John Garfield, HUAC, and He Ran All the Way (1951)

John Garfield

Shelley Winters Avoids Sequined Harem Pants and John Garfield Refuses to Rat on His Friends to HUAC. From 1951, it's He Ran All the Way.

Listen to my Classic Hollywood podcast, Vanguard of Hollywood , available everywhere you listen to podcasts! Episode 44 is all about John Garfield, HUAC, and He Ran All the Way (1951).

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1951’s He Ran All the Way was John Garfield’s last film.  Produced under his own production company, Julie rocked Hollywood just a few years earlier by turning down a lucrative long-term contract, and taking his chances as an independent actor and producer.

John Garfield and HUAC

Initially, he’d have great success, earning an Academy Award nomination for his company’s first film, Body and Soul (1947), and the praise of audiences and critics alike.  But John Garfield’s success was short-lived.  With accusations from the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that he was a communist sympathizer, Julie suddenly found himself unable to find work in Hollywood.  To “clear” his name of the red taint, Julie would have to testify before the committee.

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John Garfield testifies before HUAC, April 23, 1951.

But he’d do it his own way.  No matter what information HUAC expected from him, John Garfield refused to name names.  Loyal to the street traditions of his youth, Julie would not rat on his friends, no matter the consequences.

Let’s go through the plot of He Ran All the Way [aff. link], then we’ll discuss how Julie first came to the attention of HUAC, go behind the scenes of the film, and finally, cover his brave testimony before the committee and his tragic death at age 39.

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Things go wrong when Nick Robey (John Garfield) attempts a payroll robbery.

The Plot

Nick Robey (John Garfield) is a small time criminal who’s planned a payroll robbery with his partner.  On the day of the robbery, things go wrong, and Nick fatally shoots the payroll guard.  His partner is injured in the process, and Nick, the police hot on his trail, escapes with $10,000.

In attempts to blend in and lay low, Nick goes for a swim at a local pool, stuffing the $10,000 in a locker.  While trying to swim nonchalantly, Nick accidentally bumps into Peg Dobbs (Shelley Winters), an attractive, sweet, and nice girl who’s immediately taken with him.  Nick asks if he can walk Peg home after their swim, partly because he likes her, but mostly because walking with Peg will further divert police suspicions from him. 

There's an immediate attraction between Nick and Peg Dobbs (Shelley Winters) while he tries to lay low at a local swimming pool.

On the walk to Peg’s apartment building, Nick’s paranoia that the police are onto him grows with each cop car they pass.  Peg invites Nick up to her place, which she shares with her parents and younger brother.  She’s unaware that Nick is looking for a place to safely stash the $10,000 and hide out until it’s safe for him to leave town.

Once inside Peg’s apartment, Nick’s paranoia gets the better of him, and he takes the family hostage while he plans his escape.

Nick holds the Dobbs Family hostage.

An Interesting Criminal

Nick’s an interesting criminal.  It’s clear from the way he treats the Dobbs family that he’s actually not a bad guy.  But years of fending for himself and not having a friend or family member he can count on have made Nick seemingly incapable of understanding how to trust another human.  Nick doesn’t believe the Dobbs family when they tell him that if he leaves their home, they won’t tell the police about the hostage situation.

And Mr. and Mrs. Dobbs are anxious to get Nick out of their apartment, for it’s clear that though Peg now fears Nick, she’s still very attracted to him, and him to her.  Peg’s parents worry that she’ll do something crazy, and perhaps even leave with Nick when he finally escapes.

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Peg's parents are worried about the obvious attraction between their daughter and Nick...

Which is just what Peg plans to do.  She gains Nick’s trust, or at least as much as he’s capable of giving, and, as per Nick’s instructions, goes to buy a car with some of the stolen payroll funds.  They’ll use the car as their getaway vehicle.

But, as we should be able to predict, Nick can’t recognize a good thing when he’s got it: he doesn’t completely trust Peg when she returns to the apartment without the car, saying it will be delivered as soon a broken headlight is fixed.

John Garfield HUAC

Nick's Escape

Things turn violent, and Nick decides to escape then and there, using Peg as cover.  He pushes Peg outside the apartment, and down the stairs to the ground floor of the apartment building. 

