garner, left, smiles as he holds up the Purple Heart medal presented to him in a ceremony in this Monday, Jan. 24, 1983 file photo taken Los Angeles, Calif. Garner was wounded in April 1951 while with U.S. Forces in Korea, but his medal was never presented to him. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/Lennox McLendon, File) (Lennox McLendon)

FILE - James Garner holds the 41st annual life achievement award backstage at the 11th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in this Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005 file photo taken in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File) (CHRIS PIZZELLO)

FILE - Jim Garner of the TV program ?Maverick? arrives with his wife Lois Clarke at the Emmy Awards, in this April 15, 1958 file photo taken in Hollywood, Los Angeles, Calif. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/File) (Anonymous)

FILE - Actor James Garner is shown in character as "Bret Maverick" on the set of his television show, in this April 13, 1982 file photo taken in Los Angeles, Calif. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/Wally Fong, File) (Wally Fong)

FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2005 file photo, James Garner, arrives for the 11th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File) (CHRIS PIZZELLO)

FILE - Actor James Garner poses during an interview in New York in this June 2, 1989 file photo. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/Wyatt Counts, File) (Wyatt Counts)

FILE - Actor James Garner is pictured during an interview in Norman, Okla., Garner's hometown, in this Friday, April 21, 2006 file photo. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo) (AP)

FILE - Veteran actor James Garner, seen in 2009 file photo taken in Los Angeles, stars as RJR Nabisco CEO F. Ross Johnson in the upcoming HBO film "Barbarians at the Gate". Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File) (Nick Ut)

James Garner, who will accept the 41st annual life achievement award, arrives with his family including his wife Lois Clarke, far left, for the 11th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in this Saturday, Feb. 5, 2005 file photo taken in Los Angeles. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File) (CHRIS PIZZELLO)

FILE - James Garner (left) plays a scene for MGM's "Grand Prix," which has cars racing through the streets of Monte Carlo in this June 14, 1966 file photo. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/File) (LD)

FILE - From Left: James Garner, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and Clint Eastwood pose for Warner Brothers Pictures' "Space Cowboys" in this July 2000 file photo. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/ Warner Brothers, File) (Anonymous)

FILE - Actor James Garner, right, and his wife Lois are shown in the Trans World Flight Center prior to boarding a TWA Jetliner enroute to London in this Feb. 21, 1964 file photo taken in New York. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86. (AP Photo/MGM, File) NO SALES (Anonymous)

FILE - James Garner as Australia- bound Jason McCullough rides into gold-rush boom town of Calendar in this April 1968 file photo taken at MGM Studios. Actor James Garner, wisecracking star of TV's "Maverick" who went on to a long career on both small and big screen, died Saturday July 19, 2014 according to Los angeles police. He was 86.(AP Photo/File) (Anonymous)
Police: Movie, TV legend James Garner dies
Police: James Garner, reluctant hero in TV's 'Maverick,' 'Rockford Files,' dies at age 86

Posted on July 20, 2014 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on July 20, 2014 at 6:37 a.m.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Actor James Garner, whose whimsical style in the 1950s TV Western “Maverick” led to a stellar career in TV and films such as “The Rockford Files” and his Oscar-nominated “Murphy’s Romance,” has died, police said. He was 86.

He was found dead of natural causes at his home in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles Saturday evening, Los Angeles police officer Alonzo Iniquez said early Sunday.

Police responded to a call around 8 p.m. PDT and confirmed Garner’s identity from family members, Iniquez told The Associated Press.

There was no immediate word on a more specific cause of death. Garner had suffered a stroke in May 2008, just weeks after his 80th birthday.

Although he was adept at drama and action, Garner was best known for his low-key, wisecracking style, especially with his hit TV series, “Maverick” and “The Rockford Files.”

His quick-witted avoidance of conflict provided a refreshingly new take on the American hero, contrasting with the steely heroics of John Wayne and the fast trigger of Clint Eastwood.

Well into his 70s, the handsome Oklahoman remained active in both TV and film. In 2002, he was Sandra Bullock’s father in the film “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.” The following year, he joined the cast of “8 Simple Rules ... For Dating My Teenage Daughter,” playing the grandfather on the sitcom after star John Ritter, who played the father, died during the show’s second season.

