I don't normally read celebrity news, and I don't subscribe to any of the weekly Hollywood-type magazines. Regardless, I'm a fan of a handful of actors, and one them is James Garner.
In his upcoming memoir, The Garner Files (publishing next week), Garner talks about his childhood, his service in Korea, and his fifty-some years on the small and large screen. I'll tell you right from the start, if you're interested in gossip and major dishing, you won't find it here. Garner tells it like it is; he certainly doesn't like everyone, but he's a gentleman. He's honest in his opinions without being mean.
Garner was born in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1928, the youngest of three boys. His mother died when he was only four, and although his father tried his best to take care of his sons, he eventually left them with relatives and moved to California. By the time Garner was fourteen, he was pretty much on his own.
Several things stand out in Garner's journey from hired hand on a dairy farm to millionaire actor in Hollywood. I was surprised to learn that Garner didn't become an actor to fulfill a childhood dream. Instead, he found his career because he happened to know an agent and needed a steady income to support his bride and young stepdaughter. He learned acting in the same manner he learned almost everything else, by being observant and accepting advice from those with more experience.
Garner is humble and seems to be a genuinely nice guy, but he's no Caspar Milquetoast. As he says,
In my life, I've been on the wrong end of violence, and I've done violence myself. I'm not temperamental, but I have a temper. (p. 12)Sometimes when he's pushed too far he strikes back in other ways. He's sued studios for money he legitimately earned, he was active in the civil rights movement, and he's involved in environmental issues.
Other topics include studio contracts, the physical hardships of acting, and Garner's love of golf. And, of course, he shares behind-the-scenes stories of his television shows and movies and talks about many of the people he's worked with over the years, from Henry Fonda to Sally Fields. The book ends with anecdotes from his friends and family and a list of his work. The finished book will contain twenty-some pages of photos, which unfortunately were not included in the advanced readers copy I read.
Garner's memoir is interesting because it is not a Hollywood tell-all. His story is common to many Americans who grew up in the Depression and did what was needed to make a living and support their families. Garner comes across as a regular guy; he's not perfect and he's made some mistakes, but he's tried to stay true to his principles.
His personality and sense of humor are evident throughout. Here are a few passages that I particularly like:
- I'm tired of hearing that actors shouldn't take positions on public issues. We're citizens, and I think it's our obligation to take a stand. (p. 98)
- A reporter once asked me if I would ever do a nude scene. I told him I don't do horror films. (p. 179)
- Success doesn't change people. If they get difficult and arrogant, they were that way before and just weren't in a position to show it. (p. 215)
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