John Garfield: The Tragic Death of a Classic Hollywood Icon

Herbie J Pilato

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Hollywood tough guys of today have nothing on John Garfield, which some have considered one of the most handsome and talented actors in the history of the entertainment industry.

According to AVClub.com, "All of Hollywood became entangled in the egregious activities of the U.S. Congressional House Un-American Activities Committee. But the despicable movement had many more martyrs past even the blacklisted Hollywood 10. The list of performers and creators put on Hollywood’s 'no' list was much longer and spread wider," and included John Garfield.

As AVClub.com goes on to reveal, "Garfield was Brando before there was a Brando. He had started with New York’s experimental Group Theater with fellow heavyweights like Lee Strasberg, Frances Farmer, and Clifford Odets. He was an ambitious actor who greedily absorbed every part he was given and had a rebellious spirit; he got written up on violations by the studio system 11 times in almost as many years. That spirit did Garfield no favors in his HUAC testimony; although his wife had been a Communist, Garfield was never one himself. But due to his testimony, Garfield was blacklisted regardless. By 1952, he and his wife had separated due to the stress of the blacklist, rumors predicted that HUAC was going to reopen his testimony on perjury charges, and he had no luck finding work."

"Despite his personal troubles," AVClub.com documents, "Garfield left behind a small but solid body of work, from the steamy The Postman Always Rings Twice with Lana Turner to a supporting role in Gentleman’s Agreement, which he took to protest anti-Semitism. But the movie that most mirrors Garfield’s artistic persona is Humoresque. Garfield is Paul Boray, a single-mindedly ambitious concert pianist whose road to fame and glory is both aided and hindered by his affair with wealthy, ruined socialite Helen, played by Joan Crawford. The magnificent Crawford had a tendency to run roughshod over lesser leading men like Jeff Chandler or Van Heflin."

According to CelebrityDeaths.com, "Garfield earned Best Actor Oscar nominations for his roles in 1947’s Body and Soul and 1938’s Four Daughters. His other movies of note include Tortilla Flat and The Sea Wolf.

As CelebrityDeaths.com also relays, "On May 21, 1952, Garfield had dinner with actress Iris Whitney. After the dinner, he complained that he felt chilled and suddenly became ill. Iris took him to her apartment, where he went to bed, refusing to let Iris call a doctor. The morning after, Iris found him dead.

"It is surmised that the combination of these stressful events led to Garfield’s demise from a heart attack at the age of 39. His funeral was attended by thousands of grief-stricken fans, the largest funeral for an actor since Rudolph Valentino."

Garfield left behind three children named Katherine, David, and Julie with Roberta Seidman, whom he married in 1935. He Garfield was interred at Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, Westchester County, New York. The inscription on his footstone reads, “Beloved husband and father.”

The tragic death of John Garfield was clearly an even greater loss for those who knew him best.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA
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