Maxim Legends: James Garner

The Maverick was the hero most likely to run away from danger.

James Garner was a different kind of tough guy. When he played the always-broke, never-busy-enough but always-in-trouble private investigation in the “Rockford Files,” he was the sort of tough guy who take a breath during a fist-fight to ask the bad guy, “Does your mother know what you do for a living?”

That’s the beauty of James Garner. Of all the screen-ready leading men who came of age in the spaghetti westerns of the 1950s and ’60s, Garner was the one most willing to drop the macho act and stick his finger in the barrel of an opponent’s rifle. Born in Oklahoma, Garner arrived in Los Angeles with a Hollywood chin and a voice for radio. He was tall and lanky, and had the spirit of an adventurer, with charm and a sardonic view of the world. That bite came through in “Rockford Files” (which co-starred Rob Reiner), and earlier in “Maverick,” a top-rated show from 1957 to 1959.

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Over his career he starred with everyone from Marlon Brando to Mel Gibson. He married his wife Lois in 1956 and stuck by her until his death in 2014. Outside of Hollywood, Garner was a racing obsessive who owned a race team and even trained himself in the delicate art of grand prix racing. He produced a groundbreaking documentary on the sport,The Racing Scene, and teamed up with director John Frankenheimer in 1968’s Grand Prix, which mixed actual Formula 1 footage and drivers (including Phil Hill, Juan Manuel Fangio and Bruce McLaren) with the dramatic scenes (co-starring Eva Marie Saint).

Garner appeared in nearly 100 films and TV shows, won a bunch of Emmys and Golden Globes, and yet somehow never really fit in with the old-school Hollywood that adored. For that, he is a Maxim Legend.