Born into a family of immigrant Jews on New York’s Lower East Side on March 4, 1913, Jacob Julius Garfinkle lost his mother, Hannah, when he was seven years old. Raised by his father, David, Julie was a problem child and was sent to a special school where he discovered the two passionate pursuits of his life: boxing and drama. This handsome, dark-haired man grew up in the streets and often clashed with the police and neighborhood gangs. He loved confrontation and even won a debating contest sponsored by the “New York Times”. He used the scholarship funds to enroll in drama school.
During the Great Depression, he found a few menial jobs, but spent most of his time as a hobo, riding across country on the rails. After a few years, he returned to New York, joining the progressive Group Theater and making a name for himself as a competent actor.
He performed on Broadway and in 1938 traveled to Hollywood where Warner Brothers signed him up, considering him a newer version of the “James Cagney tough guy.” After appearing in “Four Daughters” (1938), he was nominated for an Academy Award and established a following. Other films followed that same year: “They Made Me A Criminal,” “Daughters Courageous,” “Blackwell’s Island,” “Dust Be My Destiny,” “Four Wives” and “Juarez.” Eventually, the studio expanded his range of roles just as it had done earlier for Jimmy Cagney, but his best performances were as “disaffected loners.”
John Garfield co-founded with Betty Davis the Hollywood Canteen, a haven for transient servicemen in Los Angeles during World War II. He is perhaps best remembered for his role in “the 1946 film noir, “The Postman Always Rings Twice” co-starring Lana Turner. In the late 1940s, he was blacklisted by the House of Unamerican Activities Committee, even though he was never a member of the Communist party.
He was married and had three children. While separated from his wife, Roberta Seidman, he suffered a fatal heart attack at the home of a female friend. He was thirty-nine years old when he died, and his funeral was mobbed by thousands of fans, the largest attendance for an actor, in fact, since the death of Rudolph Valentino.
What are some of YOUR favorite John Garfield films?