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The Garner Files: A Memoir, страница 1

 

The Garner Files: A Memoir
 


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The Garner Files: A Memoir


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  Simon & Schuster

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  Copyright © 2011 by MGB Productions, Inc.

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address Simon & Schuster Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

  First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition November 2011

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  Designed by Joy O’Meara

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available.

  ISBN 978-1-4516-4260-5 (Print)

  ISBN 978-1-4516-4262-9 (eBook)

  Contents

  Introduction by Julie Andrews

  “Dear Reader”

  CHAPTER ONE: Growing Up Fast

  CHAPTER TWO: Korea to Broadway

  CHAPTER THREE: Maverick

  CHAPTER FOUR: Big Screen

  CHAPTER FIVE: Politics

  CHAPTER SIX: Racing

  CHAPTER SEVEN: The Rockford Files

  CHAPTER EIGHT: Golf

  CHAPTER NINE: Act-ing!

  CHAPTER TEN: Producing

  CHAPTER ELEVEN: Love Stories

  CHAPTER TWELVE: This Is My Life

  Outtakes

  Films

  Television

  Introduction

  by Julie Andrews

  My friend Jim Garner is a man’s man, a ladies’ man, a good ol’ boy in the best sense of the word, a curmudgeon (he’ll be the first to tell you) . . . and a sweetheart. I don’t know a lady who isn’t a little bit in love with him.

  We met over fifty years ago on the film The Americanization of Emily. It was only the second movie I’d ever made, and I was nervous, gauche, and hopelessly inadequate in the heady culture of Hollywood in the ’60s and the superb team of professionals with whom I was working. Mercifully, Jim made it easy for me. He was generous, gentle, and kind—and that was when I, too, fell a little bit in love with him. We both admired the brilliant screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky, and to this day, we agree that it was one of our favorite movies to make.

  We’ve made two other films together since then— Victor/Victoria and the made-for-television movie One Special Night. You could say that the span of the three films is an index to the years of our friendship.

  In Emily, we were young. It was intoxicating stuff—pure fun. Victor/Victoria happened some fifteen years later. We were more secure in ourselves, and there was security in working together. (Jim will never know how many times I copied his moves in order to learn how to act like a man . . . )

  By the time we made One Special Night in the early ’90s, we were in a more “pastoral” mode. That’s a kind way of saying that we were a lot older. We shot the film in Montreal. It was the dead of winter, yet in spite of the freezing temperatures, the work felt so easy.

  Every time we are on a set together, I marvel as I watch Jim weave his magic. Charisma simply oozes out of the guy. He owns his place on the screen, he listens, and he gives back. My husband, Blake, who directed Jim in two films—Victor/Victoria and Sunset—used to say that not only is he a good actor, he’s a great re actor. As far as I’m concerned, few can match him in that regard. Watch his panic and fear in Emily as he heads for Omaha Beach. Watch him in Victor/Victoria when he discovers that the lady he’s attracted to is actually a man. (Except that she’s not!) Catch the pain he feels in One Special Night when he realizes there is nothing he can do for his dying wife.

  Yet beneath the talent, charm, and a healthy dose of bravado, one senses that he’s been hurt—more than once. So he’s stubborn, a bit reclusive . . . defiant, too. Don’t mess with Jim when he’s fighting for a cause he believes in.

  This glimpse into his early life, the cruelty and deprivation he suffered, his years in the service, his slow rise to fame, power, and fulfillment was a revelation for me. This memoir provides us all with a rare opportunity to get to know the captivating, enigmatic, complicated man that is the real Jim Garner.

  Did I mention that he’s a sweetheart?

  June 2011

  Dear Reader,

  I’ve avoided writing a book until now because I’m really pretty average and I didn’t think anyone would care about my life.

  I’m still a little uncomfortable, but I finally agreed, because people I trust persuaded me you might be interested, and because I realized it would allow me to acknowledge those who’ve helped me along the way, from friends and family to the actors, directors, writers, and crew members I’ve worked with over the years.

  I’ll also talk about my childhood, try to clear up some misconceptions, and maybe even settle a score or two.

  I don’t like to brag on myself, and I won’t start now, but I will ask people who know me to weigh in, for better or worse.

  Above all, I want you to know I have no regrets. Here’s this dumb kid from Oklahoma, raised during the Depression, comes to Hollywood, gets a career, becomes famous, makes some money, has a wonderful family . . . what would I change? Nothing. I wouldn’t change a thing.

  Yours truly,

  CHAPTER ONE

  Growing Up Fast

  Jimmy is very close to his characters. That’s the face he wants the world to see—the man who doesn’t quite fit into any mold but is loved. The first thing I noticed about Jim was how funny he was. But Jim is a rather complicated man and is covering up lots of hurt. Growing up he was abused, lonely, and deprived.

  —LOIS GARNER

  Norman, Oklahoma, is located near the center of the state, in the middle of “Tornado Alley” where, April through June, dry polar air from Canada mixes with warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico to produce hundreds of tornadoes. If the southern Plains are a giant target for twisters, Norman is close to the bull’s-eye, having taken as many hits, and even more near misses, than any other place on the continent. If that weren’t enough, Norman is hot as hell in summer, cold as hell in winter, and windy as hell all year round. The landscape is flat and featureless . . . you might even say bleak.

