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James Garner Became 'Greatest Father' after Adopting Wife's Child despite Being Unloved by His Stepmom

Olawale Ogunjimi
Apr 18, 2022
11:00 A.M.
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James Garner from "The Notebook," described as the "greatest father" by his daughter, did not have the best childhood, but he was intentional with his parenting. The actor adopted his wife's child despite a booming career and never neglected his duties.

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James Garner was one of the modest actors who was never consumed by any excessive behaviors. This made it easy for fans to believe that he had the best life growing up.

However, following revelations from his 2011 autobiography, many realized that his childhood experience was unpleasant, but it somehow shaped his personality.

[Left] James Garner role playing as Sheriff Jim Nichols: [Right] James Garner and daughter Kim Garner, circa 1955. | Source: Getty Images

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James, who possessed a great personality, thriving in both career and family matters, never enjoyed a perfect household as a child. He was the last child of his half-Cherokee mother and father, who ran a hardware store.

Sadly, his mother died when he was five from a botched abortion. James and his two older brothers lived with their dad at the back of their store. Unfortunately, they lost their home when the shop burned down.

Life became unbearable, especially for the young boys, as their father, an alcoholic, would arrive home drunk and expect them to sing for their supper or risk getting beaten.

GARNER'S FATHER WAS NOT THE BEST DAD

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A portrait of American actor James Garner, on January 4, 1967. | Source: Getty Images

Following the tragedies, the family patriarch found it challenging to handle the boys without a mother figure. So he separated and shared them among relatives. 

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Six years later, the brothers reunited. This time, their father already had a wife, "a redhead named Wilma." However, the situation turned out to be worse. 

James and his older brothers were treated poorly. Wilma was violent and often hit the boys. The youngest bore the brunt of her anger.

Portrait of James Garner, August 1, 1957. | Source: Getty Images

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Anytime James committed an offense, he was forced to dress up as a girl in public and was called "Louise." This continued for years until he turned 14. During Wilma's usual violent acts toward him, James was convinced that it could end his life, so he subdued her.

Ultimately, his retaliation ended Wilma and his dad's marriage. His father moved to LA in search of a job and left the young teenager to cater to his needs.

None of the boys blamed James for his actions. Instead, they all hated Wilma for her violence. While recounting their childhood, one of the brothers, Jack, noted that their stepmother was a "no-good woman."

JAMES GARNER'S LIFE AFTER A TERRIBLE CHILDHOOD

American actor James Garner and his wife Lois Clarke on March 1,1964. | Source: Getty Images

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Living independently as a teenager was challenging for James. However, he was determined and worked hard for a better life. Following his father's abandonment, he dropped out of school and joined the merchant navy before the end of World War II.

However, James left the navy due to severe seasickness. He scamped for jobs and eventually secured one as a restaurant dishwasher.

Somehow, fate smiled on him when his impeccable good looks earned him a job as a swimming trunk model. After some time, James left for his birth town, Oklahoma, where he was drafted into the army to join the Korean War. 

James Garner stars as Bret Maverick, an adventurous, charming, poker-playing gambler who roams the Old West, 1959. | Source: Getty Images

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The Oklahoma native was an impressive soldier, and he won two American medals for his commitment to the war. Years later, James was introduced to theater acting by his old colleague, who worked as a theatrical producer.

He was driving by "Paul Gregory & Associates" in LA and decided to visit. Once he entered, the theatrical producer gave him a non-speaking role in the 1954 "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial." 

James Garner at the Walt Disney Studios on 31, October, 2005 in Burbank, California. | Source: Getty Images

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This was the first time James became acquainted with acting. Subsequently, he studied the cast, particularly a man named Henry Fonda, learning gestures and acting styles.

The 1950s and 1960s became a time for James to explore his acting skills. He was first cast in a Western TV series, "Maverick," as Bret Maverick. 

