John Garfield - Urban Hero logo


John Garfield Fast Facts

Birth name: Jacob Julius Garfinkle
Birth date: March 4, 1913
Birthplace: New York, New York
Date of death: May 21, 1952
Cause of death: heart attack
Nicknames: Jules, Juli, Julie
Professions: newspaper boy, farmhand, actor, producer

John Garfield (March 4, 1913 – May 21, 1952) was an American actor. Garfield was especially adept at playing brooding, rebellious, working-class character roles, and was twice nominated for an Academy Award: 1939 - Best Actor in a Supporting Role for: Four Daughters (1938) and 1948 - Best Actor in a Leading Role for: Body and Soul (1947).

Long before there was Brando--who ironically only won the role of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway after producer Irene Mayer Selznick and Garfield could not come to terms--and long before there was Dean, Clift, Pacino and De Niro, there was Garfield. He is said to have been the first student of "The Method" to succeed in Hollywood, and in so doing changed the face not just of American acting, but the standard of film acting as well. Garfield was more than just an actor who played defiant rebels from the wrong side of the tracks. His natural style brought the internal rhythms and emotions of a character to the fore. While Edward G. Robinson and Paul Muni had played the first tier of such characters on screen--and have been rightly heralded as two of the greatest American actors of all time--Garfield's interpretation of the same sort of anti-heroes could break through sans expressionistic lighting and sound and was cloaked in a sexual energy that neither Robinson nor Muni had.

He was born Jacob Julius Garfinkle on the Lower East Side of Manhattan (Rivington Street) to Russian-Jewish immigrants David and Hannah Garfinkle. His father was a clothes presser and cantor in the synagogue. His mother died when he was seven. After his mother's death, he was raised in Brownsville, Brooklyn and spent more time in trouble on the streets than in school. In 1926 his brother Michael stayed with relatives in Brooklyn while his father and he moved to the Bronx so he could attend a school for problem children, P.S. 45. It was there, under the guidance of the school's principal, noted educator Angelo Patri, that he was introduced to boxing and acting. He had a bad stammer, and Patri enrolled him in speech class. This led to an award-winning stint on the debate team.

He won a scholarship to the Heckscher Foundation Drama Workshop and then studied at the American Laboratory Theatre under Richard Boleslavsky and Maria Ouspenskaya. He also served an apprenticeship with Eva Le Gallienne's Civic Repertory Theatre.

In 1931 a friend and he hitched rides and rode trains illegally, doing odd jobs along the way, to get to California. On the return trip to New York, he caught rheumatic fever and suffered permanent heart damage.

He got a part in the Broadway production of Lost Boy and was first credited as Jules Garfield. He then appeared in 1932's Counsellor-at-Law. He became a member of the Group Theatre in 1934 and is legendary for his stage portrayals. He rose to prominence in 1935 based on his work in two Clifford Odets plays, Waiting for Lefty and Awake and Sing!, both directed for the Group Theatre by Harold Clurman. In 1937 he left the cast of Having Wonderful Time to appear in the Group Theatre production of Golden Boy. Clifford Odets had written the leading role with Garfield in mind, but director Harold Clurman cast Luther Adler as Joe Bonaparte. Garfield instead played the supporting role of a cab driver and left the production when Warner Brothers offered him a contract. Jack Warner thought "Jules Garfield" sounded "too Jewish" and changed his first name to John. In 1938 he received wide critical acclaim and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Four Daughters.

At the onset of World War II, Garfield attempted to enlist in the armed forces twice, but was turned down due to heart damage. Frustrated, he turned his energies to supporting the war effort. He and actress Bette Davis were the driving force behind the opening of the Hollywood Canteen, a club offering food and entertainment for American servicemen. He later traveled to Yugoslavia to help entertain for the war effort.