But Mr Dobbs, who Nick allowed to go to work that day, is waiting outside the apartment building with a gun, ready to shoot Nick, if necessary, to protect his daughter.

A complication arrises for Nick when he realizes he’s dropped his gun.  And it’s landed within view of Mr. Dobbs’ position.  If Nick tries to retrieve the gun, Dobbs will shoot.  So Nick orders Peg to get the gun for him.

A Surprising Twist

Peg gets the gun, but, now finally awakened to Nick’s violent streak, she doesn’t immediately give it to him.  Nick lunges at her, and Peg fatally shoots him.

Nick stumbles outside of the apartment building, and crawls into the street just as the getaway car Peg purchased drives up.  He realizes that Peg told him the truth about the broken headlight.

Nick dies in the gutter strangely content: he may not have been able to trust Peg completely, but he dies knowing that, however briefly, somebody loved him.

And that’s the end of the film.

John Garfield HUAC
Nick dies in the street after realizing that Peg really did love him.

Leaving Warner Bros.

By 1945, John Garfield and Humphrey Bogart were arguably the only two big stars still under contract at Warner Bros.  

And when his contract with Warners expired in 1946, Julie opted not to re-sign with the studio.  Though he recognized the role Warner Bros. played in making him a star, too many years of lackluster film assignments solidified Julie’s decision to continue his career elsewhere. 

As John Garfield comically and succinctly put it in a Look magazine interview at the time,

“I wasn’t carrying a chip on my shoulder at Warners.  I appreciated the fact that they made me a star, but they didn’t pick me up from a filling station.”

Julie starred in a string of successful films in 1946, including Humoresque, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Nobody Lives Forever.  And for the first time in his career, John Garfield was among the top ten movie moneymakers of the year.

In other words, John Garfield was a valuable property.  Which put him in a pretty good position to negotiate his future in Hollywood.

Practically every major studio in town begged Julie to sign with them, from RKO to 20th Century Fox, to MGM.  But John Garfield turned them all down.  There was no role great enough, or salary high enough, that could tempt him to sign a long-term contract with any studio.

Julie would take a chance, and form his own production company.

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Bob Roberts Productions

It was a move practically unheard of.  At the time, not many films were made outside of the studio system.  Julie was aware of the gamble he took by going independent.  But he had to try.  As Garfield himself put it,

“A person must do the thing that makes him happy.  This freedom I’m attempting may fail.  I may take a terrific belly flop.  I may meet problems that I’m not able to solve.  But no matter what happens, I’ll have made the attempt.”

Julie formed his company with his manager/business partner, Bob Roberts.  The company would bear Roberts’ name, but Julie would be its financier and sole asset.

Bob Roberts Productions officially incorporated in February 1947.  Then, Julie and Roberts worked out a deal to produce films for Enterprise, a small, newly formed independent film studio.  And the agreement with Enterprise was pretty ideal, protecting Bob Roberts Productions against financial loss if the films they made lost money, while also ensuring that the company received a share in the gains if their films were profitable.  And on top of it all, the Enterprise deal gave Julie full script and salary approval for any film he starred in.

Julie with his wife Robbe.

Not a bad setup for the street kid from New York.

Bob Roberts is a controversial figure in the life of John Garfield.  Some say Roberts was a smooth talking hustler who somehow managed to gain Julie’s ear.  He’d certainly give Julie and his wife Robbe plenty of bad advice over the years….

Such as his persistent encouragement that the Garfields should never buy real estate in California, for surely those astronomical prices would only drop over the years.

Obviously, old Bob couldn’t have been more wrong on that one…

Body and Soul (1947)

A Promising New Beginning...At First

But Roberts understood Julie’s desire for better scripts and film roles, and he saw to it that those conditions were met in their partnership with Enterprise, apparent from the exceptional script he and Julie picked for their first venture with the company.  

Bob Roberts Productions’ first film with Enterprise, Body and Soul (1947), seemed immediate proof that John Garfield’s risky independent film venture was a success.  The boxing movie not only gave Julie a good script and the role of a lifetime, it was also a hit with critics and audiences alike, earning $5 million at the box office.  Julie himself earned an impressive half a million dollars on the film, the highest earnings of his entire career for a single project. 

