Biography, 4

When Garfield's contract at Warner Bros expired in 1946 he opted to go it alone. Not many stars ventured out of the safe, if artistically confining, studio system but Garfield formed his own production company, Enterprise, saying, "I've saved every penny I made and now I'm going to do the pictures I want to do."

The first project he chose turned out to be one of his very best films - "Body and Soul." Garfield's performance garnered him his second Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and his fledgling independent company was off to a promising start.


with daughter Julie in 1951

But clouds were forming over Hollywood in the late 1940s - a paranoia in Washington DC would spread, becoming the scourge called the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. A veritable witch-hunt would ensue over the coming years, plucking victims from the actors, actresses, writers and directors in the movie industry and stomping on their careers, their very lives.

The premise was that the film industry, which had such tremendous influence over audiences, was somehow infiltrated with dangerous Communists who were out to destroy the American way of life.

Artists' pasts were dug up and examined down to the minutest details - and anyone who had even a slight glimmer of leftist leanings was raked over the coals. The damage done by this insanity left wounds still raw today.

One of the HUAC's most destructive ploys was to bring to the stand so-called "friendly" witnesses - in other words, anyone who would point the finger at a colleague. No matter that a charge of being a Communist could not be substantiated - once singled out a person was as good as finished in the movie business.

That Garfield would come under the microscope was inevitable, given the extremity of the HUAC's criteria.
His association with the Theater Group a decade earlier was enough - any such unique group was viewed as a 'commune', a hotbed of liberals who had dared to be different, and therefore were 'suspicious.'

Garfield was never officially charged with Communist sympathies - it was his refusal to name names that would bring disaster upon him. Perhaps harking back to his boyhood street-gang days, he stubbornly refused to 'rat on a pal' - and it would be his downfall. Operating under the premise that if you weren't for them you were against them, the HUAC succeeded in making John Garfield too hot to handle.

Opportunities for work dropped off, doors were (figuratively and in some cases, not so figuratively) slammed in his face, former 'friends' avoided him. Such was the power of the Blacklist that any contact with one under suspicion was certain vocational death. Members of the film industry were running scared, and the majority didn't care who got trampled, as long as they themselves remained unscathed.

Hemmed in on all sides by vague accusations he knew not how to fight, Garfield spent his last days futilely going over past letters, old tax forms, anything that could disprove that he had ever been any harm to the country he loved. His fierce loyalty to his friends and his beliefs never wavered, but he succumbed to a great anger, born of confusion and fear. He became estranged from his family, disappeared for days on end, began drinking heavily and would go without sleep for long periods of time.

On May 21, 1952 he was found dead in the apartment of a former showgirl, the victim of a heart attack at age 39.

Garfield's funeral in New York was mobbed by 10,000 distraught fans, a sight not seen since the death of silent screen idol Rudolph Valentino over two decades before. Garfield was buried at Westchester Hills Cemetery, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
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Garfield's son David would become an actor and film editor. He died of a drug overdose in 1995.            Daughter Julie Garfield is an actress and acting teacher.  

Robbie Seidman Garfield Cohn (she remarried in 1954) returned to live in New York. She was later a victim of Alzheimer's and Parkinsons, and died on
January 20, 2004.    "She was devoted to my father," says Julie Garfield, "very in love with him until the end, even when she remarried - that was true. She is buried next to him now."

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