There’s a reason why John Garfield played such convincing tough guys in classic movies like Body and Soul and The Postman Always Rings Twice. “He grew up in the streets,” daughter Julie Garfield exclusively tells Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now, of John, who was born Jacob Julius Garfinkle in NYC in 1913. “He hung out in alleys, boxing and stealing food, and he actually was in gangs.”
He left his unhappy home to pursue a career as an actor in Hollywood, but he never forgot his working-class roots. When he bucked the studio system to produce his own films, he fought to hire underused African-American actors in major roles and for the rights of union members. “He was unusually kind and generous,” says Julie.
A heart ailment prevented him from serving in World War II. “That devastated him,” Julie says. But John supported the war effort by entertaining troops at the Hollywood Canteen, a nightclub for service members he co-founded with Bette Davis.
John brought an intensity to his roles as one of the first Method actors, influencing the likes of James Dean and Marlon Brando. “Daddy was so involved with the inner life of characters,” says Julie. “That’s what made him such a profoundly deep actor.”
The emotional turmoil he brought to the screen spilled into his real life when he was blacklisted during the McCarthy Era because his wife, Roberta, had briefly been a Communist. “He was under terrible stress,” says Julie, who was only 6 when John died of a heart attack at 39 in 1952. “He hadn’t worked for almost two years, and when you have something wrong with your heart and you’re not allowed to do the thing you love most, it can kill you.”
But John’s legacy lives on. “He should be remembered as the grandfather of acting and film,” declares Julie. “He was the one who started it all.”
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