When he received the Screen Actors Guild’s lifetime achievement award in 2005, he quipped, “I’m not at all sure how I got here.”

But in his 2011 memoir, “The Garner Files,” he provided some amusing and enlightening clues, including his penchant for bluntly expressed opinions and a practice for decking people who said something nasty to his face — including an obnoxious fan and an abusive stepmother. They all deserved it, Garner declared in his book.

It was in 1957 when the ABC network, desperate to compete on ratings-rich Sunday night, scheduled “Maverick” against CBS’s powerhouse “The Ed Sullivan Show” and NBC’s “The Steve Allen Show.” ‘‘Maverick” soon outpolled them both.

At a time when the networks were crowded with hard-eyed, traditional Western heroes, Bret Maverick provided a fresh breath of air. With his sardonic tone and his eagerness to talk his way out of a squabble rather than pull out his six-shooter, the con-artist Westerner seemed to scoff at the genre’s values.

After a couple of years, Garner felt the series was losing its creative edge, and he found a legal loophole to escape his contract in 1960.

His first film after “Maverick” established him as a movie actor. It was “The Children’s Hour,” William Wyler’s remake of Lillian Hellman’s lesbian drama that co-starred Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine.

He followed in a successful comedy with Kim Novak, “Boys Night Out,” and then fully established his box-office appeal with the 1963 blockbuster war drama “The Great Escape” and two smash comedies with Doris Day — “The Thrill of It All” and “Move Over Darling.”

Throughout his long film career, Garner demonstrated his versatility in comedies ("The Art of Love,” ‘‘A Man Could Get Killed,” ‘‘Skin Game"), suspense ("36 Hours,” ‘‘They Only Kill Their Masters,” ‘‘Marlowe"), Westerns ("Duel at Diablo,” ‘‘Hour of the Gun,” ‘‘Support Your Local Gunfighter").

In the 1980s and 1990s, when most stars his age were considered over the hill, Garner’s career remained strong.

He played a supporting role as a marshal in the 1994 “Maverick,” a big-screen return to the TV series with Mel Gibson in Garner’s old title role. His only Oscar nomination came for the 1985 “Murphy’s Romance,” a comedy about a small-town love relationship in which he co-starred with Sally Field.

His favorite film, though, was the cynical 1964 war drama “The Americanization of Emily,” which co-starred Julie Andrews.

Unlike most film stars, Garner made repeated returns to television. “Nichols” (1971-72) and “Bret Maverick” (1981-82) were short-lived, but “The Rockford Files” (1974-80) proved a solid hit, bringing him an Emmy.

Among his notable TV movies: “Barbarians at the Gate” (as tycoon F. Ross Johnson), “Breathing Lessons,” ‘‘The Promise,” ‘‘My Name Is Bill W.,” ‘‘The Streets of Laredo” and “One Special Night.”

He said he learned about acting while playing a non-speaking role as a Navy juror in the 1954 Broadway hit play “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial,” starring Henry Fonda and Lloyd Nolan.

“I had no lines, and I had trouble staying awake,” Garner recalled.

After “Caine Mutiny,” Garner found work in Hollywood as a bit player in the “Cheyenne” TV series. Warner Bros. gave him a screen test and signed him to a seven-year contract starting at $200 a week.

The studio cast him in supporting roles in three minor films, followed by the important break as Marlon Brando’s sidekick in “Sayonara.” When Charlton Heston declined a war movie, “Darby’s Rangers,” because of a money dispute, Garner assumed the role.

“Maverick,” which co-starred Jack Kelly as brother Bart Maverick, made its debut on Sept. 22, 1957.

Garner was born James Scott Bumgarner (some references say Baumgarner) in Norman, Okla. His mother died when he was 5, and friends and relatives cared for him and his two brothers for a time while his father was to California.

In 1957, Garner married TV actress Lois Clarke, and the union prevailed despite some stormy patches. She had a daughter Kimberly from a previous marriage, and the Garners had another daughter, Gretta Scott. In the late 1990s, the Garners built a 12,000-square-foot house on a 400-acre ranch north of Santa Barbara.

“My wife and I felt ... we’d just watch the sunset from the front porch,” Garner said in 2000. “But then the phone started ringing with all these wonderful offers, and we decided, ‘Heck, let’s stay in the business for a while.‘”

The late AP writer Bob Thomas contributed to this report.