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James Garner: Actor on the Rise

Nov. 17, 1963 - James Garner (pictured with his wife Lois) ambled slowly along the hotel corridor — closely followed by a very small, very cross boy. “You left ‘Maverick,’” the boy said. “My favorite TV program. And you left it.” A look of pain crossed Garner’s face. Six-foot-three-inches looked down on four-foot-five. “That’s right, sonny,” he said. “I left it. Perhaps you’d like to know why. I was on the bread line. My wife and I were starving. Any other questions?” He flipped the boy a half-crown, shut the door, and sink into a chair. “That’s all I ever heard,” he said. “People come up to me in the street, mad at me for leaving the program. It has become so bad I’m thinking of making an announcement: if all of the 40 million people who used to watch ‘Maverick’ will each send me one dollar, I will return. But not otherwise.” It would indeed take a lot of money to lure Garner back to television. Since escaping the small screen, he has been making great strides across the wide screen. His film “The Great Escape” chalked up records everywhere. And the first of his two Doris Day pictures, “The Thrill of It All,” is proving him a light comedy actor of high caliber. He is now in London making “The Americanization of Emily.” “I got away just in time,” said Mr. Garner. “I was always haunted by the memory of the actor who used to play Superman on T.V. He made no money out of the series, yet you couldn’t switch on the set without seeing him. Every time he tried to get a job, he was told: ‘Don’t be ridiculous, fella — everyone knows you’re Superman. He tried disguising himself; he grew a moustache. But it was no good. In the end, he killed himself.” Turning to a brighter topic, Garner said, “I’ve been awfully lucky starring opposite someone like Doris Day in my last two films. You can’t miss with a girl like that. I’d rather have her than Elizabeth Taylor. Everything Doris does turns to box-office gold. And she’s not at all the wholesome, malt-drinking, all-American girl everyone supposes. The first time I met her, she told me a very risqué joke, as a matter of fact. I was quite shocked. She couldn’t understand why I hadn’t taken up acting until I was 26. The truth is it never appealed to me. I used to read all those fan magazines, you know, and think — if that’s the way actors are, childish and absurd, I don’t want to know.” And what changed your mind? “I stopped reading fan magazines,” he said.


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