Friday, May 1, 2020

What's in a Name? Deceased Artiste Allen Goorwitz (aka Allen Garfield)

His face rings bells for anyone who watches (and reveres) the great American cinema of the early Seventies, now a long-gone phenomenon. (Q: Was Hollywood ever that grown-up and intelligent afterward? A: No.) He was a scene-stealer in films by De Palma, Downey Sr, Coppola, Altman, Friedkin, and Wilder (and in countless TV shows from the Seventies to the Nineties); his presence could brighten up a film was otherwise a dud. He was Allen Garfield, born Goorwitz  and later to use both names as a film actor.

Garfield died last week at 80 of Covid-19 after living for the last 15 or so years in an actor’s home, as a result of a stroke he had in his mid-Sixties. For those of us who loved his work, it presented a chance to review his wonderful supporting performances in countless movies and TV show. The best remembered include De Palma’s Greetings and Hi Mom!, Coppola’s The Conversation, and Altman’s Nashville.

The film that was absent from his obits and other tributes was Wim Wenders’ The State of Things (1982). The picture was a sort of fantasia/commentary on having worked with Coppola in Zoetrope mode on Hammett. (Which, it was later revealed by Andrew Sarris from remarks by Peter Boyle, contains quite a lot of scenes shot by Coppola himself; Boyle noted he worked exclusively in the Coppola-shot scenes).

State of Things begins with a cerebral sci-fi film shoot in Portugal, which is interrupted by the crew (including the great Sam Fuller, playing the cinematographer) running out of film stock. The German director of the piece (which may or may not have foreshadowed Wenders’ own epic 1991 sci-fi film Until the End of the World) is played by Patrick Bauchau. He ventures back to California to see his American producer, Gordon (Goorwitz), who is hiding out from loan sharks in a mobile home, wandering up and down the boulevards in Hollywood.

Goorwitz gives the type of film-stealing supporting performance that should’ve netted him an Oscar in a just world (but the Oscars have little to do with supreme quality). He makes Gordon a sympathetic figure who loves art for art’s sake but is also clearly a con man who is on the run from those who are more corrupt than he (and they probably don’t even know who starred in They Drive By Night  a debate that happens in the dialogue in the scene).

A word about his last name: He was indeed born Allen Goorwitz on Nov. 22, 1939. He changed his name professionally to Garfield, according to an article in The New York Times, for his first play after seeing John Garfield in Body and Soul (notice the Garfield namecheck in State of Things). He changed his last name back to Goorwitz in 1978 as ''something to replenish my spirit because my parents had passed away.''

He found, though, that he was typecast when he used his own, ethnic-sounding name. “It was as if there was an unspoken thing: now that he's Goorwitz he can only do Goorwitz roles,'' he told the NYT. (“What that meant was nothing but Italian or Jewish ethnic parts,” they added for those of us who are slow on the uptake.) So, after losing 100 pounds through Overeaters Anonymous, he took back his fake name in 1984 and became Garfield again, through the rest of his screen/TV career.

For me, the scene below is the essence is what made Allen G. a great character person  he embodied his characters fully, made them both seedy and charming, and also did just completely steal whatever scenes he was in. And yes, he wrote the little song he sings to himself in this scene, about Hollywood. (Click the words "Watch on Odnoklassniki" in the embed and watch on the site housing the clip.)

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