James Garner Won Young Mom’s Heart in Just Two Weeks — His Family Was against Their Union That Lasted 57 Years

James Garner found his first and last love in a young mother he met at a rally.

It took the actor a little over two weeks to win her heart, and they eloped, much to the dismay of the Garner family.

Garner’s lasting love endured 57 long years of marriage, silencing their doubters as they raised two children together.

Before James Garner became a successful actor, he endured a difficult childhood. He was born to Weldon Bumgarner and Mildred Scott, who died when he was only five years old.

James had two older brothers, actor Jack Garner and school administrator Charles Bumgarner. Together, they lived in Weldon’s hardware store and post office space, which didn’t have indoor plumbing. When he was much older, he deduced that his mother’s death was likely because of a botched abortion procedure.

James Garner wearing a lemon-yellow jumper, circa 1970 | Source: Getty Images

Following their mother’s death, the three boys lived with relatives until their father married their stepmother, Wilma. Their father became an alcoholic after his shop burned down, and he switched careers to become a carpet layer.

The Garner brothers had nothing good to say about their stepmother. “She was a [expletive] no-good woman,” Jack once said.

It was reported that James was always treated the worst. When he was in junior high, he slept on a cot in the cellar next to their washtub, where damp laundry was always in.

James was also tasked to remove cow dung from their garden, sweeping it up every morning. It didn’t take long for him to realize that he needed to support himself through school as he couldn’t rely on anybody else.

After his resolve, he’d wake up at 3:30 in the morning to sweep out his school’s administration building. Then he’d join the rest of his classmates and carry on with his day.

Unfortunately, James never finished school as his formal education ended when he was in the ninth grade. At fourteen, he was hired as a salesman for Curlee Clothes, before taking on a roster of other jobs such as becoming a chauffeur, secretary, and babysitter.

James Garner with his wife Lois on February 24, 1964 | Source: Getty Images

His childhood worries ended up haunting him in adulthood, with his wife once describing him as a “complicated man” who grew up “abused, lonely, and deprived.” Despite it all, his wife stuck by him and never left his side.

Before meeting his wife, James had another woman in his life. His dad married a woman named Grace, whom he called “Mama Grace.” He loved her dearly and once claimed she was the closest thing to a mother he never had.

When James turned eighteen, he found himself in Texas without work and eating only crackers taken from restaurant tables. Three days in, he called his dad and asked for a simple birthday present: for his dad to lend him 50 dollars.

His father refused to give him the money, saying he didn’t have it. His Mama Grace suddenly came on the line and said he’d have the money in the morning – and he did.

It was with that 50 dollars that James got back on his feet. He felt forever indebted to Grace and stood by her all her life.

James Garner with his wife Lois Clarke at a party in Los Angeles, California, circa 1962 | Source: Getty Images

After James became an actor, his relationship with his father got better. When he and Grace were in the latter part of their lives, James made sure to spend time with both of them, and he was able to forgive his dad for the past.

“He may have had a drinking problem and married the wrong women, but he wasn’t evil,” he said of his dad. His father died in 1996, while Mama Grace passed away in 2002.

When James was 28, he met a woman named Lois Clarke at a rally. It was then that he fell in love “for the first time and for the last time,” describing her as the perfect mix between Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren.

“I was nuts about her from the moment we met. Still am,” he gushed. When they met, Lois told James that she had a child from her first marriage, a daughter named Kimberly, who had polio.

From that moment on, James and Lois saw one another every single day, sometimes even twice each day. Two weeks later, they were married in the Beverly Hills courthouse. James once admitted it was a whirlwind romance, but it worked for them.

James didn’t expect any trouble when it came to his family’s approval of his marriage. However, they were against it, pointing out that he and Lois had little in common.

The actor didn’t see their lack of similarities as a hindrance. He believed they complemented one another, and where his family saw weakness, he saw strengths.

Lois dreamt of becoming an actress. However, as she grew older, she realized being a celebrity wasn’t for her. She didn’t enjoy her husband’s public life. It also didn’t help that their home in Brentwood, California was an iron-gated mansion, and despite having the best views, it ultimately locked the world outside.

Instead of pursuing her dream career, she supported James in his. She was his support system, and they went through all the ups and downs of starting out in the industry until achieving fame.

