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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 .
Born Jacob Julius Garfinkle in New York City to Jewish immigrants David and Hannah Garfinkle, he was raised in Sea Gate, Brooklyn until sent to a school for problem children in the Bronx after the death of his mother when he was seven years old. It was there, under the guidance of the school's principal, noted educator Angelo Patri, that he was introduced to boxing and acting. Unfortunately, he contracted an illness at early in life which severely damaged his heart, limiting his ability to engage in strenuous athletic activities. He won a scholarship to an acting school hosted by Maria Ouspenskaya, and made his Broadway debut in 1932. He became a member of the Group Theater. The Group's play Golden Boy was written for him by Clifford Odets, but ultimately he was cast in a supporting role rather than the lead . Garfield decided to leave Broadway and try his success in Hollywood. 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 immediately attempted to enlist in the armed forces, 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.
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 Bros. expired, Garfield decided against renewal of his studio contract and opted to start his own independent production company, one of the first Hollywood stars to take this step.
Long involved in liberal politics, Garfield was caught up in the Communist scare of the late 1940s and early 1950s, and supported the Committee for the First Amendment, which opposed governmental investigation of political beliefs. When called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which was empowered to investigate purported communist infiltration in America, Garfield refused to name communist party members or followers, testifying that, indeed, he knew none in the film industry. 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 just prior to his death, in hopes of redeeming himself in the eyes of the blacklisters, had written that he had been duped by Communist ideology, in an unpublished article entitled "I Was a Sucker for a Left Hook" (a reference to Garfield's movies about boxing ). However, his forced testimony before the committee had severely damaged his reputation. He was blacklisted in Red Channels, 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 years before.
Long-term heart problems, allegedly aggravated by the stress of his blacklisting, led to his early death at the age of 39 on May 21, 1952. Garfield is interred at Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, Westchester County, New York.
He and his wife Roberta Seidman, whom he married in February 1935, had three children: Katherine (1938-45), who died of an allergic reaction, David (1943-1994), and Julie (b. 1946), the latter two later becoming actors themselves.
Garfield is acknowledged as the predecessor of such Method-style American film stars as Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Montgomery Clift.
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