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Unbelievably Macho Tales Of James Garner From His Heyday

Starting life in a troubled household, James Garner began his acting career at 25 by following his intuition (and having a bit of luck). He was a man of many talents with an equal number of manly stories to tell.

Best remembered for his roles on TV's Maverick and The Rockford Files, Garner also starred in many, many movies, including The Great Escape, The NotebookGrand Prix, and Murphy's Romance, for which he received an Academy Award nomination. He is best known for his stoic and debonair acting style - an all-American man with a keen wit. Often cast as a charming antihero or con man, he was one of the few actors of the time period who could seamlessly transition between movies and television.

In real life, he was an honorable man with a natural, wisecracking wit loved by many. Until his passing at age 86 on July 19, 2014, Garner was known for his suave stature, rugged good looks, charm, and heroics, both on and off screen. 

  • Photo: The Henry Ford / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Garner Took A Bullet To The Backside And Shrapnel To The Face

    Before becoming an actor, James Garner was drafted into the Korean conflict, where he served in the 24th Infantry Division of the United States Army. In the five months he served, he was wounded twice. On his second day in the country, he was hit by a shard of shrapnel in his hand and the side of his face while bringing up the rear in a patrol party. 

    The second incident occurred under friendly fire. Garner's unit was under fire from Chinese forces when US planes came in to break up the Chinese position. Because Jim's group was not wearing identification, the planes began firing to break up the "troop concentration." Garner was hit in the derriere and jumped in a foxhole for cover. When he got out of the foxhole, he fell off a cliff, dislocating his shoulder and roughing up his already bad knees.  

  • He Took Private Jeet Kune Do Lessons From Bruce Lee

    In the movie Marlowe, Garner played Raymond Chandler's iconic private detective Philip Marlowe. The villain of the movie was a martial arts expert with ties to the mob, played by none other than Bruce Lee.

    Although this movie was a box-office blunder, it did give Bruce Lee his first major acting gig in Hollywood and an opportunity to start training Garner in Jeet Kune Do. Thanks to the training provided by Lee, Garner often performed many of his own stunts, which added texture to his roles.

  • Photo: NBC Television / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    He Almost Got His Insurance Canceled From Doing His Own Stunts

    Garner often did his own stunts during the series The Rockford Files. On season breaks, Garner had to have either one or both knees operated on due to the fact that he didn't have much recovery time between filmings. The strain was so intense for him that his doctor recommended that he stop performing stunts. 

    During the filming of Grand Prix, a representative from the insurance company Lloyds of London saw that Garner was doing his own stunts and attempted to cancel his insurance for the duration of the filming. Fortunately, his business manager was able to make sure that his personal insurance wasn't also canceled.

  • Photo: Grand Prix / MGM

    He Was A Race Car Driver In His Free Time

    Garner was a massive racing fan who often got behind the wheel himself when he wasn't acting.

    The Oscar winner drove pace cars at the 59th Indianapolis 500, the 61st Indianapolis 500, and the 69th Indianapolis 500.