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

John Garfield
John Garfield Refuses to Rat on His Friends to HUAC and Dies Tragically Young at Age 39. From 1951, it's He Ran All the Way.
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He Ran All the Way (1951) was John Garfield’s last film. 

Just a few years earlier, Julie rocked Hollywood by turning down a lucrative long-term contract to take his chances as an independent actor and producer.

He Ran All the Way

John Garfield and HUAC

Initially, Julie’s daring was rewarded.  For his company’s first film, Body and Soul (1947), Julie earned an Academy Award nomination and the praise of audiences and critics alike. 

But his success was short-lived. 

In the brief time between Body and Soul and He Ran All the Way, John Garfield became unemployable in Hollywood.  Accusations from the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that he was a communist sympathizer tainted Julie’s name.

To “clear” himself of the red taint, Julie would have to testify before the committee.

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

But he’d do it his own way. 

No matter what information HUAC expected, 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 behind the scenes of the film to Julie’s gallant fight against HUAC, and his tragic death at age 39.

John Garfield HUAC
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.  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. 

He Ran All the Way
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.  He takes the family hostage while he plans his escape.

He Ran All the Way
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, without a friend or family member to count on, have made Nick seemingly incapable of trusting 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.

Mr. and Mrs. Dobbs are particularly 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.

John Garfield HUAC
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 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.

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John Garfield HUAC

Nick's Escape

Things turn violent.  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 that he dropped his gun.  And that it 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.

He Ran All the Way

A Surprising Twist

Peg gets the gun.  But now that she’s experienced 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.  He 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 didn’t allow himself 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.  

When his contract with Warners expired in 1946, Julie opted not to re-sign with the studio.  He recognized the role Warner Bros. played in making him a star.  But 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.  For the first time in his career, John Garfield found himself 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 decided to take a risk, and follow his dream.  He formed his own production company.

John Garfield HUAC

Bob Roberts Productions

The move was 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.  Next, Julie and Roberts worked out a deal to produce films for Enterprise, a small, newly formed independent film studio.

The agreement with Enterprise was ideal.  It protected Bob Roberts Productions against financial loss if the films they made lost money, but it also ensured that the company received a share in the gains if their films were profitable.  Perhaps best of all, the Enterprise deal gave Julie full script and salary approval for any film he starred in.

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

Robbe Garfield
Julie with his wife Robbe.

Bob Roberts: A Controversial Figure

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 certainly gave Julie and his wife Robbe plenty of bad advice over the years.

Such as his consistent counsel that the Garfields should never buy real estate in California.  (Surely those astronomical prices would only drop over the years.)

But Roberts understood Julie’s desire for better scripts and film roles.  He saw to it that these conditions were met in their partnership with Enterprise. 

Based on the exceptional script Roberts and Julie picked for their first film venture with Enterprise, it appeared that Bob Roberts Productions was on the fast track to success.

Body and Soul 1947
Body and Soul (1947)

A Promising Start

Bob Roberts Productions’ first film with Enterprise was 1947’s Body and Soul.  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

The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) had its eye on John Garfield from his earliest days in Hollywood. 

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 appeared to support good causes.  But they were actually communist fronts. 

The Hollywood Anti-Nazi League was founded by Soviet Spy, Otto Katz.  Katz had been instructed by the motherland to use the league to convince Hollywood’s most powerful and influential players that communism was an exclusive, elite political ideology that only the intellectual could appreciate. 

Clearly, the Soviets knew a thing or two about appealing to egos in Hollywood.

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

But not all members of the two leagues were communists. 

One member of both leagues who wasn’t a communist was John Garfield.  Julie was a registered Democrat.  Unfortunately, the House Un-American Activities Committee found this crucial distinction trivial.

John Garfield

Strawberries for Everyone

It 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 referred 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 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.

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.

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

John Garfield HUAC

John Garfield, HUAC, and He Ran All the Way

Suddenly, John Garfield could not find work in Hollywood.  Television appearances were cancelled and film offers were revoked.  Julie soon realized that if he ever wanted to work in Hollywood again, he’d have to find a way to get his name “cleared” of these communist sympathizer accusations.

Unfortunately, getting cleared wasn’t as simple as it sounded.  Julie knew that 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 another film under Bob Roberts Productions.  He underwrote the project himself.

