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A former Broadway dancer who befriended a number of New York mobsters, actor George Raft developed a rather notorious stardom playing tough guys throughout the 1930s and 1940s. After gaining attention on Broadway for his unbelievably fast Charleston, Raft moved to Hollywood, where he had numerous supporting parts before landing his breakout role in Howard Hawks' infamous crime drama, "Scarface" (1932). An overnight success, he went on to appear in "The Bowery" (1933), "Bolero" (1934), "The Glass Key" (1935), "Each Dawn I Die" (1939) and the excellent melodrama "They Drive by Night" (1940). But just as he was on the cusp of true stardom, Raft famously turned down the leads in "High Sierra" (1941) and "The Maltese Falcon" (1941), both of which went to Humphrey Bogart, turning him into a major star. Raft continued to star in a number of films throughout the decade like "Background to Danger" (1943), "Johnny Angel" (1945) and "Outpost to Morocco" (1949), but each film dimmed his once bright star, along with rumors he was connected to the Mafia. By the mid-1950s, Raft was reduced to making cameos while serving as a greeter at a Cuban casino for known mobster Meyer Lansky. He attempted a comeback with a...
A former Broadway dancer who befriended a number of New York mobsters, actor George Raft developed a rather notorious stardom playing tough guys throughout the 1930s and 1940s. After gaining attention on Broadway for his unbelievably fast Charleston, Raft moved to Hollywood, where he had numerous supporting parts before landing his breakout role in Howard Hawks' infamous crime drama, "Scarface" (1932). An overnight success, he went on to appear in "The Bowery" (1933), "Bolero" (1934), "The Glass Key" (1935), "Each Dawn I Die" (1939) and the excellent melodrama "They Drive by Night" (1940). But just as he was on the cusp of true stardom, Raft famously turned down the leads in "High Sierra" (1941) and "The Maltese Falcon" (1941), both of which went to Humphrey Bogart, turning him into a major star. Raft continued to star in a number of films throughout the decade like "Background to Danger" (1943), "Johnny Angel" (1945) and "Outpost to Morocco" (1949), but each film dimmed his once bright star, along with rumors he was connected to the Mafia. By the mid-1950s, Raft was reduced to making cameos while serving as a greeter at a Cuban casino for known mobster Meyer Lansky. He attempted a comeback with a spoof on his tough guy image in "Some Like It Hot" (1959), but failed to reignite his career. Though unable to rekindle that spark from his heyday, Raft remained one of the Golden Age's more prominent performers.
Born on Sept. 26, 1895 in New York, NY, Raft was raised in the rough-and-tumble neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen by his German immigrant parents, Eva and Conrad Raft. Growing up in a rough part of town, Raft was naturally close to criminal elements and was the boyhood friend of Owney Madden, who later ran the famed Cotton Club in Harlem. In the early 1920s, Raft showed an aptitude for dance and began working in a number of nightclubs, leading to a deepening association with various gangsters. He eventually worked with Madden as a gun thug and wheelman on bootleg runs, but continued to dance and dream of becoming a big star. In 1929, with Madden's encouragement, Raft basically played himself in the crime drama, "Queen of the Nightclubs" (1929), which focused on a fictionalized account of a speakeasy owner (Texas Guinan) dealing with the murder of a close friend (John Davidson). Raft was given a small role where he showed off his moves in a fast-paced Charleston dance solo, which had first brought him fame on the Broadway stage back in New York.
In the early part of his film career, Raft had small parts in films like "Quick Millions" (1931) starring Spencer Tracy, "Palmy Days" (1931) with Eddie Cantor, and "Winner Take All" (1932) starring James Cagney. After being punched out by Cagney during a dance competition in Roy Del Ruth's "Taxi!" (1932), Raft was propelled to stardom as the coin-flipping killer who serves as a henchman to psychotic gang boss Tony Camonte (Paul Muni) in Howard Hawks' violent gangland classic, "Scarface" (1932). So convincing was his performance that audiences thought Raft was a real-life mobster, which in reality was not too far removed from the truth. In fact, Raft remained connected to the East Coast mob and often carried out favors for them, including breaking off a relationship between a gangster's moll and famed lothario Gary Cooper. Meanwhile, Raft ran into his own trouble with women after having married Grayce Mulrooney, a woman several years his senior, in 1927. Though they separated soon after, Mulrooney refused to grant him a divorce due to her devout adherence to Catholicism and the two stayed married until her death in 1970. Still, Raft maintained a number of romances with the likes of Betty Grable, Lila Chevret, Marlene Dietrich and Mae West.