Some critics have claimed that Garfield gave stiff performances, and while that point is debatable, his virility and unpolished charm saved many a film from becoming merely a programmer. He is also remembered for such roles as Porfirio Diaz in Juarez (1939) and as the brash seaman trying to escape the tyranny of Edward G. Robinson in Sea Wolf (1941). In Destination Tokyo (1944), Garfield's raw sexual energy clashed head on with Cary Grant's more polished variety and helped to give Grant a forum to stretch as an actor.

Garfield graduated to leading roles in films such as The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) with Lana Turner, Humoresque (1946) with Joan Crawford, and the Oscar-winning Best Picture Gentleman's Agreement (1947). In 1948 he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his starring role in Body and Soul (1947). A strong-willed and often verbally combative individual, Garfield did not hesitate to venture out on his own when the opportunity arose. In 1946, when his contract with Warner Brothers expired, Garfield decided against renewal of his studio contract and opted to start his own independent production company, Enterprise Productions, one of the first Hollywood stars to take this step.

Long involved in liberal politics, Garfield was caught up in the McCarthy Communist scare of the late 1940s and early 1950s, and supported the Committee for the First Amendment. When called to testify before the House on Un-American Activities Committee or HUAC, which was empowered to investigate purported communist infiltration in America, Garfield refused to name names. Though his wife had been a member of the Communist Party, no evidence was ever presented that Garfield had ever been a Communist. Indeed, Garfield rejected Communism, and at the time of his death had written that he had been duped by Communist ideology in an unpublished article entitled "I Was a Sucker for a Left Hook." However, his forced testimony before the committee had severely damaged his reputation. He was blacklisted in Red Channels in June 1950, and barred from future employment as an actor by Hollywood movie studio bosses for the remainder of his career.

With film work scarce because of the blacklist, Garfield returned to Broadway and starred in a 1952 revival of Golden Boy, finally being cast in the lead role denied him twice years before. He also delivered acclaimed work in The Big Knife (1949) and Peer Gynt (1951), both directed by The Group Theatre co-founder Lee Strasberg.

Long-term heart problems, aggravated by the stress of his blacklisting, led to his early death from a heart attack (coronary thrombosis) at the age of 39 on May 21, 1952. His funeral on May 23, 1952 at the Riverside Memorial Chapel was mobbed by more than 10,000 fans. It was the largest funeral attendance for an actor since Rudolph Valentino. Garfield is interred at Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, Westchester County, New York.

He and his wife Roberta "Robbe" Seidman, whom he married January 27, 1935, had three children: Katherine (1938-45), who died in her mother's arms of an allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), David Patton (1943-1995), and Julia (Julie) (b. 1946). David was an actor and a film editor. Julie is an actress and an acting teacher.


Became an amateur boxer.

While a number of sources claim that Garfield made his first film appearance in a bit part in 1933's Footlight Parade, this is a fallacy.

Garfield was portrayed by Bruce Ornstein in the 1993 TV movie Will There Really Be a Morning?.

Star on the Walk of Fame - Motion Picture at 7065 Hollywood Blvd.

Height: 5' 7"

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

Won a statewide debating contest sponsored by The New York Times as a boy.

Wife Roberta Seidman was his childhood sweetheart.

A year before his death, he starred as Peer in a Broadway revival of Ibsen's Peer Gynt, one of the longest and most challenging roles in all theater.

His seven-year Warner Brothers contract allowed him to leave to perform on the stage yearly.

His wrist watch had the following inscription on the back: To our "Golden Boy," from Robbe and Kat, March 4, 1939.

Wanted his violin playing to look really convincing in Humoresque. Isaac Stern was filmed doing a violin solo. Garfield studied the film of Stern and was ready for his role in only two weeks.

Fought for roles for actors of color, most notably Canada Lee in Body and Soul and Juano Hernandez in The Breaking Point.

Hobby: painting

Appeared on Broadway in the 1940 production of Heavenly Express and 1949's Skipper Next to God.

Live his part in Gentleman's Agreement.

In October 1947 went to Washington, D.C. with other Hollywood liberals to protest the HUAC investigations.

Testified before HUAC on April 23, 1951. He refused to rat on anyone. Was followed by the FBI.