Though the rigorous boxing training for the film led to what was probably Julie’s second mild heart attack, it seemed that Body and Soul was just the beginning of a new, wildly successful second phase of Julie’s film career.

But then the House Un-American Activities Committee decided that John Garfield was a communist sympathizer.

John Garfield HUAC

John Garfield and HUAC Suspicions

Basically from his arrival in Hollywood, Julie earned a spot on the radar of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).  HUAC Chairman Martin Dies deemed Julie a ‘commie’ because of his membership in two leagues, the American League for Peace and Democracy, and the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League.  

Both leagues sounded like they supported good causes, but they were actually just communist fronts.  The Hollywood Anti-Nazi League was even founded by a Soviet Spy, Otto Katz, with instructions from the motherland to convince Hollywood’s elite of the benignness of communism, and to present communism as an elite ideology only the intellectual could appreciate.  (Clearly, the Soviets knew a thing or two about how to appeal to egos in Hollywood…!)

The Hollywood Anti-Nazi League and the American League for Peace and Democracy were each run by communists, and both leagues did have communist members.

But that didn’t mean that all members of the two leagues were communists.  And John Garfield, a registered Democrat, was one of those league members who wasn’t a communist.  Unfortunately, this crucial distinction was a detail that the House Un-American Activities Committee found trivial…

John Garfield

Strawberries for Everyone

It further didn’t help Julie’s political reputation in Hollywood when he said things that were vague, but easy to construe as subversive.  Such as the time Julie randomly shouted on the set of his 1939 film, Daughter’s Courageous, that:

“Come the revolution, we’ll all be eating strawberries and cream!”

Statements such as this were enough to convince Julie’s co-stars that he was a communist.  Even as late as her 2004 autobiography, Maureen O’Hara would refer to Julie as

“My shortest leading man, an outspoken Communist, and a real sweetheart.”

At the request of friends he trusted, or his wife Robbe, who was a member of the Communist Party, John Garfield signed his name to an estimated 42 petitions and gave his name to as many as 32 organizations that were identified as communist fronts.  But John Garfield wasn’t, and never had been, a member of the Communist Party. 

John Garfield HUAC

John Garfield and HUAC Accusations

During the filming of Body and Soul in 1947, Julie’s excitement for the film was disrupted by the accusations of Senator Jack Tenney, who stated in one of HUAC’s first rounds of sessions that John Garfield was a “communist sympathizer.”  But Julie successfully countered the accusations with statements in the press affirming his Democratic Party membership:

“I voted for Roosevelt and I’ve always been for Roosevelt.  And I guess Senator Tenney doesn’t like that.  All I can say is that I’m a registered Democrat and vote the Democratic ticket all the time.”

His career—for the time—was safe.

In fact, John Garfield’s Hollywood career remained largely unaffected by the HUAC investigations until the publication of  Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television. Published on June 22, 1950, the pamphlet-style book accused 151 actors, writers, musicians, and journalists of being members of the Communist Party, or of having communist sympathies.

John Garfield was one of the names listed.  And it was a list the powerful Hollywood moguls took seriously.

John Garfield HUAC

John Garfield, HUAC, and He Ran All the Way

Suddenly, John Garfield could find no work in Hollywood.  Television appearances were cancelled, and film offers were revoked.  It didn’t take Julie long to figure out that if he ever wanted to work in Hollywood again, he had to find a way to get his name “cleared” of these communist sympathizer accusations.

And unfortunately, getting cleared was not as simple as it sounded.  Julie knew that, for the sake of his career, he’d probably have to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee as a friendly witness.  

But before he did, John Garfield somehow managed to make one last film under Bob Roberts Productions, underwriting the project himself.

The film was He Ran All the Way (1951).  Julie couldn’t have known it at the time, but He Ran All the Way would be the last film he’d ever make.

A Film on a Budget

Julie couldn’t afford to make He Ran All the Way a big budget production, so filming was done quickly and inexpensively in July and August of 1950.  But with a cast that included Shelley Winters, a quickly paced screenplay by Hugo Butler and the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, and the always gorgeous cinematography of James Wong Howe, He Ran All the Way does not have the look or feel of a small budget production.  In her second autobiography [aff. link], Shelley Winters even referred to He Ran All the Way as

“One of the most remarkable and important films I was ever to do.”

