Friday, March 3, 2017

John Garfield Blogathon

I am happy to be participating in Phyllis Loves Classic Movies' John Garfield Blogathon since John and Franchot were good friends with similar career interests. Garfield has been a favorite of mine ever since he stole my fourteen-year-old heart when I first watched Four Daughters.

The Group Theatre

Franchot and John both got their start on the New York stage and honed their skills in the Group Theatre. Franchot was one of the Group's original members when Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford, and Lee Strasberg formed the Group Theatre with the hope of presenting plays that featured believable characters who spread important real-world messages through their thought-provoking scripts. Franchot actually starred in the group's very first production The House of Connelly in 1931 and the plays that followed that year and in 1932. Franchot used his own money to finance much of the group's work and was a firm believer in its essentiality to modern theater. In fact, when Franchot first pursued a film career in Hollywood in 1933, his main intent was to earn a lot of money quickly and eventually return to the Group with the additional funds. But he immediately fell in love with Joan and—despite sporadic statements that he may permanently return to a solely theatrical career—Franchot never fully abandoned Hollywood.

John joined the Group after Franchot physically left it (I say this because Franchot always morally and financially supported the Theatre.) John was a student of method acting at the American Laboratory Theatre, which included Group Theatre founders Strasberg, Crawford, and Clurman. John gained critical success in Lost Boy in 1932. After an apprenticeship, John was accepted as a member of the newly named "The Group," but, like Franchot, was drawn to Hollywood. Unlike Franchot, John's first film Four Daughters garnered him immediate acclaim and an Oscar nomination. Despite his obvious talent, John, like Franchot, was soon relegated to quickly churned out, pleasant films. But John fought back against the studios much harder than Franchot ever did. While Franchot was never able to recapture the early critical success of his mid-1930's work, John's lasting success came in the 40's with films like Destination Tokyo, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Humoresque, and Gentlemen's Agreement. I went through a period where I watched every single one of Garfield's films, and I cannot think of one performance that did not impress me.

In spite of their success, some Group members made both John and Franchot feel guilty for leaving to pursue opportunities in Hollywood. In later interviews, some group members shared that they felt that Hollywood had put John and Franchot’s focus on money, women, and alcohol, and interfered with their ability to produce quality work. (In my opinion, the two actors were able to balance their dedication to the craft with their extracurricular pleasures quite successfully.) This frustration with Franchot and John for pursuing film careers makes better sense when you realize that one of the Group's main objectives was to be a cooperative ensemble and an emphasis was placed on the good of the group, not the pursuit of fame by one individual.

For more information on the Group Theatre and both actors' involvement, I highly recommend the full-length American Masters documentary on the Group Theatre that the Stella Adler Studio of Acting posted on Youtube:

Friendship in the 1940's

In the early 40's, Franchot and John were involved in many of the same wartime support efforts. They both worked hard to support their fellow men overseas by serving on multiple war effort committees, making public appearances, and selling war bonds.

In Hollywood, John and Franchot were prominent board members of the Screen Actors Guild and participated in meetings until September 15, 1946 when they had to resign due to a new “conflict of interest” by-law. Also resigning were Robert Montgomery, James Cagney, Dick Powell, Harpo Marx, and Dennis O’Keefe.

Another connection I find interesting is that John's 1941 film Out of the Fog was based on Franchot's 1939 play The Gentle People and, in these productions, John and Franchot played the same role.

In 1945, Franchot and John returned to New York to discuss future theatre plans
with their former Group Theatre leaders. Film Daily. November 12, 1945.

Variety. November 1945.

Their similar career beginnings, current involvement in important causes, and enjoyment of a good time brought Franchot and John together as friends. They were frequently seen out together in bars and restaurants with a drink in one hand and a pretty lady not far from reach. Sherry Davis recalled that her grandfather, actor Robert Davis named his son Franchot because of his friendship with Tone. Robert Davis, Franchot, and John would gallivant around the nightspots drinking heavily, until young Franchot Davis was sent by his mother Myra to fetch them home.

John and Franchot on the set of Jigsaw, 1949.

In 1949, John made a cameo in his pal Franchot's noir Jigsaw. That film (a good one, in my opinion!) is in the public domain and can be viewed in full on Youtube here.

The Blacklist

The promise of the 30's and fun of the 40's were no match for the HUAAC who attacked John and Franchot—both public about their liberal beliefs—in the late 40's and early 50's. Although Franchot was publicly cleared by the Dies committee early on, he was softly but purposely blacklisted throughout the 50's. (You can read a more in-depth post on Franchot's blacklisting here.) Obviously, John was more publicly and viciously attacked by the House Committee. John refused to name names when he was forced to testify and as a result, was blacklisted by the major studios. But the blacklist damaged more than his career. It destroyed his health and led to his tragic death of a heart attack at only 39 years old.

Thank you Phyllis for hosting the John Garfield Blogathon! For some great Garfield reading, please head over to Phyllis Loves Classic Movies for the full roster.

  • Kramer, Joan, David Heeley, Joanne Woodward, Steve Lawson, Stella Adler, Harold Clurmaan, Cheryl Crawford, and Lee Strasberg. Broadway's Dreamers: The Legacy of the Group Theatre. New York, N.Y: PDR Productions, 1994.
  • Gelman, Howard. The Films of John Garfield. Citadel Press, 1975.
  • Hirsch, Foster. A Method to their Madness: The History of the Actors Studio. Da Capo Press, 2001.
  • Kazan, Elia. Elia Kazan: A Life. New York: Knopf, 1988.
  • Lasseter, Don. Body Double. Kensington, 2002.
  • Media Lantern Digital History Project:
  • SAG:
  • Smith, Wendy. Real Life Drama: The Group Theatre and America, 1931-1940; New York: Knopf, 1990.


  1. A most interesting and fascinating read. I find roles in common most illuminating and hadn't known about The Gentle People/Out of the Fog.

    Thanks also for that film on The Group.

  2. Thanks for sharing all this research with us. I wasn't that familiar with the John Garfield-Franchot Tone friendship, or their involvement with the Group Theatre. I feel like a real smarty pants now that I've read your post! :)

  3. Such an interesting post!! I still have about a third of Garfield's movies to watch but I have yet to see a performance that isn't good! :)

    Thanks so much for participating in the blogathon with this unique topic!!

  4. Fantastic post! I admire your research skills, and I particularly love the fact that you added newspaper clippings and the film Jigsaw!