Monday, 20 March 2017

Classic Movie Fact of the Week #2

Did you know that...
A total of 31 actresses were screen-tested for the coveted role of Scarlett O'Hara in Victor Fleming's Civil War epic Gone with the Wind (1939).

When David O. Selznick purchased the screen rights to Margaret Mitchell's novel Gone with the Wind in July 1936, he began a complex, two-year search for the role of Scarlett. He mounted a nationwide casting call that interviewed 1,400 unknowns, 400 of which were asked to do readings. This was eventually useless for the film, but it created "priceless" publicity exactly what Selznick wanted. A number of established actresses were also considered, including Miriam Hopkins (the author's preference), Norma Shearer, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Irene Dunne, Joan Crawford and Carole Lombard. However, only 31 of these names made the final cut.

Paulette Goddard and Vivien Leigh were the last two finalists in the search for Scarlett

Below is a list of the 31 women who were tested for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. I also provided the dates on which their test(s) took place.

Louise Platt (September 1936) | Talullah Bankhead (December 1936) | Elizabeth Whitney (April 1937) | Lynn Merrill (May 1937) | Linda Watkins (June 1937) | Susan Fox (June 1937) | Adele Longmire (August 1937) | Haila Stoddard (November 1937) | Diana Forrest (November 1937) | Susan Hayward (December 1937) | Linda Lee (December 1937) | Dorothy Matthews (December 1937) | Brenda Marshall (February 1938) | Paulette Goddard (February-December 1938) | Ellen Drew (February 1938) | Anita Louise (February-March 1938) | Em Bowles Locker (February 1938) | Margaret Tallichet (March 1938) | Frances Dee (March 1938) | Nancy Coleman (September-October 1938) | Shirley Logan (September-October 1938) | Doris Jordan (October 1938) | Marcella Martin (October-December 1938) | Fleurette DeBussy (October 1938) | Austine McDonnel (October 1938) | Mary Ray (November 1938) | Lana Turner (November 1938) | Diana Barrymore (November 1938) | Jean Arthur (December 1938) | Joan Bennett (December 1938) | Vivien Leigh (December 1938) 

A shot from Vivien Leigh's Technicolor screen test for Gone with the Wind

In December 1938, the 31 actresses who auditioned for the role of Scarlett O'Hara had been downsized to two finalists: Paulette Goddard and English newcomer Vivien Leigh. On December 21, they were both tested in Technicolor and Leigh finally won the role. This casting choice was controversial, leading to protests that someone other than a Southern woman had been chosen. Hoping to persuade the public that the young actress was right for the part, Selznick's publicity department composed a biography of Leigh and distributed it to magazines and newspapers in justification of the casting decision. Among other things, the document informed audiences that "Vivien Leigh, whose father is French and mother Irish, will play Scarlett O'Hara, whose father was Irish and mother French. [...] In her physical characteristics as well as her ancestry, Miss Leigh resembles the heroine of Miss Mitchell's book. She is five feet three, weighs 103 pounds, has green eyes, brown hair with a touch of red, and even possesses Scarlett's pointed chin."


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SOURCES:
The Complete Gone with the Wind Trivia Book: The Movie and More by Pauline Bartel (2014) | "The Search for Scarlett: Women Who Tested for the Role of Scarlett" | "The Search for Scarlett: Vivien Leigh"

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Picture of the Week

Joan Crawford and John Garfield during the making of Humoresque (1946)

Friday, 17 March 2017

Film Friday: "Life With Father" (1947)

In Portugal (where I am from), Father's Day is celebrated on March 19. So, for this week's "Film Friday" I thought I would bring you a film that features a father as its main character.

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Michael Curtiz, Life With Father (1947) follows stockbroker Clarence Day (William Powell), who strives to make his 1890s New York City household run as efficiently as his business. He and his wife Vinnie (Irene Dunne) have four sons.The eldest, Clarence, Jr. (Jimmy Lydon), is headed for Yale. John (Martin Milner), the next eldest, likes to invent things, while brother Whitney (Johnny Calkins) struggles to learn his catechism, and Harlan (Derek Scott), the youngest, is most interested in his dog. Knowing how much Clarence dislikes it when visitors stay in the house, Vinnie neglects to tell her husband that their cousin, Cora Cartwright (ZaSu Pitts), and her young companion, Mary Skinner (Elizabeth Taylor), will spend a week with them.

