Hollywood actor James Garner thrilled audiences in the comedy-western ABC series Maverick in the late ’50s. He later starred on NBC’s The Rockford Files in the ’70s. What many may not have known is that Garner, a lifelong Democrat was a staunch supporter of the civil rights movement. He died Saturday at his California home at the age of 86.
Born James Scott Bumgarner on April 7, 1928 in Norman, Oklahoma. His mother, Mildred, who was part Cherokee, died when he was four-years-old. When his father remarried and relocated to Los Angeles, he chose to remain in Norman, becoming a star athlete, although he never completed his high school education. He was the first Oklahoma native drafted to the Korean War and was injured twice on the battlefield. Garner was awarded two Purple Heart medals for his efforts.
Acting wasn’t on Garner’s radar until an old friend turned agent noticed him one day in a parking lot. Garner had a in a non-speaking role in a Broadway production that starred legendary actor Henry Fonda. Garner said after rehearsing lines with Fonda and the rest of the cast he became more comfortable with acting.