According to him, being an underdog actor who was used to receiving low fees made him the best choice for the show's producers. However, James proved himself worthy of the lead role and other features and soon earned a good reputation with many TV lovers.

FINDING LOVE AND BECOMING THE FATHER HE NEVER HAD

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

As his career soared, which equaled a higher level of comfort, James's heart also became open to finding love, which he did in 1956, during a presidential candidate's event.

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James's anxiety also caused him to separate from his wife a few times.

James met Lois Clarke, a Jewish woman who already had a daughter from a former relationship. However, the attraction was instantaneous. He felt smitten with her, and despite knowing Clarke's roots and lifestyle, the actor became committed to her.

American actor James Garner smiles with his wife, Lois Clarke, as they wear Western gear at a party. | Source: Getty Images

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Two weeks after their first meeting, the "Maverick" star proposed spending forever with Clarke. Unfortunately, this decision did not go down well with his family, who were concerned about her background; he was raised as a Methodist, while she a Jew.

Still, he proceeded with the marriage plans and even adopted Clarke's daughter, Kimberly. A few years later, the couple welcomed their daughter, Gigi.

Clarke felt a sense of fulfillment with her husband. However, she admitted that her first marriage was a big mistake, adding that the only good thing that came out of it was her firstborn, Kimberly, who was blessed with a better father, James.

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Actor James Garner and his wife, Lois Garner with their daughters Kimberly Garner and Greta Garner sighted on April 7, 1980 at Le Dome Restaurant in West Hollywood, California. | Source: Getty Images

On the other hand, James felt lucky to have such a wife. He claimed that it was because of their short courtship. In his words:

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"You can know people for years and then suddenly realize you don't know them at all. I was lucky we had a short courtship. Lois didn't know about my temper until we were married."

Despite the opposition from friends and family, the pair were determined to make things work, which they did for decades. 

James Garner and wife Lois Clarke on August 25, 1991 | Source: Getty Images

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While recounting the proposal, Clarke revealed that her husband was overwhelmed that his love was reciprocated. She said:

"James won't like me telling this, but a tear ran down his cheek when I said yes. 'I never thought anybody would love me,' he said."

Apart from being a loving husband, James was an ever-present dad whose busy schedule had no restraints on family time.

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

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When Gigi was a baby, he would feed her formula. Kimberly was also nurtured in love, as her stepfather was often her playmate.

James's intentional parenting and desire to be better than his father made his girls love him, and they always awaited his return from work.

GIGI'S COMMENT ABOUT HER ACTOR DAD

Actor James Garner with his wife Lois Clarke attends a party in Los Angeles, California, circa 1958 | Source: Getty Images

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Gigi, born in 1958, confessed that her dad was an epitome of a great parent. During an interview, she said:

"I really hit the jackpot with my dad. He was the type of father that got down on the floor and played with you. He was very present. The greatest father in the world."

Clarke's second daughter was glad that her father could break the family cycle of poor parenting, and he was passionate about giving the family everything he lacked as a child.

James Garner and wife Lois during "The Notebook" - Los Angeles Premiere - Arrivals at Mann Village Theatre in Westwood, California, United States. | Source: Getty Images

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While James worked to achieve the perfect family, he was also fulfilled and happy whenever he was in their company. In addition to being a happy man, the actor enjoyed watching sports and hanging out with the dogs.

Despite his ability to escape his father's patterns, James suffered from anxiety and depression due to his childhood experiences. Family and friends explained that he blamed himself and would only be calm after slamming his fist into a wall whenever he got angry.

Actor James Garner poses for a portrait in 2004 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

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James's anxiety also caused him to separate from his wife a few times, but they always reunited and were married for fifty-eight years until his death in 2014.

The "Maverick" star took his last breath in his LA residence, and police reports suggest that the 86-year-old's death was from natural causes. 

Before his demise, James created a formidable legacy through years of hard work and resilience. He was also an exceptional Oscar-winning actor, a loving dad, and a husband who shielded his loving family away from the media, following his love for privacy.  

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