Did a scene from Golden Boy on television in 1950.

Separated from his wife at the time of his death, he was living at the Warwick Hotel and was involved with Iris Whitney. They went out to dinner on the evening of May 20, 1952, and Garfield binged on all the wrong foods. He wasn't feeling well, and Iris put him to bed at her 3 Gramercy Park apartment. She found him dead the next morning.

The New York Times published a letter from Clifford Odets on May 25, 1952. The ending is as follows: "I ask, finally, to be permitted to forget the present hushed austerities and say simply, 'Julie, dear friend, I will always love you.'"



"Screen acting is my business, but I get my kicks from Broadway."


Four Daughters (1938)

Mickey Borden (JG): I wouldn't win first prize if I were the only entry in the contest.
Ann Lemp (Priscilla Lane): Mathematically speaking, I think you'd stand a fine chance.
Mickey Borden: You think they'd let me win?
Ann Lemp: Who?
Mickey Borden: They.
Ann Lemp: Who?
Mickey Borden: The fates, the destinies, whoever they are that decide what we do or don't get.
Ann Lemp: What do you mean?
Mickey Borden: They've been at me now nearly a quarter of a century. No let-up. First they said, "Let him do without parents. He'll get along." Then they decided, "He doesn't need any education. That's for sissies." Then right at the beginning, they tossed a coin. "Heads he's poor, tails he's rich." So they tossed a coin... with two heads. Then, for a finale, they got together on talent. "Sure," they said, "let him have talent. Not enough to let him do anything on his own, anything good or great. Just enough to let him help other people. It's all he deserves." Well, you put all this together and you get Michael Bolgar.

They Made Me a Criminal (1939)

Johnnie Bradfield a.k.a. Jack Dorney (JG): If you're rootin' for me, I'll go in there and bang the ears off the biggest guy in the world.

Air Force (1943)

Sgt. Joe Winocki (JG): [looking down at devastation in Pearl Harbor] Damn 'em!, Damn 'em!

Destination Tokyo (1943)

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

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

Frank Chambers (JG): I can sell anything to anybody.
Cora Smith (Lana Turner): That's what you think.

Cora Smith: I want to make something of this place, I want to make it into an honest-to-goodness...
Frank Chambers: Well, aren't we ambitious.

[about Nick (Cecil Kellaway)]
Frank Chambers: I'd like to see him get plastered like that some night and drive off a cliff.

Frank Chambers: With my brains and your looks, we could go places.

Cora Smith: It's too bad Frank took the car.
Frank Chambers: Even if it was here we couldn't take it, unless we'd want to spend the night in jail. Stealing a man's wife, that's nothing, but stealing a man's car, that's larceny.

Cora Smith: That note I left Nick, if he gets back before we do and finds it...
Frank Chambers: Where'd you leave it?
Cora Smith: In the cash register!
Frank Chambers: That's terrific, that's the first place he'll look.

Nobody Lives Forever (1946)

Nick Blake (JG): I don't wanna get rough with you unless I have to!

Nick Blake: People like me don't change.

Humoresque (1946)

Paul Boray (JG): 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.

Sid Jeffers (Oscar Levant): You have all the characteristics of a successful virtuoso. You're self-indulgent, self-dedicated and the hero of all your dreams.
Paul Boray: You ought to try a few dreams yourself, it might make you less cynical. When I look at you I know what I want to avoid.
Sid Jeffers: One of us is offensive.

Helen Wright (Joan Crawford): I'd like to slap your face.
Paul Boray: Why don't you try it?
Helen Wright: [smashes her glass against the wall]

Body and Soul (1947)

Charley Davis (JG): What are you gonna do? Kill me? Everybody dies.

Gentleman's Agreement (1947)

Phil Green (Gregory Peck): I've been saying I'm Jewish, and it works.
Dave Goldman (JG): Why, you crazy fool! It's working?
Phil Green: It works too well. I've been having my nose rubbed in it, and I don't like the smell.
Dave Goldman: You're not insulated yet, Phil. The impact must be quite a business on you.
Phil Green: You mean you get indifferent to it in time?
Dave Goldman: No, but you're concentrating a lifetime into a few weeks. You're not changing the facts, you're just making them hurt more.