Despite the damage the Red Channels listing did to Julie’s career, he was unquestionably one of the era’s most talented actors.  And Shelley Winters was one actress who certainly recognized this.

When approached to play the female lead opposite Julie in He Ran All the Way, Shelley was under contract at Universal International.  So of course, there were complications in getting Universal to loan her out for the film.  As Shelley remembered,

“At first, Universal refused to let me do it.  They wanted me to do some cockamamie film called Little Egypt.  I did not want to do another forgettable film, and I was most anxious to work with John Garfield and the director, John Berry, but I did not want to risk suspension by flatly refusing Little Egypt.  I needed the money, so I hit upon what I thought was an ingenious plan of action.”

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh no.  Shelley Winters with an ingenious plan.  You know this is going to be good. 

And more than slightly hilarious.

Shelley's Ingenious Plan

Shelley realized that to get out of making  Little Egypt without a pay suspension, all she had to do was find a way to make Universal decide she was no longer a good choice for the film.  And there was one way Shelley knew would for sure accomplish this:  Little Egypt was to be a skimpy costume epic.  If Shelley couldn’t fit into the teeny tiny costumes Universal had in mind for the film, they’d re-cast the part, and Shelley would be free to work with Julie on He Ran All the Way.

So Shelley took her svelte self to the costume fittings for Little Egypt, which ultimately consisted of fourteen spangled bras with veiled sleeves, and sequined bottoms with veiled pantaloons.  Then, with the costumes sized to fit her slim frame, Shelley went home, and in her own words:

“I began eating as if it was going out of style.  In those days they did many costume tests for films, especially for Technicolor Baghdad nonsenses…I gained twelve pounds over one week and one weekend and then was very ready to test the wardrobe for this Universal epic.

When Messrs. Spitz and Goetz, who were the bosses at Universal, saw my wardrobe tests with my twelve pounds of fat, mostly around my bare midriff, and my belly button exposed and falling over the top of the sheer, sexy pantaloons, they screamed, ‘For God’s sake, let John Garfield have her!’”

Massive Props to Shelley Winters

So it was a win-win for the ingenious Shelley Winters: not only did Shelley get to do He Ran All the Way with Julie, she also avoided a suspension at her home studio.

And in case you were wondering, Shelley’s tricks to quickly lose those twelve pounds before filming started included fasting, drinking only water, and practically living in the Beverly Hills Health Club steam room.  

Sounds absolutely terrible, I don’t envy Shelley any of it!

A Generous Co-Star

In her autobiography, Shelley recalled a few instances during the filming of He Ran All the Way where Julie exhibited some “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” outbursts.

But given that Julie had suffered yet another heart attack shortly before filming, and was dealing with the stressors of producing the film himself amidst the HUAC and Red Channels accusations, any on set outbursts sound pretty understandable to me.

Overall, Shelley remembered the filming of He Ran All the Way with fondness.  She described John Garfield as a man with:

“a wonderful voice and acting intelligence and a sexy sweetness that made women all over the world adore him…He was generous to me in every way a big star can be to a newcomer.  He gave me the best camera angles in two-shots, made sure the camera favored me and the audience saw both of my eyes.  He spent hours on my close-ups, and if he didn’t like the rushes and felt I could look prettier, he insisted that the director relight the scene and reshoot it.”

What a gentleman!

Less Enchanting Memories

Unfortunately, the director of the film, John Berry, recalls that he and Julie weren’t quite as enchanted with Shelley as she was with them.  According to Berry,

“She [Shelley] would drive Julie nuts.  She always took so long to get ready.  When the other actors were at their pitch, ready to go, she’d f — — — — up the scene.  I don’t know if she did it deliberately or not, but she’d do it until her screen partner would wear out.”

Cheap trick Shelley, cheap trick.

Berry and Shelley also had vastly different recollections on how filming of the climatic final scene played out.  Shelley, perhaps not surprisingly, recalled being the cast hero on the day the final scene—when Nick pushes Peg down the stairs only to be shot by her—was filmed.

