5 surprising things we learned about James Garner from a 1981 interview

The Maverick star had a surprising fear of women and horses.

Image: The Everett Collection

James Garner is one of the coolest guys to ever strut across a television screen. From the clever card player Maverick to the beach-dwelling, Firebird-driving P.I. Jim Rockford, his characters embodied cool. 

Which is why the man behind the scenes remained so fascinating. Garner carried self-doubt and was no stranger to self-deprecation. 

That comes through in this interview conducted by Panorama Magazine in 1981. The actor sat down with a journalist to discuss his comeback as Bret Maverick, but the chat turned more into a therapy session. These five moments raised our eyebrows.

1. He was not a fan of horses.


Garner grew up in Oklahoma and was certainly no stranger to horses. But he did not have a great relationship with the beasts. "Baaaaaad form of transportation," Garner complained. "Naw, I'd rather have a car or something. [Laughs.] I've ridden horses all my life. We lived out in the country. My dad ran a country store. I rode a horse to school in the first grade. And I've had 'em bite me, kick me, stomp on me, throw me, run me into trees, walls, corrals, barns, whatever."

2. The Rockford Files caused him constant pain… and sinus infections.


Six seasons of The Rockford Files took its toll, and we're not talking about the wear and tear on the Pontiac. Garner took a beating from the stuntwork. "Well, those injuries finally caught up with me a few years ago. And that's when I quit Rockford. I'd just had it as long as I could take it. I was going downhill, physically, extremely fast," he admitted. "You know, one injury will bring on another. You start favoring one leg, and the other leg will go, and then the back will go, and you start taking medication, and then that'll affect your stomach, or whatever, and then you get depression. And it just got so heavy. I've had a sinus infection for almost four years now. The bone has kind of grown over one sinus so the medication can't quite get to it, so I have a constant low-grade infection."

Image: NBCUniversal Television

3. He was afraid of women.


Bret Maverick certainly met his match in Samantha Crawford (Diane Brewster). Garner himself admitted to having confidence issues. Panorama asked if the handsome Hollywood star was frightened when it came to romance. "Not frightened. Scared," Garner said. "I don't know why. I've known women I just melt around. I can't talk… I'm afraid I might do something or say something wrong, that they'll dislike me. So I don't do anything… It's my own fear. It's within me. I'm not afraid of them. I'm afraid of me."

4. He didn't think the original Maverick show was all that great.


Maverick remains one of the great Western classics in television history, full of wit and delicious dialogue. They even rebooted it with Garner in the '80s and '90s. But the star was far more critical of his work. He felt the sequel series, Bret Maverick, which he was promoting in this interview, would surpass it. "If you go back and look at the original series, maybe the shows weren't that good," Garner opined. "They were fine for what they were at the time, but hardly any were original scripts. A lot were rewritten, cut-down Western movies, and we used a lot of stock footage from those old movies. That saved a lot of money."

Image: The Everett Collection

5. He got into a vicious street fight.


Perhaps the most startling moment in the interview comes when he graphically details a recent traffic accident that turned into a street brawl. The brute in the other vehicle had no qualms about scrapping with a TV star. "He hit me through the window, eight or nine times in the face, then I got out and I grabbed him, and we fell across the street, and I fell on top of him, but he grabbed me by the cajones. And squeeeeezed. And it does smart," Garner said. "And then he got up and started kickin' me in the head. And he kicked me about six times in the head, and then six or eight times around the rest of the body. He just started down this side and went all around. I was layin' on my stomach. I was bleeding, and cut, and busted up and stunned so much that I could hardly see. If I'd had a couple of minutes to recoup, I probably would have hurt him. But I had concussions and a broken tailbone, and a lot of little things broken. But, you know, he wasn't all that tough." Yikes!

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PulsarStargrave 21 months ago
That creep who sucker punched Garner through his window is a menace and I'm impressed and alarmed that Garner got out of his vehicle to confront him because it could have become tragic (what if the thug had a weapon?) I'm happy Garner survived and I hope the police tossed that criminal in jail!
madmark1 44 months ago
it’s ironic that James Garner didn’t have a good relationship with horses when he tried to teach a bunch of Hawaiians how to ride horses in the movie the castaway Cowboys made in 1974 really good movie I believe it was also a Disney movie.
madmark1 44 months ago
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FrankCollins 44 months ago
Maverick was the best western TV show ever made, with the most creative scripts, and the great James Garner in the lead. In your #3 fact, you mention James Garner and the great Diane Brewster, and show a picture of Garner with Louise Fletcher. Louise was in one of the best Maverick episodes, called, "The Saga of Waco WIlliams". Louise later won an Oscar for playing the evil Nurse Ratched in the movie, "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest".
Carole0619 44 months ago
I enjoyed all the shows Jim Garner played in.
PulsarStargrave Carole0619 21 months ago
I'm more of a fan of his movies but MeTV made me a fan of Rockford Files when it was last on the network!
binky 44 months ago
I love all of his work. Maybe my all-time favorite is The Americanization of Emily.
Tlor 44 months ago
Reading about his life, at another site, his father married several times and one stepmother was a real witch! (beating him and his brothers). He was married only to one woman 58 years, had one daughter with her, one from his wife's previous marriage. And one of his early jobs was modeling Janzten swim suits. He didn't like modeling so went back to Oklahoma.
RobertMayer 44 months ago
In Garner's 1971 movie "Support Your Local Gunfighter" he also expresses his disdain for horses. Preferring carriages and trolleys.
texasluva 44 months ago
Looks like James Garner led a very productive life both on and off screen. A few phobias along the way. Equinophobia along with Gynophobia. Street fights along with adoring fans. We should all be so lucky. Since James Garner is on our sights today I am putting up one of his movies (The Great Escape). Though he is second billing right behind Steve McQueen he ain't no slouch.

The Great Escape (1963
2 h 45 min
Adventure, Drama, History
starring Steve
McQueen, James Garner and Richard Attenborough, and featuring James
Donald, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence, James Coburn and Hannes
Pacificsun texasluva 44 months ago
Don't miss David McCallum in there too! 😉
Can't ask for a more stellar cast than in The Great Escape!
MrsPhilHarris texasluva 44 months ago
A very Hollywoodized version of the true story but a great movie nonetheless.
cperrynaples 44 months ago
One really weird story about Garner: In a 1994 interview, he enjoyed that Gore Vidal complemented his butt in the infamous Myra Breckenridge! Vidal was gay, in case you didn't know!
PeterRoff 44 months ago
MeTV needs to pay for a statute fo James Garner as his Jim Rockford character and place it in Paradise Cove in Malibu. His was and is one of the most iconic performances ever given on primetime network television.
Pacificsun PeterRoff 44 months ago
Why should MeTV have to do it. (I get the point of the well deserved, well-earned accolades). But Malibu is a highly wealthy community. And probably put that restaurant and parking lot (not to mention the beach) on the map for a couple of years. He's also had/has a robust fan base!

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