24 October 2011

Review: The Garner Files by James Garner

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)
If you are fan of James Garner, you'll enjoy getting to know him better through The Garner Files. Garner's memoir will also appeal to anyone interested in what it was like to grow up during the 1930s and 1940s and/or in Hollywood in the early days of television.

The Garner Files at Powell's
The Garner Files at Book Depository
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Published by Simon & Schuster, November 1, 2011
ISBN-13: 9781451642605
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B

Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Birgit 10/24/11, 6:45 AM  

Sounds interesting! I wouldn't say I'm a die-hard fan but I really loved the movies with him and Doris Day :-) !

Peppermint Ph.D. 10/24/11, 7:55 AM  

The Old Hollywood memoirs are so much more actual autobiographies than today's tell-alls. I love them. One of my favorites EVER is Lauren Bacall's By Myself. I'll definitely pick this one up as well.

Carol @ There's Always Thyme to Cook 10/24/11, 8:04 AM  

Sounds like a book I'd enjoy! Love James Garner, the Polaroid commercials, Rockford, with Doris Day and Suzanne Pleshette!

Barbara 10/24/11, 8:57 AM  

I like James Garner too. I'm amazed at how little he's changed from that photo on the cover of the book - a few wrinkles and what I call "character lines" but otherwise that same handsome face.

Beth Hoffman 10/24/11, 9:25 AM  

I usually steer clear of memoirs, and I'm not very interested in Hollywood types, but I have to say that James Garner is among the handful of actors I've always admired.

Terrific review, Candace, I really enjoyed reading it. Have a lovely week!

Unknown 10/24/11, 10:00 AM  

I really loved James Garner too, from the movies he did with Doris Day, to his down on his luck character in Rockford Files, to the beautiful job he did in The Notebook(I cry at the end every time, and I've seen it plenty), I think he seems more real person that Hollywood star, and yet he's had an amazing career.
Not sure I'll get to this one, but you make it sound very very good!! Thanks for a beautiful review.

caite 10/24/11, 10:21 AM  

as much as I like Mr. Garner...no gossip? Really?? hmmm...

Beth F 10/24/11, 10:29 AM  

@Caite: Well, as I mentioned, he writes about the people he worked with, and not all of it is flattering. It's not exactly gossip.

Daryl 10/24/11, 10:44 AM  

I am a big fan of Mr Garner and I look forward to reading this book .. thanks Beth!

Zibilee 10/24/11, 11:45 AM  

I don't usually do celebrity memoirs either, but find Garner fascinating, and reading the snippets about him that you have shared here really makes me want to check out this book. I particularly liked the quote about difficult and arrogant people. He seems like such a different kind of celebrity than the ones being touted today! Great review on this. I will be looking forward to it!

Nan 10/24/11, 11:50 AM  

I just saw an announcement of this book, and was so happy to read about it here. I am a big fan. I think he's unique in the acting world. He's a great mix of handsome and funny and intelligent. A while back I went on a Rockford Files spree on dvd (a little poem). I so enjoyed those shows.

Sandy Nawrot 10/24/11, 12:33 PM  

My mom and dad always watched the Rockford Files but I can't say I'm a huge fan. I do like reading celebrity memoirs though. And I did like The Notebook!

bermudaonion 10/24/11, 1:10 PM  

I remember watching The Rockford Files growing up. I bet my mom and I would both love this book!

Julie P. 10/24/11, 2:56 PM  

I remember my parents watching The Rockford Files! And I remember the camera commercials.

Martha @ Hey, I want to read that 10/24/11, 3:04 PM  

I love James Garner. I can vividly remember watching Maverick when I got home from school. I just re-watched the series recently and it still holds up for me. I adore almost all his movies. This book has to go on my list.

Serena 10/25/11, 9:57 AM  

I really love that the book title resembles the Rockford Files. He seems like a genuine hardworking actor...and I love the quote about actors being citizens and the nude scenes...:)

Leslie (Under My Apple Tree) 10/26/11, 1:04 PM  

Like you, I don't follow Hollywood, but there are a few actors I admire. James Garner is one of them and this sounds like a book I would enjoy reading. Thanks for the review... I didn't even know he had a book coming out.

MorganLvr 10/26/11, 1:12 PM  

I have been a fan of James Garner since the original Maverick. I was 13. I wasn't a big celeb fan then and never have been. In fact, Jim Garner is the only one I would have walked across the street to meet.

Somehow, he always seemed different, and he is. He's been my Hero all these years and has never developed feet of clay. :)

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