John Garfield (born Jacob Julius Garfinkle) was an American actor best known for portraying rebels and antiheroes on the big screen. Following his mother’s untimely demise during his childhood, he was raised by his father and impoverished relatives. As a result of his involvement in street gangs and numerous street brawls during his adolescent years, he was sent to a reform school, where he was introduced to boxing and drama. Later in life, he was awarded a scholarship to attend a drama school. He eventually became a member of the Civic Repertory Theatre, changed his name to Jules Garfield, and made his Broadway debut in that company’s production of ‘Counsellor-at-Law.’ He was lauded for his role in ‘Awake and Sing’ as a member of the Group Theatre Company. He signed a contract with Warner Brothers, who changed his name to John Garfield, after being denied the lead role in ‘Golden Boy’. He earned widespread acclaim for his performances, particularly as the skeptical Mickey Borden in ‘Four Daughters’ (1938), and continued to appear in similar roles throughout his career. He was involved in liberal politics and became a victim of the 1940s Communist scare, which resulted in blacklisting and insufficient work. This took a toll on his health, and he died of a heart attack at the young age of 39.
Childhood & Adolescence
John Garfield was born in Manhattan’s Lower East Side on March 4, 1913, to Russian Jewish immigrants David and Hannah Garfinkle. His father worked as a garment presser and also served as a part-time cantor.
Garfield’s mother died when he was seven years old. As a result, he and his younger brother Max were placed with other impoverished relatives. He struggled academically and frequently missed classes.
Later in life, he joined a series of street gangs and quickly rose to the position of gang leader. He began his fighting career at a boxing gym and excelled at impersonating famous performers.
Meanwhile, he contracted scarlet fever and went undiagnosed until he reached adulthood. His illness permanently damaged his heart and forced him to miss school on a regular basis. Finally, his father enrolled him in a special school for troubled children.
Angelo Patri, the school’s principal, recognized his ability and introduced him to acting. Margaret O’Ryan, a teacher, helped him overcome his stammering problem.
He enrolled in acting classes at a drama school with the encouragement of his teacher. He also received training at the American Laboratory Theatre and the Civic Repertory Theatre for a brief period.
Career of John
John Garfield made his Broadway debut in 1932 with the play ‘Lost Boy’. It lasted only two weeks but brought him much-needed recognition.
He then appeared in Elmer Rice’s play ‘Counsellor-at-Law’ as an office boy. Paul Muni also appeared in the play, which ran for several months. Warner Bros. approached him for a screen test during this time period, but he declined.
His former colleagues at the American Laboratory Theatre had formed a new theatre group known as ‘The Group.’ He applied for and was eventually accepted into an apprenticeship with them after months of rejection.
Soon afterwards, ‘The Group’ announced a full-length production of Clifford Odets’ ‘Awake and Sing,’ in which he was cast as Ralph, the sensitive young son. The play premiered in 1935, and critics lauded his performance.
His apprenticeship was officially concluded at this point, and he was elected to full membership by the Company.
Odets told the press that Garfield was his “discovery” and that he was committed to writing a play specifically for him.
The play was titled ‘Golden Boy,’ but instead of starring him, Luther Adler was cast. Garfield, embittered by this gesture, began to consider offers from Hollywood.
When Hollywood studios approached him previously for screen tests, he declined on the grounds that he was denied time off for stage work. When Warner Bros. agreed to his terms, he signed a seven-year standard feature player deal with options.
Warner Bros. renamed him John Garfield from Jacob Julius Garfinkle. He was finally cast in a supporting but vital role in Michael Curtiz’s ‘Four Daughters’ after some initial delays (1938). His performance in the film received widespread critical acclaim.
Warner Bros. rewrote his contract, this time as a star player for seven years without options, convinced by his acting ability. In 1939, he starred in films such as ‘They Made Me a Criminal’ and ‘Blackwell’s Island.
Before the year ended, he and the studio had a falling out. Warner Bros. attempted to cast him in audience-pleasing melodramas, but he desired challenging roles that would showcase his versatility.
As a result of this disagreement, he frequently refused assigned roles and the studio withheld payment. However, the film ‘Daughters Courageous’ stands out as a notable exception to this trend (1939). It was well-received by critics but fell short of pleasing the audience.
When World War II began, he attempted to enlist. To his dismay, he was rejected due to his poor heart condition.
To demonstrate his support, he traveled extensively abroad to entertain American troops and appeared in commercially successful patriotic films such as ‘Air Force’ and ‘Destination Tokyo’ in 1943, as well as ‘Pride of the Marines’ in 1945.
He appeared in several successful films following the war, including ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’ (1946), ‘Humoresque’ (1946), ‘Body and Soul’ (1947), and the Academy Award-winning ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’ (1947). (1947).
His contract with Warner Bros. expired in 1946, and he elected not to renew it. Rather than that, he pioneered an independent production house in Hollywood as a celebrity. He also returned to Broadway in 1948, starring in ‘Skipper Next to God’.
He became involved in liberal politics during the mid-twentieth century. He was never a Communist, but he refused to name those in the industry who were involved in Un-American Activities before the House Committee. As a result of this, he was blacklisted and his Hollywood career was cut short.
He then returned to Broadway and starred in a 1952 revival of ‘Golden Boy,’ playing the role that had been written for him years before.
Significant Works of John
John Garfield is best remembered for his portrayal of Tay Garnett’s ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’ opposite Lana Turner (1946). His other notable performance was with Joan Crawford in the 1947 film ‘Humoresque’.
In Robert Rossen’s 1947 film ‘Body and Soul,’ he portrayed a poor man who works tirelessly to become a boxing champion, albeit at great personal expense. He portrayed a greedy lawyer in Abraham Polonsky’s ‘Force of Evil’ (1948).
He also portrayed Gregory Peck’s Jewish friend in Elia Kazan’s anti-Semitism film, ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’ (1947).
Awards and Accomplishments
John Garfield received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 1939 for ‘Four Daughters’ and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in 1948 for ‘Body and Soul’.
At 7065 Hollywood Boulevard, he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Personal History and Legacies
In February 1935, he married Roberta Seidman, a Communist Party member. Katherine, David, and Julie were all born to the couple; the latter two also became actors.
He was deeply troubled by the imposed Hollywood blacklisting and divorced his wife in 1952. He met actress Iris Whitney for dinner a few days later, after playing tennis (much against his doctor’s advice). He later fell ill unexpectedly, and Whitney rushed him to her apartment. The following morning, May 21, 1952, she discovered him dead.
His funeral was attended by over ten thousand mourners, and he was laid to rest in New York’s Westchester Hills Cemetery. His estate, which was valued at “well over $100,000,” was entirely left to his estranged wife.
Estimated Net Worth
The net worth of John is $1-$5million.
Katharine, his daughter, died in 1945 as a result of an allergic reaction. He was only six years old at the time, and he never recovered from the loss.