Veteran screen actor James Garner, who starred in beloved comedies such as Victor Victoria and hit TV series like The Rockford Files, has died at age 86 of natural causes. With rugged good looks, thick dark hair, an ease with a wisecrack and a low-key demeanor, Garner, at the beginning of his career, was thought to be a possible heir to the leading man status of Cary Grant and Clark Gable.
He first grabbed national attention with The Maverick, a TV western with a comic edge that ran from 1957-62. Garner starred in a series of films during the 1960s including The Thrill of It All and Move Over, Darling, two popular comedies opposite Doris Day, as well as the WWII epic The Great Escape. In 1962 he costarred with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley Maclaine in the drama The Children’s Hour, one of the first studio dramas with a lesbian storyline. The actor returned to series television with the long-running detective series The Rockford Files, which showcased his easy-going appeal and won him an Emmy Award.
The role that made him best-known to LGBT audiences (and Queerty readers) was certainly the 1982 hit musical comedy Victor Victoria, in which he played a mobster forced to question his sexual orientation when he falls for a male impersonator played by Julie Andrews. Garner won an Academy Award nomination for the 1985 comedy Murphy’s Romance and had another big hit in the 2004 romantic drama The Notebook. Garner was also a supporter of liberal causes and attending Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington in 1963. In his autobiography, he wrote about listening to King’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech from the third row.