I met James Garner in the 80s when I became addicted to Rockford Files. I remember watching it in the late afternoons after school. My addiction was rekindled via Netflix last year when I went on many Rockford Files binges, even getting my then 12 year old daughter in on the act. We both chuckled at how Jim Rockford could never just have a good day or get any of his clients to pay him. An unassuming guy, always trying to do the right thing, and not wanting more than he deserved, that was Jim Rockford. That was also James Garner to me. Though today’s generation got to know him from the famed movie, The Notebook, we 80s babies and those before knew him as more than an elderly version of Ryan Gosling. He was James Garner: unhollywood, unruffled professional, never too impressed with himself, witty and unpretentious. James Garner passed away today at age 86. As the country remembers his life and his work, the following are five life lessons I take away from his persona and the way he lived.
“When I started working, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, in that I was just wandering around, hoping that I could succeed. Then after I got a little under my belt, it took me about 25 years to feel like I knew what I was doing.” James Garner didn’t allow what he did to define who he was. He got into acting to financially support himself. He didn’t allow his work to make him or inflate. Staying grounded and humble was a skill and way of life for Garner.
“The industry is like it always has been. It’s a bunch of greedy people.” In a time when everyone pretends to be politically correct, James Garner was more concerned with personal integrity. He spoke his mind and what he thought was right. Agree or disagree, they were his words, his opinions, beliefs and he stood and lived by them, often challenging the status quo.
Don’t take yourself too seriously
“I got into the business to put a roof over my head,” he once said. “I wasn’t looking for star status. I just wanted to keep working.” In Hollywood, it’s so easy to become full of yourself. Matter of fact, it’s expected. But James Garner never took himself too seriously. He knew what he did for a living and why he did it. He was a husband, father, activist. Acting was what he did. Not who he was. Don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t let your job define who you are.
Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses and no matter what you do for a living, be a pro
“What was I qualified to do to make a living? Nothing,” he said. “You don’t need qualifications as an actor or a politician. And I didn’t want to be a politician.” After dropping out of school in the ninth grade to pursue a $25 an hour swimsuit modeling career, James Garner was always honest about his strengths and weaknesses, never trying to be someone he wasn’t. What he knew how to do was act, and that’s what he did. Not because he was the smartest or greatest but because to him it was natural and easy. “I’m a Spencer Tracy-type actor,” he told “People” in 2005. “His idea was to be on time, know your words, hit your marks and tell the truth. Most every actor tries to make it something it isn’t [or] looks for the easy way out. I don’t think acting is that difficult if you can put yourself aside and do what the writer wrote.” James Garner made up in professionalism and hard work what he lacked in education. He was a pro.
Don’t complicate love
“I saw my wife at a pool, flipped over her, and 14 days later we were married.” Garner had one of Hollywood’s longest-lasting marriages. He married Lois Clarke in 1956, and they were still married when he died today, 58 years later. Don’t complicate love. Just go with it. Give it all you got. If it fails, at least you have it your all. James Garner met and married the woman he loved within two weeks. Don’t be afraid of love. It’s the greatest adventure of a lifetime.