Weatherford Democrat

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April 6, 2006

Maverick coming home

NORMAN, Okla. — James Bumgarner, now James Garner, will be 78 years old Friday.

He was born April 7, 1928. The proud father, Weldon, said the birth occurred in the back room of the Denver Corners store east of Norman that the father operated.

Memories differ on when the family moved to Norman and Jim reported for his first class at Wilson Elementary school on North Peters Avenue, but he’s coming to Norman a day early for the ’89er Days festivities to help Wilson alumni celebrate the 75th anniversary of their first school’s founding.

Garner will participate in the dedication of a heroic statue of himself April 21, and be grand marshal of the Norman ’89er Day parade April 22.

He will arrive Thursday at Max Westheimer Field by private jet plane. His party will include his wife, Lois, their daughters Kim and Gigi, James’s older brother Jack and Shirley Fonda, a family friend and widow of Henry Fonda. James and Henry became good friends when they both played the lead role in the Caine Mutiny Court Martial on the stage.

Bill Saxon, prominent University of Oklahoma alumnus who went all the way through school with James and is probably his best friend, will drive up from Dallas to join the party.

James’ mother, Mildred, died when he was 5. His younger brother, Charles, and his father also are deceased.

James left home when he was 14 and worked at odd jobs, then joined the Merchant Marines. Later he helped his father in some businesses in California until he became the first Oklahoman called up for the military draft in the Korean War. He served in the 24th Infantry Division and was awarded the Purple Heart Medal.

He stayed in California after he left the service and got the breaks in television and motion pictures that led to his becoming one of the most popular and successful actors of his time. Among his most popular roles were those in "The Maverick" and "The Rockford Files."

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