The quest to find heroes, men and women of unquestioned moral fiber who we can look up to and follow as role models, gets harder as our media becomes more focused on frivolous matters, and intent on drawing traffic with hit jobs and muckraking. Sometimes, it's simply easier to choose a notable from a bygone era to look up to, and revere for their standards and actions. The actor John Garfield, who will be honored at the Shadow Box Film Festival on Friday and Saturday in NYC is, I think, a pretty good choice as a guiding light.
Two of his films made the sweet science their milieu, "They Made Me a Criminal" (1939) and the Oscar-winning "Body and Soul" (1948). Both will screen at the second annual fest, which runs Dec. 6 and 7.
For those unfamiliar with Garfield or his credits, they can attend and hear from the actor's daughter, Julie Garfield, who will present an award to actor Holt McCallany, who has portrayed fight game characters on TV and film ("Lights Out," "Tyson") on Saturday evening.
She was a wee thing when her dad passed away, from a heart attack, in 1952, at age 39. His film work had won him legions of fans, but he was ensnared in the red scare, the hunt for closet communists by a band of paranoiacs and power grabbers. Garfield wouldn't play ball, name names, and was blacklisted. The funeral for the guy who grew up in the lower East Side, Brooklyn and the Bronx had 10,000 mourners paying respects at Riverside Memorial Chapel in Manhattan.
Julie Garfield fleshed out my knowledge base of her dad, who was born Julius Garfinkle and was a trail maker for Jewish artists. "The man had tremendous integrity," she said. "He grew up in the streets, in gangs," she said. '"Don't snitch" seems to be a theme in several of the movies he made, and he was usually either a bad guy or a bad guy who comes through in the end. That was almost a foretelling, he doesn't sell out." Julie said that he drew the ire of the big shots when he formed his own production company, and that, combined with the payback for the nose thumbing at the red-baiters, hit him deep to his soul.
Julie is no fight fan -- "I hate it," the Upper West Side resident told me with no softening pause -- but she said fight fans will appreciate the boxing scenes in her dad's works at the film fest. "The fight scenes are unbelievable, and the movies hold up completely," she said. "His life repeated his art. He was who he played, that good guy."