The film was He Ran All the Way (1951).  Julie couldn’t have known that He Ran All the Way  would be his last film.

He Ran All the Way

A Film on a Budget

Julie couldn’t afford to make He Ran All the Way a big budget production.  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 beautiful cinematography of James Wong Howe, He Ran All the Way  doesn’t look or feel like 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 one of the era’s most talented actors.  Shelley Winters was an actress who recognized this.

Shelley Winters

Shelley was still under contract to Universal International when she was approached to play the female lead opposite Julie in He Ran All the Way.  This meant there’d be negotiations before Universal would agree to loan Shelley out for the film.  As Shelley remembered, the negotiations got complicated:

“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.”

Shelley Winters with an ingenious plan.  You know this is going to be good. 

And more than slightly hilarious.

He Ran All the Way

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 right for the film. 

There was one way Shelley knew she could accomplish this:  Little Egypt  was to be a skimpy costume epic.  If Shelley couldn’t fit into the costumes Universal had in mind for the film, they’d re-cast the part.  Shelley would then 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, where she was sized for fourteen spangled bras with veiled sleeves, and sequined bottoms with veiled pantaloons.  With the costumes set to fit her slim frame, Shelley then 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!’”

He Ran All the Way

A Win-Win for 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.

In case you were curious, 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.

He Ran All the Way

A Generous Co-Star

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

But any outbursts on set seem understandable, considering that Julie suffered yet another heart attack shortly before filming began, and was dealing with the stressors of producing the film himself amidst the HUAC and Red Channels accusations.

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.”

He Ran All the Way

Less Enchanting Memories

But the director of the film, John Berry, recalled that he and Julie weren’t quite as enchanted with Shelley Winters 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.”

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

The Final Scene According to Shelley

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 is just a tall tale. 

As Berry tells it, Shelley was the one, not Julie, who wanted to change the ending of the film.  The change she wanted was drastic, with Peg stabbing Nick 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.”

Berry’s threat was effective.  Shelley and Julie did the scene together as originally planned.

Ultimately, Berry’s version of the final scene debacle appears more accurate than Shelley’s.  But there’s no denying that 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: 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.”

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.  Julie’s largest critic was probably his own wife.  In the eyes of Robbe Garfield, no consequence—not even the end of her husband’s film career—legitimized cooperating with HUAC.

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. 

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.  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 Hollywood colleagues. If HUAC was looking for dirt on these people, they certainly weren’t going to get it from John Garfield.  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.”

Throughout his three hour long testimony, John Garfield stood by his convictions.  He 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.”

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.

Representative Kearney issued a statement 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 revelation, it was clear to Julie that 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.  The job offers he did receive routinely 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.

But 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.

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.

At this time, Julie also discovered 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 to clear his name.

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.)  Though Julie stressed he would not name names in the article, he hoped that writing it would go a long way in winning him the support of the press.

Second, Julie set up a meeting with the FBI.

John Garfield and wife Robbe
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 to HUAC, he surely wasn’t going to betray his wife to the FBI. 

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. 

The exact nature of their relationship remains unclear, but the two became close in the final months of Julie’s life.  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 final 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 a 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.  He 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.  Shortly thereafter, Iris 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. 

It’s chilling to speculate how much longer John Garfield would have lived had this information been made public.  Julie died a cleared man.  He just didn’t know it.  Neither did Hollywood.

John Garfield

The Words of His Daughter

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.  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. 

The eloquent words of Julie Garfield underscore the tragedy of her father’s passing best:

“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

John Garfield: Hollywood's First Rebel

At the time of his passing, John Garfield’s film career was beginning an impressive second chapter.  As Clifford Odets aptly put it in his touching eulogy to his friend in the New York Times, at age 39, Julie was:

“just beginning to reveal himself as an actor of wider range, new sensitivity and maturity.”

Surely the Garfield name would be more recognized today had Julie lived long enough to showcase this evolution in more films.

The end of Julie’s exuberant life and admirable career is one of the great tragedies of the Golden Age.  But John Garfield will always be Hollywood’s first rebel.

John Garfield

A Beautiful Month with John Garfield

That wraps up my series on John Garfield.

Read the rest of the articles in my John Garfield series below:

John Garfield: Hollywood’s First Rebel

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

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