John Garfield Overview:

Actor, John Garfield, was born Jacob Julius Garfinkle on Mar 4, 1913 in New York City, NY. Garfield died at the age of 39 on May 21, 1952 in New York City, NY and was laid to rest in Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, Westchester County, NY.

John Garfield

Early Life

John Garfield was born Jacob Juliuis Garfinkle was born on March 4th, 1913 in the New York City. He was born to a set of Russian Immigrants who settled in Manhattan's Lower East Side - the heart of the Yiddish Theater District. Thanks to this, the young Garfield was exposed to the theater early in his life. His father, David, worked as apart time clothing presser and musician. His devotion to the culture and traditions of the old country made it difficult to integrate himself into the new world, thus was a cold, detached man who often had a difficult time simply providing for his family.  His mother, Hannah, however, was a warm and gentle woman whom Garfield was very attached. After a difficult pregnancy Hannah gave birth to their second child, Max. His birth would prove as difficult as the pregnancy and she never to have fully recovered from the ordeal. In 1920, when Garfield was just seven years old, she passed away. Without help from wife, David could no longer take care of his sons and sent them to live through out the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

Although described as outgoing, energetic child, Garfield did not put that energy toward academics. Instead Garfield went to the streets where he joined gangs to keep safe in the rough neighborhoods he occupied. He quickly established himself as the "clown," of his gang, imitating the stars he saw on the silver screen. He quickly rose through the ranks and before long was the leader of his a gang. After being expelled from nearly every school he attended, Garfield was eventually sent to P.S 45, a school for delinquent children. It there that he was taken under the wing of the school's principle, Angelo Patri, who encouraged the young Garfield to channel his energy into acting. His academic record quickly improved, as good academic performance was a requirement to participate in the school's plays. Patri and another one of Garfield's teachers, Margaret O'Ryan, then helped to gain a scholarship for drama at The Heckscher Foundation, where he began appearing in their productions. He then joined the American Laboratory Theater, taking lessons and building sets. It was there that he developed friendships with prominent theater people such as Cheryl Crawford, Stella and Luther Adler, and Harold Clurman

Early Theater Career

By 1930 the 17 year-old Garfield had began obtaining walk-on stage roles. He also began working as an apprentice with the Civic Repertory Theatre, bettering his craft on stage and learning the ropes behind it. Two years later, in 1932, the actor would reach a turning point in his career. First he made his Broadway debut with a small role in the T.C Upham play Lost Boy. The play only ran for 13 performances. His next venture on Broadway, the revival of Counsellor-at-Law, would prove to be far more successful and last for 120 performances at the Plymouth Theater. He then lobbied to join the up-and-coming avant-garde theater collective simply called The Group. After being rebuffed from the group for months, he eventually went into their office and talked his old friend, Cheryl Crawford, who convinced everyone else in The Group to sign him on as an apprentice.

Garfield was reunited with his old friend from the American Laboratory Theater, Clifford Odets. When Odets was ready to stage his three-act drama Awake and Sing, he insisted that it was Garfield who would play his leading man. The play, which opened in 1935, was a hit and critics singled out Garfield for his splendid performance. He was promoted from company apprentice to full member. His staunch devotion to The Group, however, was shattered when a part specifically written for him by Odets, Joe Bonaparte in The Golden Boy, was then given to Luther Adler instead of Garfield. Garfield felt the group was acting against its own mission statement of fostering new ideas and talent by picking an established actor for the leading role. Disillusioned by what he considered to be his second family, he soon decided to leave New York and take a chance in Hollywood.

Hollywood and World War II

When Garfield arrived in Hollywood in 1938, he was signed to Warner Brother's pictures as featured player with a seven-year option. He was then cast in a crucial supporting role in Michael Curtiz's Four Daughters. The film was a hit both financially and critically, with Garfield receiving particular acclaim for his role as the tragic young composer, Mickey Borden. His performance was bold, sarcastic, and dangerous - a new breathe of acidic air in Hollywood. For his debut performance he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Awards and become an overnight success. Warner Brother's was then quick to revise the young actors contract, making him a star player without options. Although Garfield was initially pleased with his move to Hollywood, he soon found himself in conflict with the studio. Because of the factory-like nature of the studio system, Warner Brother's immediately began to typecast Garfield in films like They Made Me a Criminal, Blackwell's Island, Juarez and Daughters Courageous. He was also was cast in sub-par crowd pleasers such as Dust Be My Destiny, much to the actors dismay.

Post War films

Like many other top Hollywood stars at the time, Garfield immediately attempted to enlist in military service at the outbreak of World War II. Due to a pre-existing heart condition, however, he was unable to fight 'over there.' So, instead of picking a gun and fighting the Axis, he dedicated his time to the war effort in other ways. He, along with Bette Davis, were the two biggest influences in opening the Hollywood Canteen, an entertainment club dedicated to servicemen. He also traveled the country selling war bonds and went overseas to entertain the troops. Although he was unable to fight in the real war, he did fight on the big screen - starring in several very successful patriotic wartime films such as Air Force, Destination Tokyo and Pride of the Marines.