During the course of a religious discussion, it is revealed that Clarence has never been baptized. Vinnie is very upset and insists that her husbabd rectify the oversight to ensure that they will be reunited after death, but he refuses, certain that God would never be so imprudent as to deny him entry into heaven. In the meantime, Clarence Jr. becomes convinced that wearing his father's made-over suit forces him to behave like his old man. When his stern reaction to Mary's innocent flirtation sends her away in tears, Clarence Jr. becomes determined to earn enough money to buy his own suit. He and John get a job selling patent medicine and try it on Vinnie without her knowledge. The medicine makes Vinnie so ill that Clarence, believing her to be near death, promises that he will be baptized if she gets well. When Vinnie recovers, however, Clarence reneges on his promise. Unknown to Clarence, Vinnie then arranges for him to be baptized at a church where he will not be embarrassed in front of his acquaintances, but he remains adamantly opposed. Vinnie's opportunity arrives when Clarence is repulsed by a ceramic pug dog that she recently purchased and refuses to be baptized as long as it remains in the house. Vinnie quickly dispatches Clarence Jr. to return the dog to the store and authorizes him to spend the money on a new suit, which just happens to cost exactly the same amount as the piece of pottery. The next morning, Cora and Mary return for another visit and, wearing his own suit, Clarence Jr. makes up with Mary. Taking advantage of the confusion, Vinnie arranges for an expensive cab to drive Clarence to the church. Although Clarence protests the expense and denies that he agreed to be baptized if the pug was returned, Vinnie uses her own subtle persuasion to round up the entire family to witness Clarence's long-postponed baptism.  


The son of a Wall Street businessman, Clarence Day began writing while attending Yale University, where he also edited the campus humor magazine, The Yale Record. His penchant for comedy eventually led him to pen a series of autobiographical stories affectionately recalling his family life in 1890s New York with an autocratic father and a sweetly wily mother. Originally published in The New Yorker, these essays were later compiled in book form and published as Life with Father shortly before Day's death in 1935. Four years later, Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse adapted Life with Father into a stage play, which premiered at the Empire Theatre on Broadway on November 8, 1939. It starred Lindsay, his wife Dorothy Stickney and Teresa Wright. The play was a massive critical and commercial success, running for a total of 3,244 performances until it closed at the Alvin Theatre on July 12, 1947. With a run of almost eight years, Life with Father became the longest-running non-musical play on Broadway, a record that still holds today.

In 1940, Samuel Goldwyn offered $200,000 for screen rights to Life with Father to producer Oscar Serlin, but the purchase did not take place because Serlin demanded a three-year clearance clause before the exhibition of the film. In July 1944, Mary Pickford negotiated with Serlin for rights, planning to star in the film with William Powell. Warner Bros. eventually acquired the screen rights to the play in November 1944 for a reputed down payment of $500,000 plus a percentage of the net proceeds. As part of the agreement, the film was not to be released before 1947 and the property was to revert back to Serlin after a period of seven years. The agreement also stipulated that Warners.could make only one picture based on the play; the script could use only that part of Day's life which was included in the Broadway play; and that the owners were to have editorial rights over matters of good taste in the film version. To protect the integrity of the material, Howard, Lindsay and Day's widow, Katherine Dodge, were brought to Hollywood to serve as technical advisers.

William Powell and Elizabeth Taylor
Dodge suggested that Donald Ogden Stewart, a close friend of her late husband, write the screenplay of Life with Father. According to Stewart, he "leapt happily at the chance" to rework the material for the screen. "Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse had written such a successful play that there wasn't much need - or indeed much allowance - for any screen writing." After a "couple of understanding consultations with Mrs. Day," he finished the job within a few weeks. Stewart diplomatically avoided reworking the dialogue but, whenever possible, moved the action from the stage confines of the Days's dining and parlor room to other parts of the family house, its garden and the street. To the approval of the trio of overseers, he dramatized scenes that were only referred to in the play, setting them in a church, a restaurant and a department store.

