It is with great honor and joy that KE.M.E.S. presents an interview that Julie Garfield – daughter of legendary Hollywood star, John Garfield – gave to our contributor, Despina Veneti.
Introduction / Interview: Despina Veneti
He was born in 1913 as Jacob Julius Garfinkle, in a family of dirt poor Russian Jewish immigrants.
He managed to stay away from the mean streets and gangs of New York, channeling his anger to boxing and his sensitivity to acting.
His first on-screen appearance – an explosive mixture of toughness, sexuality and vulnerability – spoke directly to the viewers’ hearts.
He was the first (on and off screen) Hollywood rebel.
He became a symbol for the non-privileged, super-star and public hero simultaneously.
He fought for better parts and films that would reflect the social reality, but also for a chance to work with colored and Hispanic actors, as well as with people who were blacklisted.
He founded his own production company, to be able to make the films he dreamed of.
As actor and producer, he put his seal on some of the best and socially conscious film noir of the decade 1941-1951, highlighting subjects such as the unfair distribution of wealth, the ruthless face of capitalism and the in corruption of the system.
After failing to join the armed forces, due to his fragile health, he and Bette Davis co-founded the Hollywood Canteen, where he offered his services throughout World War II.
He never betrayed his childhood honor, denying to name friends and acquaintances to the notorious H.U.A.C. (House Committee on Un-American Activities).
He was the biggest star who was hunted as «communist» during the McCarthyists’ witch hunt; as a result, the major studios practically closed down their doors for him.
His heart didn’t bear that bitterness and injustice, and one May morning of 1952 he never woke. He was only 39 years old.
His funeral was mobbed by thousands of fans, in the largest funeral attendance for an actor since Rudolph Valentino.
Just as in the years after the Great Depression and WW II, in the hard days we’re living nowadays, the moral combat and the existential agony that are authentically captured on his face, as well as his figure as hunted, betrayed or romantic rebel, are as relevant and up-to-date as ever.
His friends called him «Julie».
His beloved daughter, Julie, talked to us about her father, the great John Garfield.
Q: Mrs Garfield, Hume Cronin described your father’s cinematic presence with the simple, yet beautiful phrase: «Tough guy with a lovely smile». To you, what is the essence of John Garfield in one phrase?
Q: What is that new, unique element that John Garfield brought to American films?
A: He forever altered the image of the leading man in film. He projected a working class man, a man of the people, tough, yet vulnerable and Ethnic, as a opposed to a W.A.S.P. (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant).
Q: You lost your father when you were only 6 1/2 years old, when was it that you fully realized who John Garfield truly was and what he had offered?
A: I knew it all my life.
Q: What is your favorite John Garfield film(s) and/or role(s)?
A: «Body And Soul». It moves me every time.
Q: Do you think there were other film stars after your father, who managed to actually give voice to the people, especially with the honesty and consistency he did?
A: Yes, I think there were many.
Q: What is your most vivid memory of your father’s?
A: Seeing him in «Golden Boy» On Broadway in 1952. The lead part was written by Clifford Odets for my father, but it was finally given to somebody else when the play first opened, in 1937. It was a life’s dream for him to finally play Joe on stage and I am happy he got to fulfill it.
Q: What do you remember about those dark days of the H.U.A.C. witch hunts in the U.S.?
A: I remember having our phones tapped, feelings of fear and stress in my family. My father and mother fighting, then separating and then, I never felt I got to see him enough after that.
Q: Jules Dassin, another victim of the witch hunt hysteria, till the end of his long life never got over the bitterness and pain caused by former friends/colleagues who named names, especially Elia Kazan. In 1999, when Kazan was chosen to receive a honorary Oscar, he placed an add in U.S. press saying (among other things): «There is no way for the films of Kazan to be amputated from the rest of him». Have you personally forgiven some/any of those people who ended up naming others as «communists», ruining these people’s career and lives, so that they themselves could continue working or maybe simply out of fear? Do you believe that great artistic talent can «erase» a person’s condemnable ethical choices? Can you appreciate and enjoy works of art by people you cannot respect on a personal level?
A: Yes, I can enjoy the works of Kazan. Unfortunately, great talent doesn’t necessarily come with integrity.
Q: How has your father’s moral paradigm, his attitude towards art and life affected you and your choices?
A: Made me a loyal and honest friend.
Q: In Greece, as you probably know, the times are extremely hard, almost desperate. What’s your opinion about the socio-economical developments of the last decade worldwide and the dramatic deterioration of the standards of living, which has reached even the U.S.?
A: I think that the one percent is destroying the rest of us. They have so much power now, they may destroy the planet also. Very sad.
Q: Do you think that the economical and social crisis of our time already has or will eventually have a reflection to American mainstream film production, in a systematic way like the film noir in the 40s and early 50s?
A: Maybe, we’ll see… If I may make a general political comment, if Obama wins, there will be hope for everything. If he doesn’t, heaven help us.
Q: What are your personal preferences in cinema (directors, actors, films you love)?
Α: That would be a very long list!
My favorites among my father’s films are: «Body and Soul», «The Postman Always Rings Twice» and «The Breaking Point».
Some of my all-time favorite films are:
«The Great Dictator» and «Modern Times»
«The Red Shoes»
«La Belle et La Bête»
«The Conversation» and «Godfather 1&2»
«Jules et Jim» and «The 400 Blows»
«Close Encounters of the Third Kind»
«Never On Sunday»
«The Bicycle Thief»
«Les Enfants du Paradis»
«Goodfellas» and «Taxi Driver»
«My left Foot»
I also love Federico Fellini’s cinema, especially: «8 1/2», «La Dolce Vita», «La Strada» and «Nights of Cabiria», as well as all the films of Ingmar Bergman.
I loved the recent «Τhe Artist» and I am sure there are many more films I can’t remember right now. I Love Movies!
Q: Finally, what are your personal plans and dreams for the future?
A: To paint until I die…
Julie Garfield, the daughter of John and Roberta Garfield, was born in Los Angeles. After loosing her father at a very young age, art was her lifelong passion. She studied in New York, including the legendary Actors Studio. Initially and for many years, she worked successfully as an actress on and off Broadway, sporadically working in cinema, too (one of her most known parts is De Niro’s wife in Scorsese’s «Goodfellas»). In 1984 – and while still being an active actress – she started teaching acting, passing on the knowledge and experience she accumulated from such great teachers, as Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler and Robert Lewis. In the last years, she worked as an acting teacher, with great success. In 2002 she helped creating and narrated the documentary «The John Garfield Story» (you can find it as «extra feature» in the official DVD of the film «The Postman Always Rings Twice». Just recently, she decided to dedicate all her time to herself and her family, as well as to painting…