Stories about love at first sight always seem like something out of a fairytale. Few love stories are as special as that of James Garner and Lois Clarke. These two fell in love quickly, but that love withstood their marathon of a marriage, which lasted for almost 58 years. Tragically, Garner passed from a heart attack in 2014, and Lois has been a widow ever since.
Garner was an American actor and producer, but he also served in the United States Army National Reserve and the Merchant Marines. His acting career came after his military service and spanned over five decades. Garner is best known for his role as Bret Maverick in the Western television series “Maverick,” as well as for playing private detective Jim Rockford in “The Rockford Files.”
The incredible actor also played the leading role in over 50 feature-length films during his legendary career, including “The Great Escape” alongside Steve McQueen and “The Americanization of Emily” with Julie Andrews. Garner performed with Julie Andrews again in Blake Edwards’s “Victor/Victoria” in 1982.
Garner met Clarke in August of 1956 and married her just two weeks later. The pair had dinner together every night for 14 nights, and that was all the time they needed to know this was a love for the ages. While they did have ups and downs like in any marriage, these two were together until Garner passed right before their 58th wedding anniversary. Read on to learn more about Garner and Clarke’s beautiful love story.
In 1971 and again in 1979, Garner and Clarke were separated for a brief time while Garner worked on some personal issues, though he claimed they were not marital problems “Lois and I were never in serious trouble. Ninety-nine percent of the problem was the pressures of ‘Rockford.’ It wasn’t us, it was me needing to get away to get my head together,” Garner told People in 1985.
There were rumors that Garner was seeing other women while he was working on the show “The Rockford Files,” but he has always denied them. “I’ve worked with a lot of great-looking actresses, and I make it my business not to dislike any of them,” he explained. “I also make it my business not to fall in love with them either.” The actor has only ever had a love for his wife, Clarke.
Garner had a history of health issues. He told People in 1980, “I’m constantly in pain. I have arthritis in my back and my knees and my hands. I had ulcers this year—and once an ulcer patient, always an ulcer patient. I get depressed. Very.” However, he was able to overcome these hardships and lived to the age of 86.
Clarke stayed by Garner’s side through all of life’s many challenges. “She’s just stuck with me all these years,” he said. “I guess she’s stubborn too.” That stubbornness is what these two needed to stay together for so long in spite of so many difficulties.
Clarke defended her husband, saying to People, “Jim is a rather complicated man and is covering up lots of hurt. Growing up he was abused, lonely, and deprived.” Garner has spoken publicly about the physical abuse he suffered at the hands of his stepmother when he was a child.
Garner wrote about his and Clarke’s love story in his own words in his memoir titled “The Garner Files.” He starts by writing, “I fell in love for the first and last time on August 1, 1956 at an Adlai Stevenson for President barbeque. That’s where I met Lois Clarke. It was love at first sight. The thunderbolt. She was as beautiful as she was sweet… It was a barbeque and I ended up in the pool with the children.”
Garner continues, “That’s how I got to talk to Lois. Within the first few minutes, she told me she had a daughter from her first marriage, Kimberly, who had polio… Lois and I saw each other every day until August 17, when we were married in the Beverly Hills courthouse. My family was against the marriage. They pointed out that Lois and I had little in common.”
Differences can be a challenge in any relationship, but they are especially difficult to overcome when you have only known the other person for two weeks. “I was six feet three inches tall and Lois was petite. I was the outdoor, athletic type and she was the indoor type. I was practical and she was a dreamer,” Garner wrote in his memoir.
On the surface, it doesn’t seem like these two have anything to talk about. Instead of being overwhelmed by their differences, Garner was inspired by them. He wrote in his book, “None of the naysayers had stopped to consider that Lois and I complemented each other. What they saw as weaknesses, we saw as strengths.”