Lindsay, as well as Fredric March and Ronald Colman, were considered for the role of Clarence Day Sr., but Warner Bros. eventually borrowed two-time Academy Award nominated actor William Powell from MGM to play the character. Stickney, Bette Davis, Rosemary DeCamp and Mary Pickford tested for the role of Vinnie Day, but the studio ultimately Irene Dunne instead. Shirley Temple and Ann Todd tested for the role of Cora, but the part was assigned to 15-year-old Elizabeth Taylor, also working on loan-out from MGM. Jimmy Lydon was chosen in favor of Freddie Bartholomew to play Clarence Jr.

Directed by Michael Curtiz and filmed in Technicolor, Life with Father opened on August 14, 1947 to positive reviews from critics and solid box-office results, grossing $5.9 million in domestic rentals. The film received four Academy Award nominations: Best Actor for William Powell; Best Art Director (Color); Best Cinematography (Color); and Best Original Musical Score. Powell lost to Ronald Colman for A Double Life (1947), which also won Best Original Musical Score, while the other two awards were both given Black Narcissus (1947).

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Happy Birthday, George Brent!

GEORGE BRENT
(March 15, 1904 May 26, 1979)
No woman will ever own me, I own myself.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Classic Movie Fact of the Week #1

To celebrate the second anniversary of Back to Golden Days, I have decided to introduce a new feature in the blog. In addition to the "Picture of the Week," which I post every Sunday, I will be sharing a "Classic Movie Fact of the Week" every Monday. This is the first one in the series. 

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Did you know that...
In 1947, an FBI analyst investigating Communist infiltration of the film industry submitted a memo to his director, J. Edgar Hoover, claiming that Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946) promoted Communist by discrediting bankers.

The greatest family film of all time Communist propaganda? Sure...

 According to the memo, written by a certain D. M. Ladd and dated May 26, 1947, the film "represented rather obvious attempts do discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a 'scrooge-type' so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This [...] is a common trick used by Communists." The report goes on to add that It's a Wonderful Life "deliberately maligned the upper-class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters."

An informant interviewed by the FBI spoke of the scene in which Mr. Potter (played by Barrymore) refuses to give George Bailey (portrayed by James Stewart) a loan. This person, whose name was redacted for security purposes, considered that "the scene wouldn't have 'suffered at all' in  portraying the banker as a man who was protecting funds put in his care by private individuals and adhering to the rules governing the loan of that money rather than portraying the part as it was shown."

How can It's a Wonderful Life discredit bankers when the film's hero is a banker?

It is, indeed, a fact that the majority of writers who worked on the script of It's a Wonderful Life found their loyalty questioned during the Hollywood inquisition that began in 1947. Dorothy Parker and Michael Wilson were prominent Hollywood radicals who were later blacklisted after being named Communists by the publication Red Channels in 1950. Donald Trumbo was blacklisted after the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings in October 1947 as one of the "Hollywood Ten" and sent to prison in 1950 for contempt of Congress. Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, who received on-screen credit for writing the film, were accused by the American Legion in 1952 of being Communist sympathizers. Although he was not called to testify before the HUAC, Capra was himself a prime target of the committee due to his prolific associations with many blacklisted screenwriters.

But this, of course, does not mean that It's a Wonderful Life promotes Communism. Anyone who has seen the film knows that George Bailey is also a banker and it was his actions that ultimately saved his family's business from financial ruin. Borrowing the words of film critic John Charles Moffitt, "I think Mr. Capra’s picture, though it had a banker as villain, could not be properly called a Communist picture. It showed that the power of money can be used oppressively, and it can be used benevolently."


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SOURCES:
Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success by Joseph McBride (2011) | "Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry" (FBI document, 1947, pages 13-14) | "The FBI considered It's a Wonderful Life to be Communist propaganda" by Zachary M. Seward for The Atlantic

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Picture of the Week

Danny Kaye and John Garfield signing autographs at the Hollywood Canteen

Film Friday: "The Band Wagon" (1953)

This week on "Film Friday" I am honoring Cyd Charisse's 95th birthday by telling you a little bit about one of her best-known works. This is also widely regarded as one of the best musicals of all time. Since I did not have the time to write this article on time, this week's "Film Friday" comes on a Sunday.