  But Norman was a good place to grow up. Everybody knew each other, and you could walk the streets at night. It was a college town of about ten thousand, with three thousand University of Oklahoma students. Now, with thirty thousand students, the population is over one hundred thousand, and it’s the third-largest city in the state, behind Oklahoma City and Tulsa. It’s often mentioned as one of the best small cities in the United States, with its performing arts center, museums, theaters, parks, and annual festivals. But Norman in the 1930s was a sleepy little town.

  My grandparents on both sides were among the first settlers of Norman. My father’s father, Will Bumgarner, took part in the Oklahoma Land Rush and might have been one of the famous “Sooners.”

  On April 22, 1889, fifty thousand would-be landowners who’d come by train, covered wagon, on horseback, and on foot, gathered on the Arkansas, Kansas, and Texas borders. At high noon, at the sound of a cannon shot, they to
re out to claim their 160-acre homesteads. By the end of the day, thousands had staked claims in Guthrie, Kingfisher, Oklahoma City, and on the sandy banks of the shallow Canadian River, where my grandfather had waited for the signal along with a few hundred others who would settle Norman.

  Or maybe not. Grandpa Will might have slipped in beforehand: There were two kinds of settlers, “Boomers” and “Sooners.” Boomers played by the rules and waited for the official signal to enter, but “Sooners” snuck in sooner than the law allowed to get the choice parcels. A few of them had to forfeit their land later on, but most got away with it.

  Before statehood in 1907, Oklahoma was called Indian Territory, for good reason: the Indians were there first. Many tribes had roamed the Great Plains for thousands of years. It must have been beautiful country, with shoulder-high grass as far as the eye could see, pecan trees, and endless herds of buffalo.

  The Creek, Choctaw (“Oklahoma” is Choctaw for “red people”), Blackfoot, Comanche, Arapaho, Kiowa, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Pawnee, Shoshone, Crow, and Apache all depended on the buffalo for survival. They used every bit of the animal except the heart, which they buried ceremonially. When the settlers came, they slaughtered the buffalo, while the government put the tribes on reservations to “protect” them from homesteaders moving west. It shuffled them around for decades, uprooting them whenever the territory they occupied became desirable to whites, each time promising that the new land would be theirs forever. Norman is on ground that was “given” to the Creek Nation in 1832.

  Bumgarner means “orchard tender,” leading me to think that the Bumgarners, who came to America from East Prussia in the mid-1700s, were farmers. I have to guess, because I don’t know much about them, and our German ancestry was never discussed. In my family, we never talked about feelings or about anything personal, like our roots. I learned only recently that my mother’s family goes back to the Virginia colony in the early 1600s. I think that’s remarkable, and I wish I knew more about her ancestors. All I know is that her parents, Charles Bailey Meek and Abbie Womack, were married in 1904 and that my mother, Mildred, was born a year later.

  Charlie Meek, my mother’s father, was Native American. My maternal grandparents disowned Abbie when she married him. I once asked my dad, “What was Grandpa Charlie like?” I’d never even seen a picture of him. All he said was, “He was a black, full-blood Cherokee. He was the blackest man I’ve ever seen.” I don’t know anything else about Grandpa Charlie because everybody pretended he didn’t exist.

  Growing up I knew I was one-quarter Cherokee, but I have to admit I was a little afraid of Indians. For one thing, I didn’t know any. They were out of sight on reservations somewhere, or in the Little Axe community east of town. The schoolbooks didn’t help. They gave the impression that Indians were “savages” who attacked without provocation. And our teachers didn’t tell us that when Europeans came to North America, it was a disaster for the previous tenants.

  I never knew my paternal grandfather, either. It wasn’t until about twenty years ago that I learned anything about him. I’d flown from Dallas to Norman for a fund-raiser one rainy night with my friend Bill Saxon. After dinner, we went back to the airport to return to Dallas. My nephew Scott Bumgarner, our unofficial family historian, had dug up a newspaper article and left it for me with Bill’s pilot. It was a report in the Norman Transcript from 1914. I picked it up while we were taxiing for takeoff and couldn’t believe what I was reading.

  It seems Grandpa Will Bumgarner was a bit of a rake. He and Grandma Lula (aka “Granny Bum”) lived in Norman, but thirty-five miles to the north, in Yukon, Oklahoma, there was a widow woman he’d taken a liking to. Every so often, he’d go on a “whiz”: he’d saddle up and ride for two days to see her. She must have been some woman.

  The widow had a son who warned Grandpa to stay away from his mother. Grandpa didn’t listen. One summer day he was sitting under a shade tree at a farm sale when the son approached and said, “I told you to leave my mama alone.” He pulled out a nine-round repeating pistol and shot Grandpa five times. According to the newspaper account, Grandpa said, “Don’t shoot me again, you’ve already killed me.” But the kid put the other four bullets in him anyway.

  Apparently, Will Bumgarner lived as violently as he died. Scott recently found some letters indicating that as a young man Will had a fight in a back alley and the other guy died, but Will was never convicted of a crime.

