John Garfield, 39, “tough guy” screen and stage star, died of a heart attack in bed today in the two-room Gramercy Park apartment of Iris Whitney, an actress friend.
Miss Whitney said he visited her at the apartment last night, became ill and stayed overnight. She said she slept on a couch.
Police were forced to break down the apartment door to investigate.
They learned of the death through a routine report telephoned to the medical examiner’s office by a private physician.
When they reached the apartment, the stage actress refused to permit them to enter. She said she thought they were newsmen.
Garfield’s wife received the news of her husband’s death in the Garfield apartment on Central Park West.
She declined to see newsmen. Barry Hyams, a friend of the Garfields, said she was under the care of a physician and had been given a sedative.
Asked about reports the Garfields had separated, Hyams replied: “I would say it isn’t true.” He said Mrs. Garfield expected Garfield home last night and became worried when he did not appear.
Dine With Actor
Miss Whitney told police she had known Garfield about two months.
She said she had dinner with him last night at Luchow’s Restaurant and they went to her apartment.
She said they had coffee and that he remarked: “I feel awful.”
She said she offered to call a doctor but he replied there was no need for it and that “I’ll feel better if I can get some rest.”
He went to the bedroom, removed his clothing except for his shorts and T-shirt, and got into the double bed, she said.
Miss Whitney said she decided to let him stay for the night and that she went to sleep on a couch in the living room.
Tried to Awaken Him
She awoke at about 8 a.m., looked into the bedroom and saw him still apparently asleep, she said.
She said she went to the kitchenette, got some orange juice and placed a glass of it on a night table beside the bed.
Then she tried to awaken him, but without success. She telephoned Dr. Charles H. Hammack, who pronounced the actor dead. Police said they found the glass of orange juice still on the table.
They said Miss Whitney expressed concern about Garfield’s family, expressing hope they would not misinterpret his presence in her apartment.
Hyams said Garfield lately had been “seeing a lot of people to interview in connection with a play, ‘Fragile Fox,’ which he expected to produce in the fall and possibly direct.”
“The only reason I can think of for his visiting her was that she is interested in plays and in the financing of plays,” Hyams said.
The medical examiner’s office attributed Garfield’s death to a cardiac condition and said there was “nothing suspicious.” Hyams said Garfield had suffered a heart attack about a year ago and had been under physician’s care.
Garfield’s body was taken to the Riverside Memorial Chapel.
His funeral has been scheduled for Friday.
Miss Whitney, 36, a striking blue-eyed blonde, came here from Pasadena, Cal.
She appeared in “Dark of the Moon” on Broadway in 1945 and now is an interior decorator.
Eyed by Red Probers
Robert Whitehead, producer for the American National Theater Academy, and Mrs. Whitehead arrived at the Whitney apartment soon after learning of the tragedy.
Whitehead produced a recent revival of “Golden Boy,” Clifford Odets play, in which Garfield once appeared in a minor role in 1937.
The producer said he understood Garfield sat up late playing cards with friends in a hotel Monday night and had attended to personal affairs yesterday, without getting much sleep.
Garfield’s name had been linked with various organizations labeled as subversive, but he denied before the House Committee on Un-American Activities last year that he ever had been a Communist.
“I am no Red,” he said. “I am no pink. I am no fellow traveller.”
He added: “I am a Democrat by politics, a liberal by inclination and a loyal citizen of my country by every act of my life.”
Wed in 1934
The small “Golden Boy” role started Garfield on the road to stardom.
He became a sort of grown up Dead End Kid but his personal life had none of the same trademarks.
In Hollywood he was known as an actor with no taste for night clubs, the social circuit, fancy cars and other frills.
He was married in 1934 to Roberta Mann, a nonprofessional. Their eldest child, Katherine, died in 1945 after a sudden illness. They have two other children, David Patton, 9, and Julie Roberta, 6. The couple grew up together in New York’s tenement area.
Garfield once said: “Screen acting is my business. But I get my kicks on Broadway"—movies for money, the stage for fun. He seemed satisfied so long as he made enough to get along. To prove it he once turned down a studio offer reported to run $250,000 a year to go into a Little Theater production of “Skipper Next to God” at $80 a week.
Garfield, born Julius Garfinkle in Brooklyn, on March 4, 1913, engaged in a number of juvenile scrapes and became a protege of Angelo Patri, child psychologist and writer. Patri was credited with starting him on his theatrical career.
Patri got Garfield interested in the theater. After a brief apprenticeship, the youth hopped freights and hitchhiked to Hollywood in a try to crash the movies. Instead, he ended up as a truck driver and fruit picker.
Finally, in 1933, Garfield landed a part in the play “Counsellor at Law,” in Chicago.
After his success in “Golden Boy,” Garfield finally made Hollywood in 1938 in the movie, “Four Daughters.” He later played in many other films. On Broadway, meanwhile, Garfield appeared in “Having a Wonderful Time,” “Awake and Sing,” and other stage plays.
Clifford Odets was said to have had Garfield in mind for the star role of the boxer when he wrote “Golden Boy.” But another actor was picked instead. Garfield wanted so badly to be in the play that he gave up a $300 a week role in another show to play the part of a taxi driver in “Golden Boy” for $50.
It made him a star. Fifteen years later, Garfield finally played the lead intended for him when the play was revived on Broadway.