John Garfield HUAC

Shelley Says She Saves the Day!

According to Shelley, Julie wanted to change the ending so that it was the police, rather than Shelley’s character, that shoot him with the fatal bullet.  After lots of arguing between Shelley, Julie, and director John Berry, cinematographer James Wong Howe stepped in to remind them all that soon the lighting they needed for the scene would be gone, and another day of filming would be required, a taxing addition to the tight budget.

So, as Shelley remembered, she bravely saved the day and just went for it:

“And so, in a long shot, I decided it was now or never: I grabbed the make-believe gun and shot John Garfield with a make-believe bullet.”

John Garfield HUAC

Another Side of the Story

But according to John Berry, Shelley’s budget-saving fast thinking was just a tall tale.  As Berry tells it, Shelley was the one, not Julie, who wanted to change the ending of the film.  And the change she wanted was drastic, with her character stabbing Julie’s character on the couch after an unwanted sexual advance.  Berry and Julie flatly refused this new ending for several reasons, mostly because this was a John Garfield film, not the Shelley Winters show.  As Berry recalled, 

“I said to her, ‘This is Julie’s picture.  If you stab him on the couch it shifts the emphasis of the movie—he just becomes a rapist.’  So we all got together—her agents, Roberts, Julie and me—and argued about it…But Winters refused to do the final scene on the street until I threatened to use an extra and put a wig on her.  I would have done it, too.”

Quite a threat.  But apparently an effective one, for it is Shelley in the final scene, and she and Julie are both superb in it.

So, whose version of how that final scene played out is accurate?  Well, I tend to believe John Berry.  But one thing’s for sure, whenever Shelley Winters is involved, any story gets a whole lot more fun, and a whole lot more interesting.

John Garfield HUAC

John Garfield and HUAC. Again.

United Artists agreed to distribute He Ran All the Way, but the release of the film was pushed back until June of 1951.  The reason?  United Artists wanted to see how things panned out with John Garfield and the House Un-American Activities Committee, before they potentially lost money on a film that starred an actor who couldn’t get “cleared.”

And in February 1951, Julie received his subpoena to appear before HUAC.

At the advice of his counsel, Julie issued a general statement after receiving his subpoena, affirming his desire to cooperate:

“I have always hated Communism.  It is a tyranny which threatens our country and the peace of the world.  Of course then, I have never been a member of the Communist Party or a sympathizer with any of its doctrines.  I will be pleased to cooperate with the Committee.”

John Garfield HUAC

John Garfield and HUAC: Consequences of Cooperation

Some of Julie’s friends shunned him for agreeing to appear before HUAC.  In fact, Julie’s largest critic for his decision was probably his own wife.  In the eyes of Robbe Garfield, no consequence, no matter how terrible, rationalized cooperation with HUAC, even if it meant the end of Julie’s film career.

As Julie’s youngest daughter, named Julie after her father, put it,

“Robbe didn’t understand what it was like to love something—like acting—and then lose it.”

But John Garfield did.  And if testifying before HUAC was necessary to get his name “cleared” for work in Hollywood, he’d do it.

But he’d do it in his own way.  And that meant Julie would not give the committee any names, information they’d come to expect from all those who testified.  Most importantly, it meant the Communist Party membership of his wife Robbe could not be a topic of discussion in the hearing.  Julie only agreed to testify after working out an understanding with HUAC that he would not be asked about Robbe.

John Garfield HUAC
John Garfield testifies before HUAC, April 23, 1951.

The John Garfield HUAC Hearing

When John Garfield appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee on April 23, 1951, he gave what was arguably the most unique and gutsy testimony of any Hollywood figure.  Under the guise of friendly cooperation, Julie proceeded to give HUAC absolutely no information about his colleagues that the committee was looking for dirt on.  Julie used ambivalent phrases, such as he “could not remember those particular names” when HUAC inquired about specific individuals.  He defended himself against accusations of communist sympathies, and stood by his patriotism and voting record.  As Julie told the committee:

“I have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide.  My life is an open book, I was glad to appear before you and talk with you.  I am no Red, I am no ‘pink,’ I am no fellow-traveler.  I am a Democrat by politics, a liberal by inclination, and a loyal citizen of this county by every act of my life.”