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Vincente Minnelli, The Band Wagon (1953)
tells the story of stage and screen star Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire), a veteran of musical comedy, is concerned that his career might be in decline. His good friends Lester and Lily Marton (Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray) have written a stage show that they believe is perfect for his comeback. Tony signs up, despite misgivings after the pretentious director, Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan), changes the light comedy into a dark reinterpretation of the Faust legend, with himself as the Devil and Tony as the Faust character. Tony also feels intimidated by the youth, beauty, and classical background of his female co-star, noted ballerina Gabrielle "Gaby" Gerard (Cyd Charisse). Unbeknownst to him, she is just as insecure in his presence, awed by his long stardom.

Eventually, it all proves too much for Tony. He walks out, but Gaby speaks with him alone and they work out their differences. They also begin to fall in love, though she already has a commitment to the show's choreographer Paul Byrd (James Mitchell). When the first out-of-town tryout in New Haven proves to be a disaster, Tony persuades Jeffrey to let him convert the production back into what the Martons had originally envisioned. Tony takes charge of the production, taking the show on tour to perfect the new lighthearted musical numbers. Since the original backers have walked out, Tony finances it by selling his personal art collection. Byrd walks out, but Gaby remains. The revised show proves to be a hit on its Broadway opening. Afterwards, Gaby and Tony confess their love for each other.


After the success of An American in Paris (1951), built around the songs of George Gershwin, and Singin' in the Rain (1952), which used several of his own songs, MGM producer Arthur Freed set out to produce another song catalogue musical. This time he drew on the work of composer Arthur Schwartz and lyricist Howard Dietz, the latter head of publicity for MGM's parent company, Loew's Inc. Initially, Dietz had turned down the chance to work with Schwartz. The lyricist had made his Broadway debut in 1924 working with the great Jerome Kern on Dear Sir. Schwartz was unknown at the time -- a lawyer planning to quit his firm to focus on music. When he wrote Dietz saying he would like to try working with him, Dietz told him he did not want to work with an unknown. The lyricist's next two shows were flops, however, so he was lucky to get a job writing songs with Schwartz for The Little Show in 1929. Their collaboration was so successful they would go on to write over 400 songs together. 

To create a movie around the songs, Freed set up a team including director Vincente Minnelli, writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green, composer/arranger Roger Edens and dancing star Fred Astaire. Minnelli and Astaire were no strangers to Dietz and Schwartz's songs. The last show in which he had co-starred with his sister, Adele, was the songwriters' 1931 hit The Band Wagon, which would lend its title to the new screen production. As for Minnelli, he had made his debut as a Broadway director with one of their shows, At Home Abroad in 1935. The Band Wagon was the first musical for Minnelli since An American in Paris, eighteen months earlier. Much of his time between the two pictures was spent on a musical version of Huckleberry Finn that ended up being canceled. He also directed one of his biggest dramatic hits, the Hollywood tell-all The Bad and the Beautiful (1952).

Oscar Levant, Cyd Charisse, Jack Buchanan,
Fred Astaire and Nanette Fabray
Creating a plot to connect all the songs proved a special problem because all of the Dietz and Schwartz songs had been written for musical revues. After weeks of listening to the songs and the theatrical reminiscences of their colleagues, Comden and Green came up with what seemed like the only logical choice, a movie about putting on a Broadway musical. Like Astaire, the leading man was a musical star in the middle of his career, conflicted about whether to continue working or retire. Other reflections of the star were his fear of dancing with a woman taller than him, his concern about his age and his problems working with ballet dancers. They even referred to the character's trademark costume as "perhaps the most famous top hat and stick of our generation." At first they were concerned that Astaire would think it hit too close to home -- to raise the stakes they had made the character a has-been -- but he loved the idea.

To carry the film's comedy, they created a married writing-performing team. Although Comden and Green were married to others, the roles were clearly modeled on themselves. Minnelli, however, thought the couple was based on Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, while Smith thought they were Oscar Levant and his wife, June. To play the married songwriters, Freed cast Levant, who had never played a married man on screen before, and Broadway star Nanette Fabray. Fabray had headlined Love Life and Arms and the Girl, two shows choreographed by Michael Kidd, who also staged the dance sequences in The Band Wagon.

