Now THAT is a movie star.
One of my favorite actors, as well as an early inspiration to me because of his devotion to The Group Theatre and its ideals. “Julie” Garfield lived in my imagination long before I had seen any of his films.
A couple of things to read:
The Jewish Brando, by J. Hoberman.
Must-read: Kim Morgan’s piece on John Garfield, with clips of Kim interviewing John Garfield’s daughter.
There are so many good roles in his short career (on stage and film): the brawny hot sex-on-a-stick of Postman Always Rings Twice, he’s sweaty and impassioned in We Were Strangers, the beauty and power-play of Humoresque with Joan Crawford (and watch his violin playing in it: he trained for months. Also, his old Group Theatre colleague Ruth Nelson has a killer cameo playing Garfield’s mother). I love his electric debut in Four Daughters. From the first second he walks into that house, you ache to be close to him, you want more of him. He has an authenticity that is undeniable. He is a harbinger of what is to come, he predicts Brando and all the rest, 10 years before. I dislike Gentleman’s Agreement, except for Dean Stockwell and John Garfield. John Garfield, born Jacob Julius Garfinkle, changed his name to sound less Jewish, and never played an openly Jewish character (although it is certainly implied in Four Daughters) until Gentleman’s Agreement, Hollywood’s proud-of-itself expose of anti-Semitism. Gregory Peck is a self-righteous drip in the film, but watch Garfield. He only has a couple of scenes. Once again, just like in his debut, he strolls onto that sound stage, chows down a meal at the kitchen table, bantering, laughing, drinking coffee, and makes everyone else look like self-serious actor-nerds. His presence is so palpable, so real that he brings the casual reality of the modern American Jew to the screen in a way that Peck’s torturous journey never could. Garfield is just so present.
He always made things more real, just by showing up.
And I’m with Kim.
The man was a hero.