Movie Stars: Garfield, John–Communism, Tragic Death

John Garfield’s Last Year

On May 9, 1952 Garfield moved out of his New York apartment. He told columnist Earl Wilson that he would soon be divorced. Close friends speculated that it was his wife’s opposition to his plotted confession in Look magazine that triggered the separation.

He heard that a HUAC investigator was reviewing his testimony for possible perjury charges. His agent reported that 20th Century-Fox wanted him for a film called Taxi but would not begin talks unless the investigation concluded in his favor.

Three actor friends, Canada Lee, Mady Christians and J. Edward Bromberg, had all recently died after being listed by the committee.

On May 20 Garfield, against his doctor’s orders, played tennis with a friend. He then met actress Iris Whitney for dinner and afterward became suddenly ill. She brought him to her apartment where he refused to let her call a doctor and instead went to bed.

The next morning she found him dead.

Long-term heart problems, aggravated by the stress of his blacklisting, had led to his death at the age of 39. The funeral was the largest in New York since Rudolph Valentino. Shortly afterward, ironically, the HUAC closed its investigation of John Garfield.

Though his wife, Roberta Seidman, whom he married in February 1935, had been a member of the Communist Party, there was no evidence that Garfield himself was ever a Communist.