James Garner

(Mostly about movies and tv, but with some material on names.)

Back in my Julie Andrews posting, James Garner came up, in the movie Victor Victoria. But the actor is an old favorite of mine, thanks to two television shows.

On the actor, from Wikipedia:

James Garner (born James Scott Bumgarner; April 7, 1928 – July 19, 2014) was an American actor, voice artist, and comedian. He starred in several television series over more than five decades, including such popular roles as Bret Maverick in the 1950s western comedy series Maverick and Jim Rockford in the 1970s detective comedic drama series The Rockford Files, and played leading roles in more than fifty theatrical films, including The Great Escape (1963) with Steve McQueen, Paddy Chayevsky’s The Americanization of Emily (1964), Grand Prix (1966), Blake Edwards’ Victor Victoria (1982), Murphy’s Romance (1985), … Space Cowboys (2000) with Clint Eastwood, and The Notebook (2004).

I’ll get back to the surname later. But first, those tv shows.

Maverick. From Wikipedia:

Maverick is an American Western television series with comedic overtones created by Roy Huggins. The show ran from September 22, 1957 to July 8, 1962 on ABC and stars James Garner as Bret Maverick, an adroitly articulate cardsharp. Eight episodes into the first season, he was joined by Jack Kelly as his brother Bart, and from that point on, Garner and Kelly alternated leads from week to week, sometimes teaming up for the occasional two-brother episode. The Mavericks were poker players from Texas who traveled all over the American Old West and on Mississippi riverboats, constantly getting into and out of life-threatening trouble of one sort or another, usually involving money, women, or both. They would typically find themselves weighing a financial windfall against a moral dilemma. More often than not, their consciences trumped their wallets since both Mavericks were intensely ethical.

When Garner left the series after the third season due to a legal dispute, Roger Moore was added to the cast as their cousin Beau Maverick. Robert Colbert appeared later in the fourth season as a third Maverick brother, Brent Maverick.


Garner and Kelly in action.

The Rockford Files. From Wikipedia:

The Rockford Files is an American television drama series starring James Garner that aired on the NBC network between September 13, 1974, and January 10, 1980, and has remained in syndication to the present day. Garner portrays Los Angeles-based private investigator Jim Rockford with Noah Beery, Jr., in the supporting role of his father, a retired truck driver nicknamed “Rocky”.

Producers Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell devised the Rockford character as a rather significant departure from typical television detectives of the time, essentially Bret Maverick as a modern detective. Rockford had served time in California’s San Quentin Prison in the 1960s due to a wrongful conviction. After five years, he was pardoned. His infrequent jobs as a private investigator barely allow him to maintain his dilapidated mobile home (which doubles as his office) in a parking lot on the beaches of Malibu, California.

… In contrast to most television private eyes, Rockford wears low-budget “off the rack” clothing and does his best to avoid fights. He rarely carries his Colt Detective Special revolver, for which he has no permit, preferring to talk his way out of trouble. He works on cold cases, missing persons investigations, and low-budget insurance scams, and repeatedly states that he does not handle “open cases” to avoid trouble with the police; he has been a P.I since 1968; his usual fee is $200.00 per day plus expenses.


Garner and Beery.

The name Garner. From the Internet Surname Database:

Garner: This interesting surname is of early medieval English origin, and has three possible sources. Firstly, the surname may be topographical for someone who lived near a barn or granary, or a metonymic occupational name for someone who was in charge of the storehouse for corn, the granary, from the Anglo-Norman French “gerner”, granary (Old French “gernier”, from the Late Latin “granarium”, a derivative of “granum”, grain, corn). William del Gerner is noted in the 1332 Subsidy Rolls of Lancashire. Secondly, it may be from a central Old French form of a Germanic personal name composed of the elements “war(in)”, guard, and “heri, hari”, army. The given name was introduced into England by the Normans during the Conquest of 1066 in the form “Warnier” or “Garnier”. The third source is a contracted variant from the English occupational name “Gardener”, which was normally given to a cultivator of edible produce in an orchard or kitchen garden, rather than to a tender of ornamental lawns and flower beds.

The route to James Garner’s surname is a variant of the third source. From Wikipedia:

Baumgartner (also Baumgärtner, Baumgardner, Bumgardner, Bumgartner or Bumgarner) is a surname of German origin, literally meaning “Tree Gardner”

Bumgarner was then abbreviated to Garner.

The actor is not the only Bumgarner of note. There’s also the baseball player Madison Bumgarner (posted about here), who kept his whole surname intact. Where the Giants pitcher comes from (Hickory NC) is, in fact, a nest of Bumgarners. From Yahoo Sports on 10/30/13 (republished from 4/17/12), in Eric Adelson’s “Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner is from a place nicknamed ‘Bumtown’ almost a century ago”:

Hickory, N.C. – This is a beautiful place to be laid to rest. A little cemetery by a little church by a little winding road. The headstones all look pristine, facing the white spire of the church like worshipers in pews. On a nice day, they gleam. But there’s something else here – something unique: the names on the graves.

Many are the same.

Bumgarner. That name is on one tombstone after the other after the other. So many Bumgarners have lived here over the past century that the locals refer to this tiny area of rural North Carolina as “Bumtown.”

There are a fair number of Bumgarners around where James Garner grew up (Norman OK). but nothing like the density in Hickory NC.

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