Last Sunday I finished James Garner’s The Garner Files. It’s one of those books that you’re glad that you read – but you can’t give it much of a recommendation. If you’re a Garner fan, it’s worth a look, but it’s no extraordinary, just a standardard actor autobiography. I give it 6 out of 10.
What’s Here Isn’t Bad
For all of that, I did appreciate some of the anecdotes. Garner shows some guts in discussing his 18-month separation from his wife, Lois, around 1980. One (largely unexplored) story involves the separated Garner going on the road with country singer Waylon Jennings for 2 weeks during the separation. Garner allows that he couldn’t keep up with Waylon. (Another surprising anecdote is that Garner once used cocaine with John Belushi in the early 1980s).
But what’s missing is depth. For the most part, Garner skims the surface, even if he does include most of his major career events. The end of the book contains quotes about Garner from many of his friends and family. One from Rockford Files colleague Joe Santos states –
“Garner says he’s easygoing, but he’s lying. He’s angry and desperate, just like I am. That’s why Rockford has always worked so well, because Jim is coming from a very passionate, driven place” (p. 234).
The book doesn’t really take the reader to that “passionate, driven place” and the reader feels that something is missing.
Another missing piece is Garner’s family. He discusses his wife, Lois, but his two daughters are largely missing. Perhaps he wanted to protect their privacy, but – again – the reader feels that something is missing.
Back in summer 2014, I was out at Orange Beach, Alabama. I ran into a Dollar General to get a couple of fill ins. While I was waiting to check out, I saw the tabloid headlines stating that Garner had died. I always loved Rockford and it made me so sad.
Garner fans will want to read The Garner Files. It has some nice anecdotes and you get a sense of the “real” Garner. But you’re also a bit disappointed, as you suspect that so many of the best, most-revealing stories are left untold.