After the war, Garfield entered a particularly successful point in his career. In 1946 he starred in his memorable role in The Postman Always Rings Twice, opposite Lana Turner. In the film Garfield played Frank Chambers, a drifter seduced into murdering his lovers husband. The film was massive success with many praising Garfield for his role as the crude, aimless hobo. When his contract expired in 1946, he chose not to renew it, becoming on of the few free agents in Hollywood. He then starred in the music drama Humoresque, playing a working class violinist whom comes under the wing of a wealthy but neurotic benefactor, played by Joan Crawford. The next year he took a supporting role in Elia Kazan's Gentleman's Agreement, playing opposite Gregory Peck. The film was incredible controversial in its time, as it dealt with themes of anti-Semitism in the United States. It would go on to be nominated for Best Picture. In 1948 he received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role in the boxing drama Body and Soul.

The Red Scare and Later Career

Despite his immediate post war popularity, Garfield's career would suffer a great blow due to his liberal politics. He was staunch supporter f the Committee for the First Amendment, a measure that opposed a centralized investigation into individuals due to their policies beliefs. When brought to testify into from of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), he refused to name any communist party members. Due to unwillingness to divulge any information on supposed communist activists in Hollywood, Garfield's career suffered tremendously. He was soon black listed and no studio would touch him.

With Hollywood unwilling to hire him, Garfield returned to the New York stage after an eight-year hiatus with Skipper Next to God. The next year he starred in Lee Strasberg's successful staging of old friend Clifford Odets play The Big Knife. The staging was a success, running for over 100 performances. He again worked his old colleagues from The Group, starring in Cheryl Crawford's production of Peer Grant. In 1952 he finally realized his dream of playing Joe Bonaparte in Clifford Odet's revival of his 1938 play Golden Boy. That same year Garfield graced the screen for last time, starring in John Berry's crime-noir He Ran All The Way.

During this time Garfield got word that the HUAC was investigating his testimony on possible perjury charges. Already long suffering a from heart condition, the stress of the HUAC only exacerbated his health problems. After a particularly strenuous game of tennis, Garfield began to feel ill and slept at a friend's house. He would never wake up. John Garfield died on May 21st, 1952 due to mounting stress in conjunction with a heart condition. He was only 39 years old. 

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).



Although Garfield was nominated for two Oscars, he never won a competitive Academy Award.

Academy Awards

YearAwardFilm nameRoleResult
1938Best Supporting ActorFour Daughters (1938)Mickey BordenNominated
1947Best ActorBody and Soul (1947)Charlie DavisNominated

He was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures.

BlogHub Articles:

Humoresque (1946): and Joan Crawford

By 4 Star Film Fan on Mar 7, 2023 From 4 Star Films

The manner in which Garfield is lit in the opening scene is striking. We don’t know the reason yet, but there’s a prevailing angst and discontentment spelled out over his face. It sets the tone for the rest of Jean Negulesco’s swelling drama Humoresque. I’m not sure if itR... Read full article

and Lili Palmer in "Body and Soul"

By Stephen Reginald on Jul 12, 2022 From Classic Movie Man

and Lili Palmer in "Body and Soul" Body and Soul (1947) is an American film noir set in the world of professional boxing directed by Robert Rossen and starring and Lili Palmer. The supporting cast includes Hazel Brooks, Anne Revere, Canada Lee, and William Conrad. Th... Read full article

stars in "Force of Evil"

By Stephen Reginald on Jun 28, 2022 From Classic Movie Man

stars in "Force of Evil" Force of Evil (1948) is an American film noir directed by Abraham Polonsky and starring . The film is based on the novel Tucker's People, which was adapted by Polonsky and Ira Wolfert from a novel by Wolfert. The music is by David Raskin (Laur... Read full article

reaches “The Breaking Point”

By Stephen Reginald on Sep 3, 2021 From Classic Movie Man

reaches “The Breaking Point” The Breaking Point (1950) is an American crime drama directed by Michael Curtiz and starring and Patricia Neal. The excellent supporting cast includes Phyllis Thaxter and Juano Hernandez. plays Harry Morgan, a spo... Read full article

Pride of The Marines (1945): Plays Al Schmid

By 4 Star Film Fan on Nov 2, 2020 From 4 Star Films

During WWII there’s no question was integral to the war effort despite having never served in the military. He did yeoman’s work when it came to morale, through his pictures at Warner Bros, originating the famed Hollywood Canteen with Bette Davis, and going on war bond tour... Read full article

See all articles

John Garfield Quotes:

Sparks: How come they picked you?
Wolf: I don't know. Strong arm, strong back, weak mind!

Paul Boray: All my life I wanted to do the right thing but it never worked out. I'm outside always looking in. Feeling all the time I'm far away from home and where home is I don't know. I can't get back to the simple happy kid I used to be.

Tom Prior: I read a great epitaph once, I'm gonna steal it for myself.
Scrubby: Sir?
Tom Prior: Here lies Prior, died a bachelor. Wifeless. Childless. Wish his father'd died the same.

read more quotes from John Garfield...

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John Garfield Facts
Comforted Sidney Poitier on his first plane ride by telling him to put a handkerchief over his face and think about nothing.

Garfield's widow Roberta married labor lawyer Sidney Cohn in 1954. He died in 1991 and Roberta Garfield Cohn died of Alzheimer's Disease in January 2004.

In 1949, he was a guest on Ed Sullivan's "Toast Of The Town" and quipped that the large TV cameras of this new medium were frightening.

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