Blacklisted actor John Garfield, né Julius Garfinkle, was the subject of a curtain talk at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences following a screening of his enthralling boxing movie, Body and Soul (1947), part of the Academy’s screenwriter-driven film-noir series.
Garfield’s unswerving dignity as a Jewish boxer (improbably named Charlie Davis) dominates the film. It is a performance James Wong Howe’s majestic black-and-white cinematography captures unstintingly. Garfield’s particular brand of intense emotionalism paved the way for Pacino and DeNiro … and closer to his own era, Monty Clift and James Dean.
Remembering Garfield was his daughter Julie, herself an accomplished actress who lost her father as a little girl. Only a six-year old’s vague memory of “going round and round [with him] on a Central Park West merry-go-round” remains.
Garfield died young, at 39, the victim of an unwell heart (rheumatic fever as a young man compromised his health). The insupportable stress of being a celebrity at the same time a key target of the House Un-American Activities Committee witch hunt contributed to his death.
Conversing with the Academy’s Randy Haberkamp, Julie Garfield noted similarities between her father and his role in “Body and Soul”: “It’s so strange that he made this film.
He [too] didn’t sell out.”
Garfield plays a top-level boxer who after agreeing with his mob management to throw a fight, in the heat of the moment resists. Not two years later, John Garfield was called by HUAC, but refused to name names. Did life imitate art?
Said his daughter: “What’s important about “Body and Soul” is that it happened in my father’s own life. He was a kid from the [Bronx] streets. His family was poor. His mother died at seven and he didn’t get along with his father. He was a tough kid and he was wild. Only a school teacher channeled his wildness into debating, which led to acting. That led to the Group Theater. Then he got discovered by Hollywood.”
“The boxing genre was important for him. Clifford Odets wrote boxing drama “Golden Boy” for him, but he didn’t get to play the lead role on Broadway because Luther Adler had seniority in the Group. Later when he did play “Golden Boy,” they called it “Garfield’s revenge.””
“He fell in love with my mother at a very early age and it was a passionate love. It survived the insane test of what fame does to you. My parents had a volatile relationship and they were separated when he died. But I feel sure they would have eventually got back together again.”
“At the Amsterdam Avenue funeral home, 10,000 people wanted to pay their respects. My mother let them.”
“What I see in this film,” said Julie Garfield, “is a truly passionate, devoted artist. It’s the specificity of the choices he makes and his profoundly deep understanding of the character [that impresses me].
“HUAC hounded him. He was tormented by how abandoned he was by the business and how he couldn’t get work. When it came to the Black List, like Charlie Davis, he dies because of it.”
“My father wasn’t political. He was an idealist and he was anti-racist. My father had great, great integrity.”
Like this? Read more from the Academy’s Film Noir series:
Read this story on The Huffington Post.
Hello Julie…Your dad has been my favorite actor since I was a young boy. I am 60 now, and I seen The Fallen Sparrow when I was 7. His performance just mezmerised me then and I have changed one bit. I have all his movies on tape and DVD. I have collected books, and articles over the years. No telling where his career would have gone had he continued acting. I live near Buffalo NY, I have been to NYC, and to your dads grave. I never tire of his movies, and I only wish he would get some sort of rememberence award, or even his life story be depicted on screen. I hope to hear from you, I would love to talk to you about your gifted father, the one and only John Garfield.
We must not forget John Garfield and his contribution to The Golden Era.
So glad to see the Academy keeping the memory of John Garfield alive. It’s really great, Julie, that you got to describe to the people watching “Body and Soul” that night the connection between your father’s integrity as a person, in his own struggles against the blacklist, and the work he put into this film. Good for you.
Well put. Your dad was indeed an inspiration. Great idealism and courage to match it.
My new hero!