James Garner grew up knowing what sort of parent he wanted to become. The ladies loved him, but he chose only one woman with whom he built his family, and years after his demise, his kids still speak of his fond memories.
James Garner may have died as a Hollywood icon; however, he was not born into that life. Some may call him the modern-day Oliver Twist because of just how much he had to endure in his earliest years.
At age five, Garner lost his mother, so he, and his two brothers, were taken care of by relatives. The boys met their father, Weldon, three years later when he introduced them to their first stepmother.
She was like the popular stereotypes from fairytales like Cinderella, a villain who would physically abuse them daily. The bitter woman beat them all, but Garner always seemed to be the one she hit the most.
His father was an upholsterer and carpet layer who worked hard; however, he had faults too. He was known as a rake and would always indulge in the bottle much too often. Garner once said:
“He would come home bombed and make us sing to him or get a whipping.”
It looked a lot like bullying, making Garner develop an intolerance for bullies and empathy for those usually on the receiving end of their antics. That followed him into his adult life, and he would often exhibit it at work, always ready to defend anyone abused by people who outrank them.
He moved out of his home at 14 and started doing menial jobs; then, at 16, he lied about his age and joined the merchant marine, where he remained for months before leaving.
After that, he made his way to L.A. and enrolled at Hollywood High, where he transformed into a football hero who was only outgoing on the field. One of his childhood friends revealed that he was a sought-after guy back then, but he rarely dated.
While he lived, he did so in a way that provided transparency without compromising the safety of his girls.
It turned out that he had just been waiting for the right woman to waltz along, and when she did in the form of aspiring actress Lois Clarke in 1956, he jumped all in. The two ran into each other at a Democratic rally, and the connection was instantaneous.
Clarke had felt it too, and in the first couple of minutes they spent together, she confessed that she was a single mom whose daughter, Kimberly, had polio. It did not phase Garner, who continued to see her every day after that.
It only took two weeks for them to realize they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, and on August 17, 1956, two weeks after they initially met, the two were married.
They loved one another, and it did not matter that Garner’s family had been against the wedding. This was because Clarke was raised as a Jew, while James was raised as a Methodist.
It did not stop the couple from enjoying bliss after the wedding, and two years later, they welcomed their daughter Gigi. He remained married to Clarke until his demise in 2014. Garner’s long-lasting marriage was not as easy as he made it look. He once compared marriage to being in an army. He said:
“Everyone complains, but you’d be surprised at the large number of people who reenlist.”
He did not have to reenlist and once joked that the secret to their long-running marriage was learning to say “Yes, Dear.” Garner did many exploits as an actor on T.V., and his legacy lives on after his passing.
Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking he lived his real life like his T.V. characters; however, his daughter Gigi stated that he was different. According to Gigi, he was “funny” and “jovial.” Gigi said:
“He was the funniest person I ever knew, so witty and so quick.”
Garner Put Family over Everything
Garner had been through hell as a child but was different as a parent. It was essential to him to be a good father and husband. It would not have been shocking if he had become a terrible parent since those abused as kids often repeat the cycle; however, Garner was different. He destroyed the circle and refused to let it burden him.