Garner remembered locally for ‘Decoration Day’

by W. Winston Skinner

James Garner, who charmed Cowetans when he filmed a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie in Newnan in 1990, has died.

Garner won the best television movie actor award from the Golden Globes for his role as a retired judge in “Decoration Day.” Garner was one of the more genial stars to visit Coweta County in that era, when movies were being filmed regularly in the area.

He frequently visited with local people between takes – sitting in a canvas backed folding chair on the court square sidewalk. Martha Dorrough, who worked at a downtown store, was interview in June 1990 and spoke highly of the actor.

“He was a real nice person,” Dorrough said. “I got my picture taken with him. He just put his arm around my shoulder.”

Garner, 86, was found dead of natural causes at his Los Angeles home on Saturday, according to Associated Press. Adept at drama and action, he was best known for his low-key, wisecracking style, especially on his hit TV series, "Maverick" and "The Rockford Files."

Garner made his debut in television and film in 1956. The following year, he starred in “Maverick” on ABC and surprised experts by getting more viewers than "The Ed Sullivan Show" on CBS and "The Steve Allen Show” on NBC.

Garner’s first film after "Maverick" established him as a movie actor. It was "The Children's Hour," William Wyler's remake of Lillian Hellman's drama that co-starred Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine.

Garner’s next film was a successful comedy with Kim Novak, "Boys Night Out." He then established his box-office appeal with the 1963 blockbuster war drama "The Great Escape" and two smash comedies with Doris Day – "The Thrill of It All" and "Move Over Darling."

In the 1966 racing film "Grand Prix" he starred as an American driver in the Formula One series. Garner, who loved auto racing, formed and owned the American International Racers auto racing team from 1967 through 1969, and drove the pace car at the Indianapolis 500 in 1975, 1977 and 1985.

Garner played a supporting role as a marshal in the 1994 "Maverick," a big-screen return to the TV series with Mel Gibson in Garner's old title role. His only Oscar nomination came for the 1985 "Murphy's Romance," a comedy about a small-town love relationship in which he co-starred with Sally Field.

He starred in a musical, "Victor/Victoria" (1982), and a romantic drama, "The Notebook" (2004). Garner’s favorite film, however, was the cynical 1964 war drama "The Americanization of Emily," which – like “Victor/Victoria” – co-starred Julie Andrews.

From 1974-1980, Garner starred in “The Rockford Files” on NBC. He played Jim Rockford, a Los Angeles private eye and wrongly jailed ex-con who seemed to rarely get paid, or even get thanks, for the cases he took, while helplessly getting drawn into trouble to help someone who was neither a client nor maybe even a friend.

In 1957, Garner married TV actress Lois Fleishman Clarke, who survives him.

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