Kathy Lacy (Dorothy McGuire): Oh, Dave, we couldn't get married without you. What happened?
Dave Goldman: Nothing. That's just it. I can't abandon my family forever, and I can't find a house or an apartment. If it was just me, I'd sleep on the subway, but I've got Carol and the kids. I've got to go back. I'm licked.
Phil Green: But that means your job, your whole future.
Dave Goldman: I'll live. I've done it before.
Kathy Lacy: But, Dave, that's terrible.

Phil Green: I'm going up to Flume Inn. I'll use the plane tickets we had for tomorrow afternoon.
Dave Goldman: You're wasting your time.
Phil Green: I know. But there must be a time once when you fought back. I want to look them in the eye. I want the satisfaction. I can't explain it.
Kathy Lacy: But Phil...
Dave Goldman: Let him do it, Kathy. You've got to fight back once. I did it at Monterey.
Phil Green: They're more than nasty little snobs, Kathy. Call them that, and you can dismiss them too easily. They're persistent traitors to everything this country stands for, and you have to fight them, not just for the Jews, but for everything this country stands for.

Force of Evil (1948)

[opening lines - voice over]
Joe Morse (JG): This is Wall Street... and today was important because tomorrow - July Fourth - I intended to make my first million dollars. An exciting day in any man's life. Temporarily, the enterprise was slightly illegal. You see I was the lawyer for the numbers racket.

Edna Tucker (Marie Windsor): You're wide open, Joe. I can see into you without looking.
Joe Morse: Don't bother; besides it's not nice to do.
Edna Tucker: More interesting than when you have a rock for a husband like mine. He's a stone, that man. Whole world are rocks and stones to him.
Joe Morse: Why tell me? Tell him.
Edna Tucker: Never tell him anything. Makes me feel unnecessary.
Joe Morse: If I make you feel necessary then I'm making a mistake.

[after Joe bails his brother, Doris and the others out of jail]
Doris Lowry (Beatrice Pearson): You know I've got my whole life to think about now and you won't be of any help.
Joe Morse: How do you know? You know everything I touch turns to gold. It's raining out and I promised my brother to take you home.
Doris Lowry: Well, that's a lie.
Joe Morse: Well, it's not true; but I would have had he asked. You know you can't tell about your life 'til you're all through living it. Come on, I'll give you a lift. You're tired, I'm tireder. What can happen to either one of us? You tell me the story of your life and maybe I can suggest a happy ending.

Joe Morse: Wouldn't you like to celebrate on a really large scale, Miss Lowry?
Doris Lowry: What are you celebrating, Mr. Morse?
Joe Morse: A clear conscience.
Doris Lowry: Oh, whose?

Joe Morse: If you need a broken man to love, break your husband. I'm not a nickel, I don't spend my life in a telephone! If that's what you want for love, you can't use me.
Edna Tucker: You're not strong or weak enough.

Leo Morse (Thomas Gomez): The money I made in this rotten business is no good for me, Joe. I don't want it back. And Tucker's money is no good either.
Joe Morse: The money has no moral opinions.
Leo Morse: I find I have, Joe. I find I have.

[last lines - voice over]
Joe Morse: I found my brother's body at the bottom there, where they had thrown it away on the rocks... by the river... like an old dirty rag nobody wants. He was dead - and I felt I had killed him. I turned back to give myself up to Hall; because if a man's life can be lived so long and come out this way - like rubbish - then something was horrible and had to be ended one way or another... and I decided to help.

He Ran All the Way (1951)

Mrs. Robey (Gladys George): If you were a man, you'd be out looking for a job.
Nick Robey (JG): If you were a man, I'd kick your teeth in.




This site is not officially endorsed or authorized by John Garfield's estate.
Unauthorized use of this material is strictly prohibited.
2007 by Meredy, all rights reserved.