James Garner, known for his lead role in the 1970s NBC series, The Rockford Files, had a love story that developed faster than most, while lasting longer than most.
Garner formally met Lois Clarke at a presidential rally for Adlai Stevenson in 1956. A few days before, he had seen her at a mutual friend’s barbeque where she was in the pool.
It was love at first sight for James, recalling that he “flipped out over this girl. She was gorgeous.”
That night, he asked her to dinner, to which she accepted. Little did either of them know, they’d marry each other just 14 days later.
You read that right. 14 days.
Typically, you see a story like that and think, “Oh geez, that marriage will last as long as they’ve known each other!” But in their case, by the time of Garner’s death in 2014, they stayed married for nearly 58 years.
Right away, the two suffered backlash, particularly from Garner’s family. While thinking they were rushing into things was a factor his family considered, they were mainly upset over their differences in religious beliefs.
James grew up a Methodist in Oklahoma, while Lois couldn’t have been more opposite, growing up Jewish in LA. Garner wrote about his and Lois’ nonissue with their religious differences in his 2012 memoir, The Garner Files.
“But neither of us was ever what you would call religious, so it wasn’t an issue, at least not for Lois and me,” adding, “None of the naysayers had stopped to consider that Lois and I complemented each other. What they saw as weaknesses, we saw as strengths.”
Seeing as though James and his family didn’t always agree, it’s not surprising to realize that he grew up in an abusive household as a child.
His mother passed away when he was only 4 from reasons uncertain, and his stepmother was physically abusive towards him. He was never particularly open about his childhood, but Lois was able to shed some light on his closed-off persona.
“Jim is a rather complicated man and is covering up lots of hurt,” she told People. “Growing up he was abused, lonely, and deprived.”
After serving in the Korean War, he returned home, married Lois, and adopted her daughter, Kim, and even welcomed their own child, Gigi.
Throughout their long-lasting relationship, they did hit some bumps. They separated twice, once in 1970, and again in 1979. Rumors began circulating that during their second separation, Garner had had a fling with a guest star from The Rockford Files, allegations he later disputed.
“Lois and I were never in serious trouble,” he told People. “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.”
“I’ve worked with a lot of great-looking actresses, and I make it my business not to dislike any of them,” he added. “I also make it my business not to fall in love with them either.”
While Garner was busy in Hollywood, Clarke made sure to keep herself busy and try and make a difference herself, taking part in the charity, SHARE, which consisted of Hollywood housewives raising funds for various things to help people in need.
Garner eventually passed away in 2014 from a heart attack at the age of 86. Seven years later, Lois passed away at 98.
Since their death, their daughter Gigi has started a pet rescue foundation in honor of her father’s love for animals, called the James Garner Animal Rescue Fund (JGARF).
“He rescued dogs and was a huge animal lover,” she said in a statement. “There wasn’t a dog or a baby that my dad did not want to meet.”