They purchased their first apartment together, but it was unfurnished. James didn’t feel like owing anybody, so he gradually bought each piece of furniture and paid for them in cash.

The Garners didn’t socialize much with other actors at the time and instead hung out with people who lived in the same building. Lois cooked for them, and they’d invite their next-door neighbors to dinners at home.

James Garner and wife Lois at Mann Village Theatre in Westwood, California, on June 21, 2004 | Source: Getty Images

James always enjoyed the company of people who knew him before his success. He didn’t see a need to change friends because his old friends liked him for himself – not because of his projects.

While Lois often did the cooking, James was a great cook, too. Whenever he wasn’t tired from the studio, he’d help Lois out in the kitchen.

Sources close to James once said he never complained about work. The only complaint he had was his inability to play golf because of his busy schedule.

Even when James achieved stardom, he was like any other man. People saw him as one of them and not as a star. He had a “good neighbor policy” for himself, which is his Golden Rule.

He was so much of a good guy that when an offer came to raise his salary, he accepted it without realizing he’d be duped. He was being offered $350 a week and a two-year contract extension, which he declined.

The offer was upped to $500 a week, which he was going to decline as well. However, Kim was recovering from polio, and Lois was pregnant with their daughter, so he took it without realizing that $500 was actually just $285 and the rest was withheld as advances against residuals.

For a year and a half, James and Lois remained apart until they ultimately decided to get back together and work things out.

James Garner and wife Lois Clarke at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, California on March 24, 1986 | Source: Getty Images

Unfortunately, James never got the chunk of his money because actors didn’t get residuals back then. He continued to work hard but never let fame get to his head.

James admitted to working with a lot of beautiful actresses, but he made it his business to stay professional. He didn’t dislike any of them, but he also ensured he never fell in love with any of them.

And while he had such high regard for his union with Lois, it was not without its challenges. Gradually, his work took a toll on his mental health, and it spread to other aspects of his life. During the twenty-year mark of James and Lois’ marriage, they separated.

For a year and a half, James and Lois remained apart until they decided to get back together and work things out. It took a while, but James and Lois constantly worked on their marriage by speaking on the phone every day and going on dates three days each week.

The deterioration of his marriage wasn’t the only thing going on in James’ life at the time. He abruptly announced he was quitting television around the same time and was involved in an altercation with a motorist that left him badly beaten.

He was also suffering from many health scares, including ulcers, arthritis, and sinus problems. Through it all, James clarified that the reason for their split wasn’t because of a third party but his exhaustion from work.

Lois called their marriage a “miracle” since they were given another shot at it after separating for some time. Speaking about marriage, James once said:

“Marriage is like the army. Everyone complains, but you’d be surprised at the large number of people who re-enlist.”

James Garner and his wife, Lois, stand outdoors in sunglasses, circa 1990s | Source: Getty Images

The couple heavily supported one another on things that meant a great deal to them. Throughout their marriage, Lois was a stark activist and would send letters out to different offices, sometimes including James’ name in there for an added push.

Lois was also very vocal when it came to James’ career. She even called his makeup artist and told her what she didn’t like about the looks given to her husband on television.

While some men may find this annoying, James liked it. He commended his wife’s great taste and once admitted she was of great help in all aspects of his life.

Until later on in their lives, James and Lois were steadfast in their love for one another. They were often photographed holding hands, unafraid to express their love and admiration.

On July 19, 2014, James died of natural causes in his Los Angeles residence. He was 86 years old and survived by Lois and their two children.

Seven years after James’ death, Lois passed away in 2021 as confirmed by her daughter Gigi on Twitter. Gigi would often post updates regarding her parents on social media, honoring them by sharing their photos.

In 2019, she honored her dad differently. On the fifth anniversary of his passing and right in time for Father’s Day, she made a public tribute and launched the James Garner Animal Rescue Fund.

According to Gigi, her dad had always loved dogs and would rescue them. “There wasn’t a dog or a baby that my dad did not want to meet,” she recalled.

Being an animal rescuer herself, Gigi felt launching a rescue fund in her dad’s name was a great way to honor his legacy and keep his name alive. It also allowed Gigi to remain close to her dad in some way.