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Charles Bronson Was "Bitter" and "Belligerent," This Co-Star Said

One of the action star's Great Escape castmates opened up about their conflict in his memoir.

The Great Escape features an ensemble cast that includes legendary actors such as Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson, and Richard Attenborough. But, despite their similar stature in Hollywood, not everyone got along on the set of the 1963 film. In fact, one co-star referred to Bronson as "bitter" and "belligerent" nearly 50 years after the movie was released.

In his 2011 memoir, The Garner Files, Garner wrote about the movie and his Great Escape co-stars. While he said that he was "good friends" with McQueen, the actor also claimed that McQueen could "be a pain in the [expletive] on set" and "wasn't an actor," but a "movie star."

And when it came to Bronson, who Garner did not consider a friend, he had particularly strong words. Read on to see what the late actor said about the iconic action star.

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The movie brought several of the era's biggest stars together.

David McCallum and James Garner in "The Great Escape"
United Artists

The Great Escape is a war movie about Allied soldiers who plan an escape from a German prisoner of war camp during World War II. It stars a number of popular actors from the early '60s. At this point in his career, Garner had already starred in the series Maverick and appeared in a number of other TV shows and movies. Bronson had also been acting for years, appearing in many westerns, including The Magnificent Seven.

Garner claimed that Bronson was abusive on set.

James Garner in "The Great Escape"
Bettmann / Getty Images

In The Garner Files, Garner had a lot to say about Bronson, who died in 2003.

"Charlie Bronson was a pain in the [expletive], too," he wrote. "He used and abused people, and I didn't like it … He was a bitter, belligerent SOB. I don't know why he had a chip on his shoulder. He wasn't a barrel of laughs on the set, I can tell you."

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The tension between them didn't end with The Great Escape.

Charles Bronson at the 1974 Academy Awards
Michael Montfort/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In his memoir, Garner also wrote about Bronson taking part in a poker game at his house a year after they shot the movie. According to Garner, Bronson tried to withdraw a bet when it was too late, and because he was playing against a "street kid" who was working as an extra in Hollywood, Garner made Bronson pay him "probably no more than fifty bucks, because that money meant a lot to that kid." He continued, "Charlie got upset and we got head-to-head, but it didn't come to blows."

Garner said that Bronson then swore he'd never work with him again. "Throughout my life, there have been a few guys who didn't like me because I was outspoken," he wrote. "Hell, I never thought I was outspoken, I just told the truth."

They were able to get to a friendly place eventually.

Jill Ireland and Charles Bronson in Paris in 1970
PAT/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Garner explained that, a few years later, he and his wife, Lois Clarke, ran into Bronson and his wife, Jill Ireland, at a restaurant.

"Next thing I know the four of us are having dinner together," Garner shared. "It was all so very pleasant. But I think Charlie held a grudge. I know I did."

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Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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