film debut, "Four Daughters" 1938

Biography, 3

The studio announced that Garfield would make his first appearance in "The Sisters," with Errol Flynn and Bette Davis, then it was to be in "The Patent Leather Kid", then "Girls on Probation" (yikes!) - but for one reason or another, none of these came through.

What did materialize was a supporting role in a film in which Warners hoped to promote a new leading man, Jeffrey Lynn, entitled "Four Daughters." Co-starring Priscilla Lane, her sisters Rosemary and Lola, and Gale Page in the title roles, it told the story of a small-town family nicely ensconced in then-typical wholesomeness. Into this sweetness-and-light comes Mickey Borden, out-of-work musician (Garfield) - brash, sarcastic, brooding, and....dangerous. To audiences he was like a dash of cold water in the face, and his naturalness and sheer presence made all around him suddenly seem two-dimensional. The role of Mickey literally made Garfield an overnight star.

Success was heady, and Garfield eventually accepted Warners' offer of a seven-year contract. Robbie soon joined him and the two took up residence in Hollywood. In the fall, their daughter Katherine was born, and Garfield was on top of the world.

Warner Bros Studio in the '30s and '40s was a factory - and Garfield became part of the well-oiled machinery, turning out 4 and 5 films per year. Not unlike Cagney and Edward G. Robinson, his initial role had made such an impact on audiences (and on the Warner coffers) that he was continuously cast in replicas of Mickey Borden roles. And, also like Cagney and Robinson, Garfield would fight this typecasting - with only marginal success.


Although there was written in his contract a stipulation that Garfield could accept stage roles, he only took advantage of it occasionally - he had come to realize the enormous power of the film media and became totally committed to it.

Garfield was a staunch liberal, idolized FDR, and during World War II did more than almost any big star of the time to further America's cause. Turned down for military service because of heart problems, Garfield became a travelling entertainer, a war bond salesman, and joined with Bette Davis to form the Hollywood Canteen - a combination restaurant/showplace where servicemen on leave in Los Angeles could, at no cost, have meals served to them by the likes of Joan Crawford and Lana Turner, dance with Ann Sheridan or Joan Leslie, and watch Benny Goodman orTommy Dorsey perform live.

Reports filtered into gossip columns that all was not entirely well with the Garfield marriage; it wasn't that John chased women - quite the opposite - but he apparently had a low threshold of resistance.

But in 1945 a tragedy occured that was to bring John much closer to his home and family.


<< with wife Robbie


The Garfields with daughter Katherine
and son David in 1942

Daughter Katherine suffered from severe allergies that had always been controllable - until a day she was on a picnic at a friend's ranchhouse.
Kat was struck with an attack and had difficulty breathing. Her condition worsened when she returned home, and before she could be rushed to the hospital, she died of strangulation. She was just 6 years old.

Garfield was totally devastated and never fully recovered from the loss - a gloom that had never been apparent before would at times overshadow his naturally sunny disposition.                           continue>>   

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