Date of Birth : Apr 7th 1928
His mother was of part Cherokee ancestry. After their mother’s death, Garner and his brothers were sent to live with relatives. Garner was reunited with his family in 1934, when Weldon remarried. Garner grew to hate his stepmother, Wilma, who beat all three boys, but especially young James. When he was fourteen, James finally had enough of his ‘wicked stepmother’ and after a particularly heated battle, she left for good. As James’ brother Jack commented, “She was a damn no-good woman”. Garner admitted that his stepmother punished him by forcing him to wear a dress in public, and that he finally engaged in a physical fight with her, knocking her down and choking her to keep her from killing him in retaliation. This incident ended the marriage.
He also modeled Jantzen bathing suits at this time. It paid well, but, in his first interview for the Archives of American Television, he said he hated modeling, and soon quit and returned to Norman. There he played football and basketball, as well as competed on the track and golf teams, for Norman High School. Later he joined the National Guard, before serving in the Army in the Korean War, where he received two Purple Hearts. In 1954, a friend, Paul Gregory—whom Garner had met while attending Hollywood High School—convinced Garner to take a non-speaking role in the Broadway production of The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, where he was able to study the actor Henry Fonda at close quarters, night after night. Garner subsequently moved on to television commercials and eventually to television roles. His first movie appearances were in The Girl He Left Behind and Toward the Unknown in 1956.
In 1969, Garner joined a long list of actors to play Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe, in Marlowe. Chandler had written the character while visualizing Cary Grant in the role (not unusual for a writer of the era), but Grant never took the part himself. Dick Powell, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, and even Elliot Gould all took turns at it, but only Garner’s version features Bruce Lee dropping by his office to smash everything into pieces in one of the first displays of Kung Fu techniques in popular media.