The persona he first projected in Maverick in 1957—handsome, charming, genial, a bit of a rogue, mostly a mensch—established Garner as America’s leading television actor. Born James Scott Baumgarner in Norman, Okla., in 1928, he survived an upbringing that was at best knockaround and often, at the hands of a cruel stepmother, abusive. “By the time I was 14, I’d become an independent little bastard,” he says. “Nobody was going to tell me what to do.” The attitude ebbed; the independence remained. As a young man, he played football, migrated to California, flunked out of Hollywood High, spent a semester at the University of Oklahoma, served in the Merchant Marines, won two Purple Hearts in Korea, modeled Jantzen swimsuits, and eventually fell into acting.
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