Cyd Charisse and Vincente Minnelli on the set
The first actor approached to play Jeffrey Cordova was Clifton Webb, who had starred in The Little Show. Having risen from the supporting ranks to leading man status despite his advanced years and lack of sex appeal, Webb refused to take the secondary role. He suggested they talk to Jack Buchanan, an English song and dance man often dubbed "the British Fred Astaire." Before testing him, Freed also considered Vincent Price and Edward G. Robinson. 

Cyd Charisse had been at MGM since 1944 without making the transition to stardom. She had been the original choice to play Astaire's first dancing partner in Easter Parade (1948), but a broken leg ended that and brought Ann Miller to the studio as her replacement. Then pregnancy had cost her the female lead in An American in Paris, a role that made Leslie Caron a star. In 1952, however, she scored a hit as Gene Kelly's sultry dancing partner in the "Broadway Rhythm Ballet" in Singin' in the Rain. As a result, Freed cast her as Astaire's dancing partner in their new film. Before accepting her, Astaire, like his character in the film, checked to make sure she was not taller than he. 

The Band Wagon was shot between early October 1951 and mid-January 1952. The film's set was anything but happy. Astaire was dealing with his wife's terminal illness and Minnelli was concerned about his ex-wife, Judy Garland. Her increasingly erratic behavior on the set of A Star Is Born (1954) at Warner Bros. was the talk of the town. Buchanan was undergoing dental surgery. Smith and Mary Ann Nyberg, both newcomers to MGM, were at war with the art and costume departments, respectively. And Oscar Levant was recovering from a heart attack, which made him more acerbic than ever. 

Fred Astaire, Nanette Fabray and Jack Buchanan
performing "Triplets"
During rehearsals of "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan," Astaire and Buchanan were supposed to perform a series of tricks with their hats and walking sticks. They kept dropping them, however, which inspired the joke that ends the number, in which they fail to catch their hats, throw away their sticks and walk off arm in arm. On Broadway, "Triplets" had been performed by three very different looking actors and had failed. For the film, Kidd made the three performers look exactly the same size by having specially made baby shoes fit over the performers' knees. Their real feet and legs were covered with black velvet stockings, and the set's floor was black. The actors then danced on their knees. It was so strenuous they could only perform 20 minutes at a time. Originally, the number was to have featured Astaire, Buchanan and Levant, but the latter claimed ill health and Nanette Fabray took his place. The day before it was filmed, Fabray had an accident shooting "Louisiana Hayride." She jumped onto a barrel that had not been properly reinforced and fell through, tearing up her leg. She was on Novocain while filming the trio number.

"The Girl Hunt" ballet was the last number filmed. In contrast to the tense atmosphere on the set during the rest of the film, this sequence was a joy for all involved. Astaire was happy to be developing a new dancing character as the hard-boiled detective, and everyone seemed energized. Minnelli had promised producer Arthur Freed that he would shoot the ballet in three days, to keep costs down. Instead he finished it in seven at a cost of $314,475. The sequence ran 13 minutes. 


The Band Wagon premiered in New York on July 9, 1953 and went into general release on August 7. It was a massive critical and commercial hit, with Bosley Crowther of The New York Times calling it "one of the best musicals ever made." The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design (Color) and Best Original Music Score.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

The Original Rebel Blogathon: John Garfield and the Hollywood Blacklist

With victory over the Germans within their grasp, the three leaders of the Allied nations of World War II held a conference in the Soviet town of Yalta in February 1945, for the purpose of discussing Europe's post-war reorganization. American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin decided that Germany — as well as its capital city, Berlin — would be divided into four occupied zones. Wanting to limit the Communist influence in Europe, Roosevelt and Churchill also called for elections in areas freed from the Germans. Stalin agreed to these terms, but no plans were made for when the elections would take place.

After Roosevelt's death in April 1945 and the transfer of power to President Harry S. Truman, tensions began to mount between the United States and the Soviet Union. This was due to the fact that Stalin broke the agreement he had made in Yalta and installed Communist governments in several Eastern European countries, including Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Truman's response was to introduce a policy to contain the expansion of Communism to other countries, thus beginning a long rivalry between the world's two most powerful nations. With the onset of the so-called Cold War, concerns about the Communist infiltration of American society and government increased significantly, which contributed to the emergence of the second Red Scare. Prominent figures like Senator Joseph McCarthy and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover soon joined Truman in conducting character investigations of "American Communists" (actual and alleged) and their roles in (real and imaginary) espionage, propaganda and subversion favoring the Soviet Union.

