James Scott Bumgarner and Lois Josephine Fleishman Clarke did nearly the impossible for average married couples, let alone Hollywood couples. They met, fell in love at first sight, married, and remained in each other’s corner, even through poor health, for nearly a lifetime. According to the New York Times, the couple was reaching nearly 58 years of marriage when the American actor passed away in 2014 from a heart attack in Los Angeles, California. He was 86 years old.
James Garner and Lois Clarke’s 14-Day Love Story
In 1956, actor James Garner had yet to play roles as popular as Bret Maverick , the breakthrough character that made him famous in the tv series Maverick that ran from 1957 to 1962. Garner and Clarke met at a friend’s pool party and again a few days later at a Democratic presidential rally. He asked her out to dinner that night and she accepted. They then proceeded to have dinner together every night for the next 14 nights. Soon enough, against the advice of friends and family, they got married. Their families in particular didn’t think that two would work out because of their backgrounds and religious views.
While Lois Clarke was local to Los Angeles and came from a Jewish background, the soon to be Academy Award winning movie star James Garner was a Methodist from Oklahoma. There was also the fact that Lois had a daughter, Kimberly, from a previous marriage, who also happened to be recovering from polio. Nevertheless, Garner later adopted Kim, and the couple welcomed their daughter Gigi (Greta “GiGi” Garner) a few years later.
The Rockford Files
The Challenges of Hollywood Were No Match For Mr. and Mrs. Garner
The Garners’ love story would face its own set of trials over the years. One challenge was an 18-month separation during the filming of the television series The Rockford Files, during which Garner is rumored to have had an affair with actress Lauren Bacall. According to Garner, who played private investigator Jim Rockford, he and his wife Lois were never in any real danger. They separated due to the pressures that The Rockford Files was putting on him and his family. He is quoted as telling People magazine: “Ninety-nine percent of the problem was the pressures of Rockford. It wasn’t us, it was me needing to get away to get my head together.”
Garner made the effort to keep good working relationships with the actresses he worked with but to keep an even better relationship with his wife. He will be forever remembered for being a wonderful actor appearing in movies and tv shows such as Maverick, The Great Escape, 8 Simple Rules, Grand Prix, Murphy’s Romance, The Children’s Hour, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, and The Notebook. He even voiced the wizard Shazam in the 2010 animated movie DC Showcase: Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam. He will also always be remembered for being a man who was a dedicated, caring husband.
The Garner Files: A Memoir
Simon & Schuster published Garner’s autobiography, The Garner Files: A Memoir, in 2011. The book details the life of Garner, explaining everything from the abuse he suffered from his stepmother in his early life, to graduating from the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma, to working with co-stars like Sally Field and Steve McQueen, to enjoying smoking weed throughout his life.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on December 23, 2019.