Justice for John Garfield: Or Hear Me Out as We Connect the Dots

7 mins read

I am a film lover, a lover of black, white and all shades of gray flickering across my TV screen accompanied by the subtle pop and crackle of the soundtrack. A lover of dramatic, strong women characters in beautiful shoes, of men in hats with soulful eyes, of complex heroes with hearts who aren’t afraid to cry. But, I digress; this isn’t about me, no, this is about connecting the dots, about integrity, and about doing the right thing; about why Trump must be convicted by the Senate to bring the ultimate, worthy justice for my true film idol: John Garfield. So bear with me as I talk you through this. It will all make sense in the end.

Start by drawing a really nice dot on a blank sheet of paper. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Make it a  handsome, smoldering dot, maybe with a cigarette in its mouth. This dot is John Garfield. John was a boy who grew up in poverty on the streets of the Bronx back in the early 1900s. His mother died when he was just seven years old. He bounced from relative to relative, street gang to street gang, battling scarlet fever that left his heart forever compromised and eventually disqualified him from the Marines. Like many children, ultimately, it was a good teacher who set him on his true path — acting.

“Four Daughters,” “Pride of the Marines,” “Destination Tokyo,” “Humoresque,” “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Between Two Worlds,” “Body and Soul,” and so on. He was entirely relatable with a devilish, handsome face and eyes that said even more than his words. He enthralled audiences with his authentic, moody, anti-hero, tough guy with a heart. Until one day he didn’t. 

Now put a dot on your paper over to the right — the far right — and make it a nasty, ugly dot. This is Roy Cohn. A ruthless, seedy prosecutor well known for his lies and belligerence. Add another dot just next to this one. Make it a beefier, slimy one. It’s Sen. Joe McCarthy from Wisconsin leading the charge in the Senate with his own witch-hunting committee as similar proceedings were held in the other chamber by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). McCarthy and Cohn were the duo infamous for unfairly targeting actors, writers, directors, and others, summoning them to testify in front of their congressional committee to defend alleged “communist sympathies” at the height of the Cold War. And in their unholy righteous quest, they completely destroyed lives and careers, threatening and intimidating the witnesses to eventually implicate themselves and to name names. 

But when he was summoned, John Garfield didn’t break. He was no stool pigeon. As stressful as the hearings were, he didn’t rat on others. He courageously refused to give up names. Though not a Communist himself, this liberal actor had the kind of deep integrity that boys learn the hard way from troubled formative years on the street and he stood strong against the HUAC. Not long after the hearings ended, this loved husband, father and highly respected actor passed away when his heart gave out at the too-young age of 39, a victim of a conspiracy-driven witch hunt that was given credibility by political forces. In the words of his friend, filmmaker Abraham Polonsky, Garfield “defended his streetboy’s honor, and they killed him for it.” He would always be remembered as a hero. 

Grab an orange crayon if you can, broken or not. Scribble a fat, narcissistic orange dot on the right down below the others. Let’s call this dot Donald. I doubt there’s a need to fill in the biographical details on him for you. Other than to remind you that the above-mentioned slimy lawyer, Roy Cohn, became the most influential friend and mentor for many years in this fat, orange dot’s life. Shaped his thoughts, his lack of ethics and morals, creating the greedy monster who was unbelievably put in charge of the nation. Thanks, Roy. So go ahead and draw a line from here to that nasty, ugly dot up on the right. 

Now this week, the political entity we know as the Senate will hold an impeachment trial. It’s kinda a huge deal. So make a huge dot to represent it, and just connect that dot to the fat orange one. The week(s) ahead will provide us with hours of high courtroom drama, plenty of misinformation and denial, and some ill-prepared men who will attempt to perform as circus defense lawyers. In the end, with a lot of luck, soul-searching and some well-placed backbone, 17 Republican senators will join the Democrats and do the right thing. They will stand tall, choose country over party, display real morals, strength and integrity as they resoundingly vote “yea.” And it will be the very best way I can imagine to honor the life and selfless courage of John Garfield — father, husband, friend, actor, hero — allowing us to finally connect all the dots by firmly convicting Sen. Joe McCarthy’s partner, Roy Cohn’s good friend, the former president who decidedly lost the election and incited an insurrection: Donald John Trump. 

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