I’m backdating this tribute because I didn’t get the memo until 6 weeks late that character actor Allen Garfield (Allen Goorwitz, b. 1939) has passed away due to coronavirus. Man, I LOVED this actor. His heyday was the mid ’70s ’til the mid ’80s. We haven’t seen him in a couple of decades because a pair of strokes in 1999 and 2004 had taken him out of commission by the age of 65. He was in long-term care, which is how and why and where he died of Covid-19 on April 7, 2020.
Garfield was a character actor par excellence. His roles ranged from bit parts and walk-ons to quite large supporting parts and ensemble roles. He was a heavy set, balding, Jewish guy from Newark with a very likable face. He got many of the same sort of parts Michael Lerner did: show biz agents, and accountants, but with an added working class quality that made him good for bottom-feeder salesmen, rumpled cops and reporters, and the like. One sure indication of the esteem in which he was held is the list of important directors who cast him in their films: Brian De Palma (Hi Mom, 1970, and Get to Know Your Rabbit, 1972), Michael Ritchie (The Candidate, 1972), Francis Ford Coppola (The Conversation, 1974, One from the Heart, 1982, and The Cotton Club, 1984), Billy Wilder (The Front Page, 1974), Robert Altman (Nashville, 1975), William Friedkin (The Brink’s Job, 1978), Wim Wenders (Until the End of the World, 1991), and Roman Polanski (The Ninth Gate, 1999).
Garfield had been a sports reporter and amateur boxer before studying at the Actor’s Studio with Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan. Some of his earlier stuff was in countercultural things like the aformentioned De Palma films, Robert Downey Sr’s Putney Swope (1969), and You’ve Got to Walk it Like you Talk or You’ll Lose That Beat (1971) with a young Richard Pryor. Early work in major pictures included bit parts in Herbert Ross’s The Owl and the Pussycat (1970) with Barbra Streisand and George Segal, and Woody Allen’s Bananas (1971). He also did guest shots on tv shows like Mod Squad, McCloud, Ironside, Rhoda, McCoy, Taxi, and Chicago Hope (on which he had a recurring role 1994-95). Later movies he appeared in included Mother Jugs and Speed (1976), The Stunt Man (1980), Paul Simon’s ill-fated One Trick Pony (1980), John Belushi’s penultimate film Continental Divide (1981), Irreconcilable Differences (1984), Teachers (1984), Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), Dick Tracy (1990), Stuart Saves His Family (1995), and The Majestic (2001). He last stepped before the cameras in the 2002 exploitation film White Boy.
For a year or so, in honor of his deceased father, he used his given surname Goorwitz professionally and you will see him so credited in some film and TV appearances. He was in no way related to the actor John Garfield, a common misconception.