  On the other hand, Scott points out that despite the fact that Will drank and fought and may have had affairs, Granny Bum apparently forgave his transgressions and in good moments even called him “sweet William.” They had ten children, after all (three of whom died in infancy and another who died of burns at the age of six).

  My mother, Mildred Scott Meek, and my father, Weldon Warren “Bill” Bumgarner, were married in 1921 and had three sons. Charles was born in 1924, Jack in ’26, and I was born James Scott Bumgarner on April 7, 1928. “James” was for Jimmy Johnson, the owner of the local tobacco shop and a drinking buddy of my father’s. Scott was my mother’s middle name—after the doctor who had delivered her, and me. (It’s also my daughter Gigi’s, whose full name is Greta Scott Garner.)

  In the depths of the Great Depression, my father ran a country store nine miles east of Norman in a speck on the map called Denver, population 5: Dad, Mom, my two brothers, and me. It was a combination hardware store/mail drop/service station on an old country road. Store in the front and two bedrooms and a kitchen in the back, and that was it. We didn’t have indoor plumbing.

  My mother died when I was four. I don’t remember her, but I do recall riding in her funeral procession and passing by the country store. I couldn’t understand why we didn’t stop, because that’s where we lived. It wasn’t until I was fifteen that my cousin Betty told me my mother died of uremic poisoning after a botched abortion. She was twenty-six. To this day, I don’t know the details, except that Grandma Meek and my mother were Christian Scientists. They never used a doctor, just prayer. I have no idea whether my father was involved in the decision to have the abortion or whether he blamed himself for her death. We never talked about it in the family.

  Until I was five, I played every day by myself while my older brothers were at school. Well, I wasn’t all by myself: I had “George,” my imaginary friend. I was the sheriff of Denver, and he was my deputy. George was somebody to talk to. And I used him to get an extra piece of bread and peanut butter.

  By the time I was six, I was working in the store selling peanut butter out of a five-gallon can. I’d scoop it, put it in a bucket, and smooth it out. I also pumped gas, and in those days, we pumped it by hand.

  Everyone called my brother Charles “Bum.” Jack was “Middle Bum,” and I was “Little Bum,” though I eventually grew to be physically bigger than both of them. They also called me “Babe” because I was the baby. One of my earliest memories is of the three of us riding bareback on an old horse with Bum in front, Jack in the middle, and me in the rear. Every once in a while they’d get mad and scoot me off the back. We rode that horse to a one-room schoolhouse. When we didn’t have the horse, we had to walk. And, I swear, we often went barefoot. But not in the snow.

  When I was seven, the store burned down and we moved to Norman. There were rumors my father set the fire. I don’t know if he did, but it wouldn’t shock me. In those days, people did all kinds of things to survive. It wasn’t something we ever talked about in the family.

  After the store burned down, my father basically left us to fend for ourselves. We were shuffled back and forth among relatives. I stayed with Grandma Louella Bumgarner at first, and then with “Grandma Meek,” Abbie Womack Meek. We called her Maw. She was a feisty little ninety-pounder. Scotch-Irish. Brilliant. And so sweet. I could ask her for anything, and she’d give it to me, and if she didn’t have it, she’d get it. I can still hear her calling me for supper: “Jimmy James Scott Bumgarner, get in here this very minute!” Without my own mother there to take care of me,
I grew to love Maw very much.

  During that period, I also lived with my Uncle John and Aunt Leona Bumgarner, while Bum and Jack were with other relatives. We brothers all lived in Norman, but we didn’t get to see each other much.

  Uncle John and Aunt Leona were good people, as close to parents as I could have gotten. I—along with everybody else in the family— called her Aunt Leone, but Leona was her real name. I loved Uncle John and Aunt Leone and they loved me. Their three children accepted me as one of the family.

  Uncle John was a county commissioner, and he had a little dairy farm outside town. I loved to help him make butter and cream. And he was smart. In the wintertime, we used to sit in front of the fire with a dictionary to try to find a word he didn’t know. I could never stump him. He knew the meaning of every word and the spelling and the derivation. He’d had some Latin because he’d studied to be a doctor, and worked as a Linotype operator and proofreader at the Norman Transcript.

  Uncle John wasn’t much to look at. His shirttail was always half-out and his hat was never blocked quite right, but I thought he was the most successful man in the world because he was content with what he had. And he had something many men never get: self-respect and the respect of everyone who knew him.

  Our “home entertainment” consisted of a crystal set, a homemade radio you listened to with earphones. It wasn’t powerful and you couldn’t pick up many stations. You were happy to get dance music. If you were really lucky, you’d pull in Fibber McGee and Molly or The Grand Ole Opry.

  We went to Saturday movie matinees. I liked all the heroes: Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Jimmy Cagney, and Henry Fonda, whom I saw in The Grapes of Wrath when I was twelve or thirteen. I was amazed that they actually made a movie about people like me, though I didn’t like the term “Okie” for migrants who’d lost their farms during the Great Depression. The term’s been widely used ever since Merle Haggard’s song “Okie from Muskogee” in 1969, but a lot of Oklahomans still don’t like it, including me.

 
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