James Garner Met His Wife 14 Days Before Their 57-Year Marriage Clouded by Parents’ Disapproval

Edduin Carvajal
Dec 16, 2021
02:30 P.M.
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Not everybody believes in love at first sight, but late actor James Garner and his wife of 57 years proved it is real. His parents were not on board with their marriage, though.

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James Garner had an outstanding career in the entertainment industry spanning seven decades. His wife, Lois Clarke, was by his side throughout the years, but their romance was unusual.

They defied his parents and waited no time to tie the knot. Although their marriage had ups and downs, they stayed together until death did them part in 2014. Here is Garner and Clarke's love story.

James Garner and Lois Clarke on March 1, 1964 in UK [left]. Garner and Clarke on April 7, 1980 at Le Dome Restaurant in West Hollywood, California [right] | Photo: Getty Images

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TOUGH UPBRINGING

Born in April 1928, Garner grew up during the Great Depression and faced many challenges. His mother passed away when he was four, and his father left him and his two older brothers with relatives. 

Garner's dad remarried and reunited with his boys a few years later, but his spouse was abusive. After dropping out of school and joining the Merchant Marine, Garner worked as a bathing suit model.

James Garner on January 4, 1967 | Photo: Getty Images

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In 1950, the U.S. Army drafted and sent him to fight the Korean War. When Garner returned, he took a small role in the Broadway production of "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial" and learned from Henry Fonda.

Warner Bros. noticed Garner's talents and offered him a contract in 1956. His big break came in 1957 when he portrayed Bret Maverick in "Maverick" for three years.

Garner kept landing roles in profitable projects for over a decade, but the show that made him an icon was "The Rockford Files." For his portrayal of private investigator Jim Rockford, Garner won an Emmy Award.

James Garner and Lois Clarke circa 1965 | Photo: Getty Images

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MEETING CLARKE

Garner is one of the few celebrities who found love before making it big in showbiz, and he wrote about it in his 2011's autobiography "The Garner Files." 

On August 1, 1956, he went to a rally for presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson and met Clarke. Garner, who called it love at first sight, admitted he "flipped out" over her. 

Although the couple's 57-year marriage was impressive, it was not perfect.

James Garner and wife Lois Clarke on August 25, 1991 in Pasadena, California | Photo: Getty Images

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Clarke was "very nice" to him. A few minutes after introducing each other, she talked to him about his daughter from her first marriage, Kimberly, who had polio.

The actor asked Clarke out that night, and she went with him. He kept inviting her to dinner for 14 nights, and she kept accepting his invitations.

On August 17, after seeing each other every day (sometimes twice a day), Garner and Clarke tied the knot in the Beverly Hills courthouse. Not everyone was on board with their marriage, though.

James Garner and wife Lois Clarke in Westwood, California in June 2004 | Photo: Getty Images

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AGAINST ALL ODDS

Garner's family disliked their relationship because the lovebirds had different backgrounds and religious views. Clarke was Jewish and grew up in Los Angeles, but Garner was a Methodist from Oklahoma. About it, the actor wrote

"None of the naysayers had stopped to consider that Lois and I complemented each other. What they saw as weaknesses, we saw as strengths. Lois had what I lacked and vice versa."

Two years after tying the knot, Garner and Clarke welcomed their daughter, Gigi. They officially became a family of four when the actor adopted his wife's daughter from her first marriage.

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James Garner in May 1971 | Photo: Getty Images

Being a role-model parent was paramount for the actor. Gigi once confessed that Garner was a "very present" dad who tried to give her and her sister everything that he never had. 

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Clarke and Garner proved that love at first sight exists. They remained married until the actor passed away of natural causes on July 19, 2014, in Los Angeles. He was 86. Clarke joined him in Heaven in October 2021. 

Although the couple's 57-year marriage was impressive, it was not perfect. Clarke and Garner separated for three months in 1970, after being together for 14 years.

James Garner on February 5, 2005 in Los Angeles, California | Photo: Getty Images

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When Garner was working in "The Rockford Files, " nine years later," they parted ways again. They got back together 18 months later, and Garner supposedly dated actress Lauren Bacall during that time.

However, the actor denied the rumors and said he and his wife were never in serious trouble. Garner added that most of their problems resulted from the pressure he felt for "The Rockford Files," Garner said.

While he worked with many gorgeous actresses, he made it "his business" not to fall in love with any of them. Like Garner wrote in his memoir, he fell in love for the "first and last time" at that presidential rally in August 1956.

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