American actor John Garfield, when judged by looks and attitude alone, seemed more the pugnacious, defiant urban thug than one of Hollywood's most respected dramatic actors of the '30s and '40s. As evidence of his popularity, despite the fact that many insiders considered Garfield's personal ways and beliefs a bit radical, the attendance at his funeral in 1952 broke the records set at Rudolph Valentino's funeral.
He was born Julius Garfinkle, the son of poor Jewish immigrants from New York's Lower-East-Side ghettos. Poverty was the norm there, and life was tough. Young Garfield's juvenile delinquent tendencies landed him in a special school for problem children. Still, it was almost inevitable that he would get involved with neighborhood street gangs. He may have remained on those streets struggling to survive, had Garfield not had a special gift for debate, a talent that won him a state-wide contest sponsored by the New York Times. The ensuing scholarship gained him entrance into the Ouspenskaya Drama School and an apprenticeship in repertory theater. Afterward, Garfield hit the road and became a freight-train-hopping hobo and transient worker, but by the late 1930s he returned home to join the Group Theater.