Meanwhile, Raft played variations of tough guys throughout the 1930s in "Night After Night" (1932) opposite Mae West, William Wellman's "Love is a Racket" (1932) and the multi-director anthology "If I Had a Million" (1932), where he played a Death Row inmate who is one of the lucky recipients of an inheritance from a wealthy businessman (Richard Bennett). From there, he was second billed as Steve Brodie, the first man to ever jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and live - or so he claimed - in Raoul Walsh's historical drama "The Bowery" (1933). He followed with turns as an undercover agent who infiltrates a gang of jewel thieves in "Midnight Club" (1933), a Mexican matador in "The Trumpet Blows" (1934) and a nightclub dancer who falls for his partner (Carole Lombard) in the musical drama "Bolero" (1934). After starring opposite Anna May Wong in "Limehouse Blues" (1934), Raft was the former strongman for a crooked politician who tries to solve a strange murder while being pulled into a deadly game of corruption in "The Glass Key" (1935), which was adapted from a story by Dashiell Hammett.
Raft continued his rise to stardom with supporting roles in Henry Hathaway's "Souls at Sea" (1937) and Fritz Lang's underrated film noir "You and Me" (1938), as well as leading roles in "Spawn of the North" (1938), an adventure on the high seas co-starring Henry Fonda and Dorothy Lamour. After "The Lady's from Kentucky" (1939) and "I Stole a Million" (1939), Raft reached the height of his career with a supporting turn opposite James Cagney as a hardened con in "Each Dawn I Die" (1939). He next starred in the excellent melodrama "They Drive by Night" (1940), playing the owner of a trucking firm battling all manner of crooks and unscrupulous rivals, only to suffer tragedy when his brother (Humphrey Bogart) crashes a truck and loses an arm. The high-action drama offered Raft one of his career's best roles and set him up for even greater things to come. But instead of capitalizing, Raft's career hit the skids after famously turning down the roles of Mad Dog Earle in "High Sierra" (1941) and Sam Spade in "The Maltese Falcon" (1941), both which were played by Bogart and turned him into a star. Around this time, he was involved in a serious affair with actress Norma Shearer, whom he wanted to marry but was unable to because of his wife's continued refusal to grant a divorce. Ultimately, his inability to divorce lead to the end of his romance with Shearer, as it had Grable before her.
Instead, Raft starred opposite Edward G. Robinson and Marlene Dietrich in Raoul Walsh's rather uninspiring melodrama "Manpower" (1941), which at the time looked like the right project for the actor to take on. From there, he starred in the prohibition-era musical "Broadway" (1942) and played an undercover American agent in Turkey in the espionage thriller, "Background to Danger" (1943), which was made to capitalize on the success of "Casablanca" (1942). Following that film, Raft demanded that Warner Bros. head Jack Warner terminate his contract. Warner intended to buy Raft out for $10,000, but the actor instead paid him the ten grand - a misunderstanding of terms that helped give rise to rumors that Raft was illiterate, a charge that dogged him throughout his career and seemed supported by talk that he had scripts read to him in order to learn his lines. Meanwhile, Raft was the star of movies of ever-diminishing quality for the remainder of the 1940s like the comedy "Follow the Boys" (1944), "Johnny Angel" (1945), "Whistle Stop" (1946), "Intrigue" (1947), "Race Street" (1948), and "Outpost in Morocco" (1949), which promised international intrigue but failed to deliver.
Over the course of the next decade, Raft saw his stardom slowly dwindle until losing his status as a box office draw by the 1950s. During much of the decade, Raft worked as a glorified greeter at the Capri Casino in Havana, Cuba, which he partially owned with notorious crime heads Meyer Lansky and Santo Trafficante. Of course, Raft continued to act whenever he could, starring in forgettable B-movies like "Man Bait" (1952) and "Loan Shark" (1952). Raft was one of the first major film stars to transition to television with the leading role on "I'm the Law" (syndicated, 1953), where he played a NYPD detective solving a variety of crimes. The show was canceled after its first season. After starring in forgotten noirs like "I'll Get You" (1953) and "The Man from Cairo" (1954), he had supporting parts in "Rogue Cop" (1954) starring Robert Taylor and Janet Leigh, and the entertaining noir mystery "Black Widow" (1954) with Ginger Rogers, Van Heflin and Gene Tierney. Raft hit his nadir with "A Bullet for Joey" (1955), a one-dimensional, anti-Communist spy thriller that tapped into the fear of the McCarthy Era in this rather ridiculously plotted tale.
Raft tried to increase his standing with a cameo in the popular "Around the World in 80 Days" (1956) and Billy Wilder's classic "Some Like It Hot" (1959), where he spoofed his gangster image as "Spats" Colombo, but failed on both accounts to spark a comeback. He had a cameo as a casino owner in the Rat Pack vehicle "Ocean's 11" (1960) and another one in the Jerry Lewis comedy "The Ladies Man" (1961). Meanwhile, "The George Raft Story" (1961) was released, which starred Ray Danton as Raft in this fictionalized version of his life, with a heavy focus on his life among gangsters. Naturally, the actor denounced the film for its alleged inaccuracies. He continued making small appearances in "The Patsy" (1964), "Five Golden Dragons" (1967), and "Casino Royale" (1967), where he was given top billing in the film's promotion despite only appearing for a few minutes at the end of the movie. In 1965, Raft ran into personal problems after being convicted of tax evasion, though he managed to avoid prison time by openly weeping before the judge. He appeared in only a handful of films over the next 15 years, playing small parts in forgettable titles like "Madigan's Millions" (1968), "Hammersmith is Out" (1972), the woeful musical farce "Sextette" (1978) which starred an undignified Mae West, and "The Man with Bogart's Face" (1980). Raft died of leukemia in Los Angeles on Nov. 24, 1980 at 79 years old.
