John Garfield: liberal causes, happiness inside

"I am a fugitive. I am hunted by ruthless men! I am shunned by decent women! I am doomed to hide forever!" -Tagline of "They Made Me a Criminal" (1939) directed by Busby Berkeley

Having completed his two first films for Warner Bros., John Garfield returned to New York early in September. He wasn't yet a household name, but journalist Frederick James Smith was interested in interviewing him. Time magazine, in its review of 'They Made Me a Criminal', described Garfield as "outspoken... and an amateur left wing politician."

John Garfield as Johnnie Bradfield, aka Jack Dorney in "They Made Me a Criminal" (1939)

"I'm scared of the way they build you up in Hollywood, force you, hothouse you", Garfield told Smith. "It's too easy to go soft and lose your identity. I want my happiness inside. There [in Hollywood] everyone seems to be a success with plenty of money to spend. Here [New York] actors are constantly struggling. I think that is necessary, for when an actor doesn't face a conflict he loses confidence in himself. I always want to struggle, because I believe it will help me accomplish more."

Garfield just didn't think he was that good. And then 'Four Daughters' was released. The success of the film may be difficult to understand today. It's an old-fashioned homage to middle America, but in its time it was a blockbuster, for audiences hoping to escape the sound of war in Europe were easily seduced by the story line, which reaffirmed faith in the family unit.

Priscilla Lane and John Garfield as the doomed couple in "Four Daughters" (1938) directed by Michael Curtiz

It's unlikely that the film would have been anything other than a mild success had it not been for John Garfield's participation. Ring Lardner Jr., then a fledgling screenwriter with Warner Bros., recalled the impact of Garfield's screen debut as Mickey Borden: "I already knew him from the making of the picture, but I remember when I first saw the film, that I was absolutely startled by the effect of that character coming on the screen and taking over. I didn't realize he had that power, that magnetism."

John Garfield and Rosemary Lane in "Blackwell's Island" (1939) directed by William C. McGann

Jack Warner assured that from now on, John Garfield would receive nothing less than star billing in A productions. But there was still a B film, 'Blackwell´s Island', waiting to be released. Warner Bros. quickly turned it into an A, or at least a B+, invested another $10,000 and hired Michael Curtiz to reshoot some scenes. What effect Curtiz had on the finished product is impossible to judge, but the film is a reasonably exciting crime drama, and Garfield appears to be having a ball. The critics were kind and the public was satisfied.

The commercial success of this minor film affirmed Warner's hunch that John Garfield was star material.

John Garfield as in WB "Castle on the Hudson" (1940) directed by Anatole Litvak

"Hollywood was a liberal community then", screenwriter Paul Jarrico explained. "The writers, the directors, and to a lesser degree the actors were largely left of center." Hollywood wanted to present itself as a community that cared, and for Garfield, who had worked his way up quickly from uneducated street waif to equally uneducated movie star, it was important to maintain a connection to his roots. He appeared sincere in his efforts to help those less fortunate than himself. Actress Betsy Blair (then the wife of Gene Kelly) recalled Garfield as always being one to financially support liberal causes.

Danny Kaye, Groucho Marx and John Garfield

Hilda Wane had been Danny Kaye's secretary, and the Garfields hired her on as a combination secretary/nurse.
"Before HUAC reopened shop in the second round of hearings in 1951, they sent a representative to Hollywood," Julie [John Garfield's daughter] explained: "This representative met with all the heads of the film studios, and he said, 'We're going after Danny Kaye, Edward G. Robinson and John Garfield. Give us just one of them and we'll leave you alone.' And the studio heads said, "Take Garfield. He's expendable."

Danny Kaye and John Garfield signing autographs for the troops at the Hollywood Canteen

Whether the studio heads actually needed to acquiesce in order for the government to build a case against Garfield is debatable. Still, HUAC never netted as big a prize as Garfield, in terms of witnesses. He was without doubt the only major movie star of the period to be blacklisted. -"He Ran All The Way: The Life of John Garfield" by Robert Nott

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

"A big one raised us up, and she put her hand to her breasts, to show how it lifted them. Cora: "I love it. Are they big, Frank?" Frank: "I'll tell you tonight." Cora: "They feel big. I didn't tell you about that. It's not only knowing you're going to make another life. It's what it does to you. My breasts feel so big, and I want you to kiss them. Pretty soon my belly is going to get big, and I'll love that, and want everybody to see it. It's life".

I was all ready to start out with her again clean, and do like she said, have a new life. When I came up she was coughing. -"Just one of those sick spells, like you have." -"Did you swallow any water?" -"No." We went a little way, and then she stopped. -"Frank, I feel funny inside."

-"Here, hold on to me." -"Oh, Frank. Maybe I strained myself, just then. Trying to keep my head up. So I wouldn't gulp down the salt water." -"Take it easy." -"Wouldn't that be awful? I've heard of women that had a miscarriage. From straining theirself." -"Don't try to swim. I'll tow you in." I could have towed her a mile, but I kept thinking I had to get her to a hospital, and I hurried. When you hurry in the water you're sunk. I got bottom, though, after a while, and then I took her in my arms and rushed her through the surf. My legs were so tired I could hardly lift one after the other, but I didn't drop her. I put her in the car, started up, and began burning the road. [...] Horns were blowing, and people were jumping out of cars and running to her. I got her up, and tried to stop the blood and in between I was talking to her, and crying, and kissing her. Those kisses never reached her. She was dead". -"The Postman Always Rings Twice" novel by James M. Cain