John Garfield: truthful, naïve and dead-on honest (symbol of the American Dream)

John Garfield and Ann Sheridan in "Castle on the Hudson" (1940) directed by Anatole Litvak

CASTLE ON THE HUDSON, a remake of the 1933 Warner Bros. film "20,000 Years in Sing Sing", which had starred Spencer Tracy. John Garfield described the film to reporter Frederick Woltman as a story about "a wise guy who goes to the electric chair for a woman." Garfield didn't like the script and only agreed to do the film under two conditions: 1) that the studio retain the original ending, wherein Tommy goes to the electric chair for a murder he did not commit, and 2) a bonus of $10,000.

John Garfield and Ida Lupino as George Leach and Ruth Webster in "The Sea Wolf" (1941)

George Leach is a determined optimist in "The Sea Wolf". "You gotta fight, you can't quit," he tells Lupino at one point. "It's something in me that tells me I gotta keep on fighting, that tells me there is something for people like us." Leach keeps on fighting and, in a memorably chilling climax, finds an escape for himself and Ruth (Ida Lupino) while both Knox and Robinson go down with the ship.

There was something sensually languid about John Garfield, an inner force that suggested he could be a demon in bed. Which other male stars of that period project such sexual charisma? Certainly not Jimmy Stewart, nor James Cagney nor Humphrey Bogart (whose screen characters probably wore a shoulder holster to bed).

John Garfield was sensitive, and his vulnerability, as an actor, set him apart from the rest of the pack. Men may have wanted to emulate him. Women flocked to him. First and foremost, this was the main pitfall of his overnight success. Life imitated art, with every woman imagining she was Priscilla Lane and Garfield was Mickey Borden. "After he did Four Daughters every extra girl on the lot was dying to seduce him," contract director Vincent Sherman recalled.

"And he did not yet know how to handle success. He was hot and heavy and they just came along, one after the other." At first it was just the extras and the hit players and the coatcheck girls and the waitresses. Later his array of would-be suitors and conquests would include co-stars and cinematic sex symbols.

Lana Turner and John Garfield in "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1946) directed by Tay Garnett

"Mr. Garfield reflects to the life the crude and confused young hobo who stumbles aimlessly into a fatal trap. Miss Turner is remarkably effective as the cheap and uncertain blonde who has a pathetic ambition to "be somebody". "The Postman" appears no more than a melodramatic tale, another involved demonstration that crime does not pay. But the artistry of writers and actors have made it much more than that; it is, indeed, a sincere comprehension of an American tragedy". -Review by Bosley Crowther (May 3, 1946)

John Berry ran into John Garfield in London and tried to convince the actor to move to Europe until the [anti-communist] fever broke. Garfield wouldn't do it. "He was a deep American guy, a kid from New York," Berry said. "As John Garfield he was a big symbol of the American dream, and to deny that and act in Europe was to turn his back on America."

He was undeniably charming. He imposed guilt on himself. And if pressed, he really had a hard time maintaining a lie. -"He was truthful, naïve and dead-on honest", theatrical producer Robert Whitehead said of John Garfield.

John Garfield and Shelley Winters as Nick Robey and Peggy Dobbs in "He Ran All The Way" (1951)

Nick (Garfield) inadvertently kills a payroll guard during the heist. He's forced to take it on the lam and hides out in the apartment of the Dobbs family. Of course he falls for the daughter, Peg (Shelley Winters). Both of them are emotionally needy misfits looking for love. Nick hopes to make a break for it with her on his arm and talks her into finding him a getaway car. When the car arrives it's too late for Nick; he ends up in the gutter with a bullet in his belly, courtesy of Peg. The film is a sad but fitting end to Garfield's screen career.

Shelley Winters proved to be a challenge for both Garfield and Berry. In her autobiography Shelley Winters says she can't recall whether she had an affair with him or not. Berry thought it unlikely: "I remember he went up to her dressing room once and they had a loud argument about one of the scenes; you could hear them both yelling. She was often not prepared." -"He Ran All the Way: The Life of John Garfield" by Robert Nott (2004)

Poster from "They Made Me a Criminal" (1939), starring John Garfield and Ann Sheridan

-You weren't in very much of "They Made Me a Criminal", but you were given billing over Gloria Dickson, the real female lead.

-Ann Sheridan: I just had one scene with John Garfield. Busby Berkeley, who I loved, directed it. I once did a musical test for "Desert Song" that Buz directed, with John Boles. Anyway, John Garfield was a dear man. He was like the little guy who brought the apple for the teacher, and here I was, this hussy with the fuzzy hair and the décolletage dress. I was supposed to kiss John, but Buz said: "Hold on until I say cut, just keep kissing him".

Well of course, he wouldn't say it, and I had John around the neck and on the floor - he was absolutely red.

-Garfield didn't come on like the hip young rebel he seemed on the screen?

-Ann Sheridan: Oh no, not at all. I didn't think so, anyway.

John Garfield, Ida Lupino and Edward G. Robinson in "The Sea Wolf" (1941) directed by Michael Curtiz

John Garfield and Ida Lupino as Goff and Stella in "Out of the Fog" (1941) directed by Anatole Litvak

-"He was wonderful and I loved him. He and I were like brother and sister", Ida Lupino said of John Garfield in 1983.

"Killer Tomatoes: Fifteen Tough Film Dames" by Ray Hagen and Laura Wagner (2004)