Admirably, throughout his three hour long testimony, John Garfield stood by his convictions, and didn’t name names.  Adhering to the street code of his youth, Julie was not a guy who ratted on his friends.

John Garfield

Mixed Results

During the hearing, Representative Moulder expressed his belief that he thought Julie was innocent:

“I feel morally inclined to express my opinion that nothing has been presented by the Committee which associates you with the Communist Party.”

But Representative Jackson felt otherwise:

“I am afraid I am not entirely convinced of the entire accuracy and entire cooperation you are giving this committee.”

But when the hearing was over, Julie was confident that overall, things had gone well.  These feelings were confirmed when members of the House Un-American Activities Committee, the same men who had just grilled him, came over to ask Julie for autographs, and argue over who would take him out to lunch that afternoon.

John Garfield HUAC

He Ran All the Way director John Berry, who was present for Julie’s testimony, thought that he nailed it:

“I thought he was terrific.  He was being loyal to his street traditions—you don’t give names.  It’s a tradition that should exist in all human morality.”

But in the coming days, things took a turn for the worse when Representative Kearney issued a statement, saying that the committee “definitely disbelieves the greater portion of the testimony of Garfield.”  It was leaked to the press that HUAC had sent Julie’s testimony to the FBI for fact checking.

With that, it was clear to Julie he wouldn’t find work in Hollywood anytime soon.

John Garfield HUAC

John Garfield and HUAC: "They're Just After Me"

Film and television offers continued to be denied John Garfield, or magically fell through at the last minute.

“Well, they’re just after me, aren’t they?”

Julie said after a commercial he was scheduled to film with the Red Cross was suddenly cancelled.

Luckily, Julie was able to find stage work.  In March of 1952, he opened on Broadway in Golden Boy, finally fulfilling his longtime dream of playing Joe Bonaparte, the role good friend Clifford Odets wrote expressly for Julie during his early years with the Group Theater.

But it was small consolation for the havoc the House Un-American Activities Committee wreaked on Julie’s life.  The disagreement between Robbe and Julie over his decision to testify proved too much for the Garfield marriage.  Robbe and Julie separated in January of 1952.  Julie would spend the last five months of his life living alone at the Warwick hotel in New York, longing for his family.

Julie also discovered at this time that the FBI was tailing him, and, he feared, tapping his phone calls. 

John Garfield HUAC

John Garfield and HUAC: Final Attempts to Get "Cleared"

It was then that Julie attempted two last ditch efforts he hoped would officially clear him of the HUAC accusations.

First, he began writing an anti-communist article, to be published in Look magazine.  Julie’s counsel advised him to stress in the article that he’d been “duped’ into contributing his time and money to communist fronts.  (A similar tactic was used by Edward G. Robinson to restore his reputation after HUAC accusations.)  Julie hoped the article would go a long way in winning him support from the press, although, ever loyal and consistent, Julie insisted he would not name names in the article. 

And second, Julie set up a meeting with the FBI.

John and Robbe Garfield.

On May 10, 1952, just under two weeks before his death, Julie met with the FBI at the agency’s New York office.  He cut right to the chase, and expressed his inability to find consistent work since the HUAC accusations.

Here’s where things get interesting.

According to Julie’s counsel, Arnold Forster, who also attended the meeting, the FBI then presented Julie with an entire portfolio on his wife Robbe, which included cancelled checks to Communist Party functions, and Robbe’s expired Communist Party membership card.

All Julie had to do, the FBI agent told him, was sign a statement saying Robbe was a Communist, and they’d officially clear him.

But if John Garfield refused to name names of his friends to HUAC, you can be sure he wasn’t going to now throw his wife under the bus, even if they were currently separated.  According to Forster, Julie uttered an angry

“F — — —  you,”

And left the office.

John Garfield HUAC

Julie's Last Days

Still unable to find work, and still separated from his family, Julie spent many of his last days with a woman named Iris Whitney.  Though the exact nature of their relationship remains unclear, the two became close in the final months of Julie’s life.  And it was in Iris Whitney’s bed, not that of a strange, random woman he picked up—an ugly rumor that still persists today—that John Garfield died.