By Shawn Dwyer
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Source: Wikipedia The Internet Encyclopedia
George Raft (26 September 1895 – 24 November 1980) was an American film actor most closely identified with his portrayals of gangsters in crime melodramas of the 1930s and 1940s. Raft was born George Ranft 1902 according to census, in Washington Heights (163rd St. and Amsterdam Ave), New York City to Eva Glockner, a German immigrant, and Conrad Ranft, who was from Massachusetts. Raft quickly adopted the "tough guy" persona that he would later use in his films. Initially interested in dancing, as a young man he showed great aptitude, and this, combined with his elegant fashion sense, allowed him to work as a dancer in some of New York City's most fashionable nightclubs. He became part of the stage act of Texas Guinan and his success led him to Broadway where he again worked as a dancer. He worked in London as a chorus boy at some time in the early 20s. In 1929 Raft moved to Hollywood and took small roles. His success came in Scarface (1932), and Raft's convincing portrayal led to speculation that Raft himself was a gangster. He was a close friend of Bugsy Siegel and Raft encouraged the publicity that stimulated his early career, and continued to work steadily. He was also a friend of Owney Madden, who he had grown up with in Hell's Kitchen. Raft was considered one of Hollywood's most dapper and stylish dressers and he achieved a level of celebrity not entirely commensurate with the quality or popularity of his films; Raft became a pop culture icon in the 1930s matched by few other film stars. He was definitely one of the three most popular gangster actors of the 1930s, along with James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson (Humphrey Bogart never matched Raft's stardom during that decade). Raft and Cagney worked together in Each Dawn I Die (1939) as fellow convicts in prison. His 1932 film Night After Night launched the movie career of Mae West with a supporting part as well as providing Raft's first leading role. Raft appeared the following year in Raoul Walsh's turn of the century period piece The Bowery as Steve Brodie, the first man to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and survive, with Wallace Beery, Jackie Cooper, Fay Wray, and Pert Kelton. Some of his other popular films include If I Had A Million (1932), in which he played a forger hiding from police, suddenly given a million dollars with no place to cash the check, Bolero (1934; a rare role as a dancer rather than a gangster), Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key (1935) (remade in 1942 with Alan Ladd in Raft's role), Souls at Sea (1937) with Gary Cooper, two with Humphrey Bogart: Invisible Stripes (1939) and They Drive by Night (1940), each with Bogart in supporting roles, and Manpower (1941) with Edward G. Robinson and Marlene Dietrich. Although Raft received third billing in Manpower, he actually played the film's lead. 1940-41 proved to be Raft's career height. He went into a period of decline over the next decade and achieved an unenviable place in Hollywood folklore as the actor who turned down some of the best roles in screen history, most notably High Sierra (he supposedly didn't want to die at the end) and The Maltese Falcon (he didn't want to remake the superb 1931 pre-code version of The Maltese Falcon with a rookie director); both roles transformed Humphrey Bogart from a supporting player into a major force in Hollywood in 1941. Raft was also reported to have turned down Bogart's role in Casablanca (1942), although this story is probably apocryphal. Approached by director Billy Wilder, he refused the lead role in Double Indemnity (1944), which led to the casting of Fred MacMurray in a towering classic that would have undoubtedly revived Raft's career. His lack of judgment (probably grounded in the fact that he was more or less illiterate, which made judging scripts even more problematic than usual), combined with the public's growing distaste for his apparent gangster lifestyle, effectively ended his career as a leading man in mainstream movies. He satirized his gangster image with a well-received performance in Some Like it Hot (1959), but this did not lead to a comeback (probably due to his age by that point) despite being billed fourth under Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon in a comedy classic, and he spent the remainder of the decade making films in Europe. He played a small role as a casino owner in Ocean's Eleven (1960) opposite the Rat Pack, and his final film appearances were in Sextette (1978) with Mae West and The Man with Bogart's Face (1980). Fred Astaire, in his autobiography: Steps in Time, mentions that he was a lighting fast hoofer. Raft died from leukaemia, aged 85, in Los Angeles, California on November 24th, 1980 and was interred in Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles. Only two days before, his old co-star Mae West had died. Their bodies were at the same mortuary at the same time for an eerie posthumous reunion. George Raft has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to Motion Pictures, at 6150 Hollywood Boulevard, and for Television at 1500 Vine St.
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