James Garner saw his career of more than 30 years in movies and television flash before his eyes Saturday night when he received the Screen Actors Guild’s lifetime achievement award.
Garner, who remains a working actor at 76, plays the grandfather on the ABC sitcom “8 Simple Rules” and was SAG-nominated Saturday for his role in the movie “The Notebook.”
He lost the supporting actor award to Morgan Freeman of “Million Dollar Baby,” who saluted Garner with a verse from the theme song of Garner’s old TV show “Maverick.”
Garner got his start in show business when a men’s swimwear scout found the Norman, Okla., native at Hollywood High. He was 16 and known by his real last name, Bumgarner.
“I’m not at all sure how I got here,” he said. “This wonderful award lets me think, ‘Hey, Jim, you must have done something good.”’
After earning a Purple Heart in the Korean War, Garner landed a small part on Broadway in “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial.” That led to a contract with Warner Bros., where he was cast in his first television and movie roles.
He is best known for playing wry detective Jim Rockford on the 1974-80 series “The Rockford Files.” He kept the character going in seven TV movies.
After playing Marlon Brando’s friend in the movie “Sayonara,” Garner became a TV star in “Maverick,” the popular Western series in which he portrayed a riverboat gambler who was never afraid to run from a fight. Years later he starred in the movie version with Mel Gibson.
Garner accepted his award from Gibson and another former co-star, Julie Andrews, who proclaimed him “the dishiest fellow you’ve ever met.”
“I lost my screen virginity to Jim in ’The Americanization of Emily,’ and I lost my manhood to him in “Victor/Victoria,”’ Andrews said.
Greeted by a standing ovation, Garner urged the audience, “Don’t do too much of that. I get emotional.”
He joked, “I don’t know if I deserve this award, but please, for tonight, you’ll forgive me if I act like I do.”
Garner is a former vice president and board member of the actors’ union.