It Didn't Happen in 60 Seconds, but Her Ads with Jim Garner Developed Mariette Hartley's Career

UPDATED 10/08/1979 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 10/08/1979 at 01:00 AM EDT

In Hollywood, according to the cynics, fame turns mainly on whom you know (carnally, that is). Yet consider the heartening story of Mariette Hartley, 39. An accomplished but under-recognized actress for 20 years, she made her name overnight with a loud protest about whom she doesn't sleep with: It's James Garner.

For nearly two years she and Jim were the couple bickering spiritedly on the Polaroid TV commercials. The repartee seemed so genuine that many viewers assumed the two were married—or so press agents hinted. Earlier this year, to dispel that illusion—and capitalize on it—Hartley and her son publicly began wearing T-shirts denying that Garner was her husband or his father.

The disclaimers didn't exactly hurt her career. So far this fall she's won an Emmy nomination (for an Incredible Hulk episode), a spot in a TV pilot (with Dennis Weaver) and the lead in a Halloween special. Last week, at the risk of Garnering more confusion, she joined her Polaroid mate in the season premiere of his Rockford Files.

Lately, however, the "Mrs. James Garner" jokes have fallen sadly flat. The actor and the real Mrs. Garner, Lois, have separated after 23 years, and gossip columnists keep phoning Mariette. "What has that got to do with me?" she bridles. "He has not discussed his personal life with me, nor I mine with him. It's a damn good thing my husband has a sense of humor," adds Hartley of her real-life spouse, Patrick Boyriven, a French-born TV commercials director.

Hartley met Boyriven testing for a Folger's coffee spot in New York six years ago. "The first thing I noticed was his scent—Equipage cologne," she recalls, "then his backside." She asked him out. The next day they went for a spin in his Ferrari, and "it was love at first drive. He did this wonderful pig noise in my ear. It was terribly lewd and yummy—like a male pig in heat. I adored him." Five months later they were married.

The granddaughter of the founder of behaviorist psychology, John B. Watson, and the daughter of a painter and ad executive, the late Paul Hartley, Mariette began appearing in a theater near her home in Weston, Conn. at age 10. "I was so tall," says the lady, now topped out at 5'8¾", "that I was always getting the male parts and had to wear a beard. It cured my idea that the theater was glamorous."

Yet she began studying under Eva Le Gallienne at 13, precociously fell in love with author E. L. (Ragtime) Doctorow at 14 (he was 23), entered and dropped out of Carnegie Tech at 17 Then came more coaching with John Houseman and a crush on fellow rep actor Ed Asner, "the most wonderfully sexy hunk on earth," she says. "I lusted after him and drove him crazy." After touring with the American Shakespeare Festival company, she married a publicist at 19 and moved to Los Angeles. They lasted two years. Hartley then made her screen debut in Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country. That got her good notices and a seven-year contract with MGM, but no other movie roles. Discouraged, she returned to Connecticut.

It was there that her father shot himself before her eyes one morning at breakfast. "The first thing you feel," she says, "is that you want to go too. You are so sad and angry and scared. It took three years in therapy and a very supportive marriage to get over the anguish." She returned to Hollywood, played "Claire Morton" (Leslie Nielsen's wife) in TV's Peyton Place, did workshop theater (it met above a bowling alley) and sold dresses. Since the early 1970s, however, Mariette has had more work than she could book, including the Polaroid deal, worth more than $100,000 a year.

Her greatest performance, Hartley maintains, was given in June '78 at the curb on L.A.'s Motor Avenue. That was where she gave birth to her second child, daughter Justine, in the family hatchback. "We were on our way to the birth center at 2 a.m.," she remembers, "and all of a sudden I said, 'Patrick, I think you better pull over.' He knew exactly what to do. We'd practiced breathing. But I kept thinking, as every car went by, someone will look over and say, 'What do you suppose that Mariette Hartley is doing now?' "

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