“He is exactly what you would expect, which is really rare,” says Jane Hall, 35, our television correspondent, of James Garner. Hall’s story on Garner (p. 90) coincides with the blast-off this week of Space, a 13-part miniseries on CBS. Garner plays Norman Grant, a World War II Navy commander, in an adaptation of the 1982 James Michener novel.
“The problem is that Garner genuinely shuns publicity,” says Hall, who spent no less than a year negotiating for the interview. “I talked to producers of the series and I talked to friends of his to try and convince him that he ought to do this story.”
In the end Hall was able to snare her man. Last August she visited the set of Space in San Diego, and this January she interviewed Garner at his Brentwood house, during a round of golf at Bel Air (he shot 76) and over breakfast at Scully’s Restaurant in L.A.
Hall was born in Abilene, Texas, where her father, Elbert E. Hall, a former insurance salesman, reigned as mayor from 1981 until April of 1984. Sister Ann Hall is a marketing and public relations executive in Dallas; half sister Carol Hall wrote the music and lyrics for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Jane came to journalism through the University of Texas (Phi Beta Kappa) and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining PEOPLE she was a reporter for an alternative newspaper, the Richmond Mercury, a TV Guide writer for seven years and editor of View, a TV trade journal, for 18 months.
How does she get tough stories like Garner? “I think it’s persistence,” says Hall, “and contacts. I know a lot of people. Often it’s a question of convincing the subject that you will be fair.” Whatever her method, she has managed to interview Mike Wallace in Martha’s Vineyard (she found grilling him “fascinating”), Sophia Loren in Rome (about the actress’ troubled marriage and making a movie with her son), Jane Pauley in New York (about her twins) and Mary Tyler Moore’s husband in New York (about her problem with alcohol).
But James Garner was special. “He’s from Norman, Oklahoma,” explains Hall. “He opens doors for you and yet he likes bright women. I guess if you’re from a small town, you sort of appreciate those people.”