Members of the Hollywood Ten and their families in 1950,
protesting the impending incarceration of the Ten
One of the main factors that contributed to the rise of the second Red Scare was the work of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Chaired by Republican Congressman, the HUAC was initially established in 1938, when membership in the Communist Party USA began to grow significantly. Its purpose was to investigate alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens, public employes and those organizations suspected of having Communist ties. As the United States and the Soviet Union joined forces to fight Nazi Germany, the American Communist Party gained in credibility and in support, causing the HUAC to cease operations almost entirely. With the end of the war and Stalin's dominion of Eastern Europe, however, the HUAC was made a permanent committee, headed by Democratic Representative Edward J. Hart.

In early 1947, J. Parnell Thomas replaced Hart as chairman of the HUAC and set out "to initiate an extensive and all-inclusive investigation of communistic activities and influences in the motion picture industry." To that end, he travelled to Hollywood accompanied by a three-person subcommittee to acertain whether Communist agents and sympathizers had been planting propaganda in American films. In May, he held a series of closed-door hearings at the Biltmore Hotel, where he informed reporters that the Screen Writers Guild was "lousy with Communists." Among the people he interviewed, he found only fourteen to be "friendly." Satisfied with the evidence he had uncovered, Thomas used the committee's subpoena power and summoned nineteen "unfriendly witness" to testify at a public hearing at the House Caucus Room in Washington D.C. on October 27. Immediately, a large group of Hollywood intellectuals and artists led by directors John Huston and William Wyler and screenwriter Philip Dunne joined forces in support of the Nineteen, founding the Committee for the First Amendment (CFA), which stressed the right of free speech. The team included such Hollywood stars as Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Katharine Hepburn, Danny Kaye, Paul HenreidGene Kelly, Myrna Loy, Evelyn Keyes and John Garfield.

John Garfield in a publicity still for Abraham
Polonsky's film noir Force of Evil (1948). A 
committed Marxist, Polonsky was blacklisted
in 1951 after being called a "very dangerous
citizen" at the HUAC hearings.
Long involved in liberal politics, Garfield inevitably saw his name involved in the Red Scare of the late 1940s and early 1950s. On October 27, he travelled with fellow members of the CFA to Washington D.C. to lobby Congress to get rid of HUAC, as well as to lend moral support to the Nineteen. The CFA team was quite optimistic, for they had the support of the studio heads, whose spokesman, Eric Johnston, was to set the tone at the hearings by protesting attempts to censure Hollywood. However, things did not proceed at all according to plan. 

First, the CFA, fully expecting their press conference to take the limelight, was stunned when Thomas's announcement of a Soviet-Hollywood connection stole the headlines. They were further surprised when the committee called John Howard Lawson, instead of Johnston, to testify as first witness. The third and most profound shock was delivered by Johnston himself: instead of announcing his support for the CFA principles, he told the HUAC that he welcomed its investigations into Communism in Hollywood. With this, the CFA contingents left Washington D.C. thoroughly demoralized. Shortly thereafter, ten of the nineteen witness were held in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify and subsequently fired by the studio heads. It was the beginning of the Hollywood blacklist.

In June 1950, the right-wing journal Counterattack published a pamphlet-style book entitled Red Channels, which named 151 actors, writers, musicians, broadcast journalists and others in the context of Communist manipulation of the entertainment industry. Those identified in the tract were soon blacklisted by their employers and required to testify before the HUAC and "name names." One of the artists listed in the Red Channels was John Garfield, who had previously been mentioned as possible Communist sympathizer by California State Senator Jack Tenney. As such, Garfield received his subpoena on March 6, 1951 and appeared before the HUAC on April 23. 