Julie’s last days were almost devoid of sleep.  He spent most of his time perfecting the article for Look magazine that he desperately hoped would clear him for work in Hollywood.

On the evening of May 20, 1952, Julie took Iris Whitney out to dinner.  Whitney recalled that they had a pleasant evening before walking back to her Gramercy Park apartment.  Stopping to enjoy the park for a moment, Julie suddenly complained that he didn’t feel so good.  Whitney offered to call the doctor, but Julie said he’d be fine if he could just lie down for awhile.

John Garfield

Whitney took him up to her apartment, where Julie lied down on her bed to rest, and soon fell asleep.  Iris Whitney slept on the sofa that night, but, worried about Julie, checked in on him every few hours.  She remembered bringing him a glass of orange juice on the morning of May 21, and shortly thereafter, discovered that Julie was no longer breathing.

Sometime between the hours of 5 am-8 am on May 21, 1952, John Garfield died of a heart attack.

John Garfield and HUAC: They Had Nothing

Despite the HUAC accusations and the 1,000 page file the FBI compiled on him over the years, neither group had any concrete evidence that John Garfield was a communist.  Indeed, an FBI memo dated June 18, 1951, just under one year before Julie’s death, states that:

“Available informants of the Los Angeles Office and past investigation locally…have not definitely shown actual Communist Party membership on the part of John Garfield.” 

In other words, they had nothing.  Yet that information wasn’t make public, and Julie continued to suffer from the red taint until his death.  So in a sense, John Garfield died a cleared man.  If only he could have known, and been alive to appreciate it.

A Man of Integrity

Not since the death of Rudolph Valentino in 1926 had there been such a funeral in New York City.  500 people came to pay their respects to Julie at a small funeral home on 76th street before Robbe Garfield closed the doors to the public.  But she’d re-open them at the request of the police when the legions of fans waiting outside the funeral home grew to such a size that traffic came to a standstill.  Over 7,000 fans said goodbye to John Garfield that day. 

I think the eloquent words of Julie Garfield underscore the tragedy of her father’s passing best.  In Julie’s words:

“For me the past isn’t so ugly so much as it’s sad: sad to have been robbed of my father, the charismatic movie star, at the age of seven, sad that I’d never had the opportunity to work with him or talk to him about our mutual passion, the craft of acting; sad that my father, who’d given so much of his time and energy to his country’s war effort, had been so badly brought down by the Blacklist that he became virtually unemployable, sad that my father died of a massive heart attack at the ripe old age of thirty-nine.  Doctors have explanations for what causes death, but in my family we knew that it wasn’t precisely a heart attack that killed my father—it was more like an attack on his heart, by his own country and by his close friends, including those he had most revered.”

…I’ve kept him as a God because I need to, but in his integrity—in his refusal to name names—was he not godlike?”

John Garfield: A Rebel with a Cause

John Garfield wasn’t just the first onscreen rebel: he was a rebel with a cause, both onscreen and off.  Fans of Julie’s during his lifetime, and those of us that remain enamored of his great talent and charisma, can sense this.  

In many ways, at the time of his passing, John Garfield’s film career was just beginning.  As Clifford Odets aptly put it in his touching eulogy to his friend in the New York Times, at 39, Julie was “just beginning to reveal himself as an actor of wider range, new sensitivity and maturity.”

I can’t help but wonder what other classic films and performances John Garfield would have created had his life and career not been cut tragically short.  Would the Garfield name be more familiar today, on par with the likes of Marlon Brando, and other movie rebels who lived to reach their potential on screen?

It’s an interesting question.  I personally think the answer is yes.

But regardless, John Garfield was a vanguard of Hollywood.  And as long as there are classic film fans, the Garfield legacy won’t be forgotten.

John Garfield

A Beautiful Month with Julie

And that wraps up my spotlight on John Garfield.

Don’t forget to come back next week as I begin a new star spotlight on an actress who’s surprisingly underrepresented on my podcast and website, even though she’s been one of my favorites from the start of my Classic Hollywood obsession.  

Be sure to join me for my star spotlight on the inspiring, feisty, and intensely original, Katharine Hepburn. 

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