Nationality: American. Born: Jacob Julius Garfinkel in New York City, 4 March 1913; used name Jules Garfield for early stage work. Education: Attended Angelo Patri's school, New York; Heckscher Foundation dramatic school; Roosevelt High School; also studied at the American Laboratory School under Maria Ouspenskaya. Family: Married the actress Roberta Seidman, 1932, son: David Patton, actor under name John Garfield Jr., daughters: the actress Julia Patton Garfield and Katherine. Career: 1932—member of Eva Le Gallienne's Civic Repertory Group: Broadway debut in small part in Lost Boy; 1933—film debut in Footlight Parade; 1934–37—member of the Group Theater, and acted in Waiting for Lefty, 1935, Awake and Sing, 1935, and Golden Boy, 1937; 1938—first billed film part in Four Daughters; contract with Warner Brothers, 1938–46—acted in radio series Lux Radio Theatre; entertained troops during World War II; 1946—formed company Enterprise Productions; 1951—unfriendly witness before the House Un-American Committee; 1951—on stage in King Lear. Awards: D. W. Griffith Award for Acting, for Four Daughters, 1938. Died: 21 May 1952.
Films as Actor:
Footlight Parade (Lloyd Bacon, Keighley, and Berkeley) (bit role)
Four Daughters (Curtiz) (as Mickey Borden)
They Made Me a Criminal (Berkeley) (as Johnnie); Blackwell's Island (McGann) (as Tim Hayden); Juarez (Dieterle) (as Porfirio Diaz); Daughters Courageous (Family Reunion) (Curtiz) (as Gabriel Lopez); Dust Be My Destiny (Seiler) (as Joe Bell); Saturday's Children (Sherman) (as Rims O'Neill); Flowing Gold (Alfred E. Green) (as Johnny Blake); Four Wives (Curtiz) (as ghost of Mickey Borden)
Castle on the Hudson (Years without Days) (Litvak) (as Tommy Gordon); East of the River (Alfred E. Green) (as Joe Lorenzo)
The Sea Wolf (Curtiz) (as George Leach); Out of the Fog (Litvak) (as Harold Goff)
Dangerously They Live (Florey) (as Dr. Michael Lewis); Tortilla Flat (Fleming) (as Danny)
Air Force (Hawks) (as Sgt. Winocke); The Fallen Sparrow (Wallace) (as Kit); Thank Your Lucky Stars (David Butler) (as himself)
Destination Tokyo (Daves) (as Wolf); Between Two Worlds (Blatt) (as Tom Prior); Hollywood Canteen (Daves) (as himself)
Pride of the Marines (Forever in Love) (Daves) (as Al Schmid)
The Postman Always Rings Twice (Garnett) (as Frank Chambers); Nobody Lives Forever (Negulesco) (as Nick Blake); Humoresque (Negulesco) (as Paul Boray)
Body and Soul (Rossen) (as Charley Davis); Gentleman's Agreement (Kazan) (as Dave); Daisy Kenyon (Preminger) (as man in Stork Club)
Force of Evil (Polonsky) (as Joe Morse)
Jigsaw (Gun Moll) (Markle) (bit role as street loiterer); We Were Strangers (Huston) (as Tony Fenner)
Under My Skin (La Belle de Paris) (Negulesco) (as Dan Butler); The Difficult Years (Zampa—English-language version of Anni difficile) (as narrator); The Breaking Point (Curtiz) (as Harry Morgan)
He Ran All the Way (Berry) (as Nick Robey)
On GARFIELD: books—
Gelman, Howard, The Films of John Garfield, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1975.
Swindell, Larry, Body and Soul: The Story of John Garfield, New York, 1975.
Morris, George, John Garfield, New York, 1977.
Beaver, James N., John Garfield: His Life and Films, South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1978.
Sklar, Robert, City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield, Princeton, New Jersey, 1992.
McGrath, Patrick J., John Garfield: The Illustrated Career in Films and on Stage, Jefferson, North Carolina, 1993.
Crowdus, Gary, editor, A Political Companion to American Film, Chicago, Illinois, 1994.
On GARFIELD: articles—
Current Biography 1948, New York, 1948.
Obituary in New York Times, 22 May 1952.
Roman, R., "John Garfield," in Films in Review (New York), June/July 1960.
Rimoldi, O.A., "John Garfield: the Face of the Antihero," in Films in Review (New York), May 1985.
Landrot, Marine, "Le justicier d'Hollywood," in Télérama (Paris), 13 July 1994.
Johnson, William, "John Garfield: Still Running," in Film Comment (New York), January/February 1997.