Technically a friendly witness, Garfield assured the committee that he had never been "associated in any shape, way, or form" with the Communist Party and refused to name any names. When asked about his involvement with the CFA during the 1947 hearings, he said, "We were fighting on general principles. It had nothing to do with [the witnesses]. That is the whole point." The committee also raised the question of Garfield's early affiliation with the Group Theatre, a New York City collective that had included blacklistees Lee J. Cobb, Frances Farmer and Howard Da Silva. The HUAC considered the Group Theatre to be "pretty well shot through with the philosophy of Communism," but Garfield denied those allegations, claiming that he did not know a Communist during all the time he was in New York. He continued to weave his way through the questions without bringing harm to anyone, ending his statement by asserting, "I have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide. My life is an open book. [...] I am no Red. I am no 'pink.' I am no fellow traveller. I am a Democrat by politics, a liberal by inclination, and a loyal citizen of this country by every act of my life."

John Garfield under examination before the House
Un-American Activites Committee on April 23, 1951

Garfield was ecstatic that the HUAC "had not broken him." The committee, on the other hand, was dissatisfied with his testimony and turned to matter over to the FBI, seeking grounds for a charge of perjury. With film work scarce because of the blacklist, Garfield returned to Broadway to star in a revival of Golden Boy, a drama written by former Communist Party member Clifford Odets, initially produced by the Group Theatre in 1937. Elia Kazan, who had also been a member of the Communist Party, was set to direct the play, but was forced to withdraw after receiving his subpoena from the HUAC, being then replaced by Odets himself. Opening on March 12, 1952 at the ANTA Playhouse in New YorkGolden Boy marked Garfield's first professional appearance since his testimony before the HUAC nearly a year earlier.

Although Golden Boy received good notices from critics, Garfield's happiness over the play's success did not last long. First, Kazan rendered testimony that was damaging to several members of the Group Theatre, including Odets, who was scheduled to testify before the HUAC on May 19. Further, Golden Boy closed on April 27 and, shortly thereafter, Garfield moved out of the family apartment in New York and checked into the Warwick Hotel. His wife, Roberta, did not approve of his plan to write an article for Look magazine in which he would affirm that he had been duped by Communist ideology. Garfield hoped that the piece, entitled "I Was a Sucker for a Left Hook," would redeem himself in the eyes of the blacklisters and restore both his career and his honor.

Meanwhile, Garfield went into a tailspin. Blacklisted screenwriter Walter Bernstein remembered that, during this period, "his face was line and drawn, and he was drinking. He had always had the face of a bar mitzvah boy gone just wrong enough to enhance his appeal. Now he seemed old without having grown into it." On Sunday, May 18, 1952, Garfield was seen wandering the streets of his old neighborhood in the Bronx. On Monday, against his doctor's strict orders, he played tennis in the morning and baseball in the afternoon. Then he sat up late playing poker with friends and attended to personal affairs on Tuesday, without getting much sleep. In the early evening, he met former actress Iris Whitney for dinner at Luchow's restaurant and afterwards they took a walk to Gramercy Park. When they arrived at her apartmet, Garfield remarked that he felt "awful," but refused to let Whitney call a doctor and went to bed instead. The following morning, May 20, Whitney found Garfield dead. A heart attack had taken his life at the age of 39.

In 1939, just after receiving his first Academy Award nomination, Garfield declared, "I must be in the theatre, otherwise I die. [...] No matter where I am or where I live, I will always act. Acting is my life." This words proved to be prophetic, for acting really was his life. Once he was cut off from the thing he loved so passionately, he wandered around in an aimless manner, unsure of which way to turn. But the sincere and intense performances that he contributed to American film and theatre stand as legacy for future generations. That was his gift and nobody not even the House Un-American Activities Committee could ever take that away from him.


This is my contibution to the John Garfield: The Original Rebel Blogathon hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Films. To view all entries, click HERE.



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SOURCES:
Dalton Trumbo: Blacklisted Hollywood Radical by Larry Ceplair and Christopher Trumbo (2015) | Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters: Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler by  by Allan Ryskind (2015) | Inside Out: A Memoir of the Blacklist by Walter Bernstein (1996) | Leonard Bernstein: The Political Life of an American Musician by Barry Seldes (2009) | John Garfield: The Illustrated Career in Films and on Stage by Patrick J. McGrath (1993) | McCarthyism and the Red Scare: A Reference Guide by William T. Walker (2011) | McCarthyism: The Red Scare by Brian Fitzgerald (2007) | Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart by Stefan Kanfer (2011)