Polaroid fooled everyone into thinking this Star Trek actress was married to James Garner

By: H&I Staff     Posted: August 18, 2021, 2:13PM   

Zarabeth is the last great female character introduced on Star Trek: The Original Series. Considering she appeared in the penultimate episode, "All Our Yesterdays," the lonely Sarpeidon exile has little competition. The less said about the problematic series finale, "Turnabout Intruder," the better, but that tale's Dr. Lester is a cringy, dated hysterical woman stereotype from Kirk's past.

"All Our Yesterdays" would have let the classic series end on a much better note. McCoy and Spock similarly find themselves exiled to the ice age of the planet Sarpeidon. A brilliant McCoy gets the heroic spotlight, while Spock finds a love interest in the "cavewoman" Zarabeth, played by the wonderful Mariette Hartley. Well, she is not an immediate romantic flame for the Vulcan so much as a sympathetic strandee. The episode avoids shallow smooches and instant love for something more mature. Spock, under the spell of the time portal, is simply regressing back to a primitive Vulcan state.

Hartley's acting skills help make the episode work. Though still in her 20s, the Carnegie Mellon University graduate had plenty of screen experience, most notably a recurring gig on Peyton Place. On the primetime soap, she was Dr. Claire Morton, a "tropical medicine" expert running away from her husband (Leslie Nielsen). 

The same year Star Trek kicked off, in 1966, Hartley landed her first lead television role, as the wife in the Western spoof sitcom The Hero.

Over the decades, the charming and versatile actress has appeared in dozens of shows, from anchoring short-lived sitcoms like Goodnight, Beantown (opposite Bill Bixby!) to small parts on Law & Order: SVU and 9-1-1 in recent years.

But you most likely know her from camera commercials. And you probably, at some point, assumed she was married to James Garner. No shame in that. We all did.

Through the early-'80s, Garner appeared in a series of commercials for the instant cameras alongside Hartley, who portrayed his wife. The keyword here is "portrayed."

"I was making plenty of money. I didn't need money. It wasn't for the money," Garner told the Archive of American Television in a 2010 interview. "I think I wanted to do it to see if I could."

Garner compared his snappy dialogue with Hartley to The Bickersons, a radio program from the Truman era that centered around a married couple in a constant war of words. Originally, the advertising folks had hired Hartley to come in for just a single day of work. Garner and Hartley clicked. The chemistry between the two was instant and obvious.

"She and I got into this banter… and they thought it was fun," Garner explained. "We started doing this back-and-forth."

Polaroid turned Garner and Hartley into a winning comedy team, helping sell its OneStep camera around the holidays. Polaroid sold "millions" of OneSteps, at least according to Garner in an ad. So why not keep a good thing going? Hartley had to come back with results like that.

"The next year, they had to hire her," Garner said. He demanded that they not pay her a daily wage, but rather sign her to a contract just like he had. "I told them, you're not going to have me up there making all this money and her working, you know, the daily. That won't work. She'll be upset, I'll be upset, everybody will be upset. You've got to make a deal with her."

"She got a good deal and everybody was happy," he added with a smile. "We sold a lot of cameras."

The two actors were perhaps a little too good together — at least from the perspective of their spouses. The American public assumed Garner and Hartley were married. "[Mariette] 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," People wrote in 1979.

Hartley began wearing a T-shirt declaring, I AM NOT MRS. JAMES GARNER!

She had one printed up for her son that read I AM NOT JAMES GARNER'S CHILD. Yes, her husband, Patrick Boyriven, sported one that said, I AM NOT JAMES GARNER!

Ironically, Hartley had met Boyriven when the two were testing for a commercial spot for Folgers coffee.

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