* * *
Before Marlon Brando, before James Dean, and before Paul Newman, Robert De Niro, and Al Pacino there was John Garfield, an actor of intensity and sensitivity who embodied the rebel/antihero character. In fact, he was the first actor to consistently play such roles on screen, beginning his career over a decade before Brando. For Garfield the rebel/antihero role was more than a method of acting: he was a New York City street kid who keenly understood his characters' motivation. While no profound political thinker, he was a man of deep emotion and intense loyalty, and his progressive/left-wing contacts made him a target of the Hollywood witch-hunts of the McCarthy era. In his films Garfield represented the socially underprivileged, the common man who clashed with the system. He showed ambition and hard work; he was sensual and strong and exhibited a certain vulnerability. He portrayed a good boy who got all the wrong breaks, but whose rebellious spirit enabled him to battle back against the inequities of his society.
The authenticity of Garfield's alleged initial screen appearance, as an extra in the "Shanghai Lil" sequence of the Warner Brothers musical Footlight Parade, is debated to this day. More significantly, in the early 1930s, the playwright Clifford Odets recommended him for membership in the newly formed Group Theater, the legendary and influential theater company/collective whose members included Elia Kazan, Lee Strasberg, and Harold Clurman. After losing the lead role in Odets's Golden Boy—a part the writer penned with Garfield in mind—to Luther Adler, Garfield left the theater for Hollywood.
He signed a seven-year Warner Brothers contract and his first role, a supporting turn in Michael Curtiz's Four Daughters, made him a star. His character, streetwise pianist/composer Mickey Borden, utters such lines as "Talking about my tough luck is the only fun I get" and "I guess when you're used to standing on the outside looking in, you can see things that other people can't." In Four Daughters, Garfield offered his definitive portrayal of the sympathetic iconoclast: a role that was to sustain him throughout his career. Another significant aspect of this film was Garfield's unique acting style, with his moody, soulful sexuality standing out among the more conventional actors of the period.
Upon the success of Four Daughters, Warner Brothers chose to recast Garfield in inferior films that recycled the Mickey Borden character. And so the actor found himself playing moody poor boys, if not outright criminals, in such generically titled features as They Made Me a Criminal, Dust Be My Destiny, and Nobody Lives Forever. Garfield's most significant films while under contract were Pride of the Marines, a fact-based drama in which he played a soldier blinded while fighting at Guadalcanal; Humoresque, cast as a poor but determined violinist; and James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice (made on loan to MGM), in the role of a drifter who falls for a married woman and plots to murder her husband.
After choosing not to renew his studio contract, Garfield formed his own production company. His first independent feature arguably is the best of his career: Body and Soul, in which he played an up-from-the-slums prizefighter who is misled by his own ego, forgetting his family and friends for material possessions and a fast lifestyle. Between 1947 and 1950 Garfield did some of his finest screen acting in some of his most interesting films. He had a small but significant part in Gentleman's Agreement, a film about anti-Semitism. In the highly regarded film noir Force of Evil, the lone film directed by Abraham Polonsky prior to being blacklisted, he played a crooked lawyer. In We Were Strangers, he was an American fighting on the side of Cuban revolutionaries. In The Breaking Point, based on Hemingway's To Have and Have Not, he was a troubled, financially strapped fishing boat captain. His final feature is He Ran All the Way, in which he played a doomed criminal who takes a working-class family hostage.
In 1951 Garfield was subpoenaed by the U.S. Congressional Committee on Un-American Activities. He answered all questions, describing himself as a Democratic Party member and political liberal. He told the committee, "I have always hated communism. It is a tyranny which threatens our country and the peace of the world. Of course, then I have never been a member of the Communist party, or a sympathizer with any of its doctrines. I will be pleased to cooperate with the committee." But he would not "name any names," as his street boy's sense of honor would not allow him to rat on his friends. The committee was unhappy with his testimony. An FBI investigation of Garfield was ordered, and the actor found himself blacklisted. In early 1952, Garfield appeared on Broadway in a revival of Golden Boy. But he was destroyed by his committee ordeal, and subsequent expulsion from Hollywood. He died of a heart attack that spring, having not reached his 40th birthday.
An actor undoubtedly ahead of his time, Garfield not only played antiheroes but thoroughly immersed himself in his characters. If he was a prizefighter, as in Body and Soul, he would train in the ring; for Tortilla Flat, he learned how to fish; for Air Force, he learned how to operate a machine gun; and for Humoresque, he learned how to play the violin. While not as famous as the actors who followed him, Garfield was the prototype of the celluloid antihero. One only can imagine the stage and screen roles he might have created had his life not been cut so tragically short.
—Maryann Oshana, updated by Rob Edelman
"Garfield, John." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/garfield-john
"Garfield, John." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Retrieved September 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/garfield-john
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