George Raft

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George Raft
Image:Judy Canova and George Raft, 1979.jpg
Judy Canova and George Raft pictured in 1979
(photograph by Alan Light)

<tr><td style="text-align:left;">Birth name</td><td>George Ranft</td></tr>

Born 1895-09-26
Hell's Kitchen, New York City, USA
Died 1980-11-24
Los Angeles, California, USA

George Raft (26 September 1895<ref>Ranft was born in 1901, according to the 1910 U.S. Census. At</ref> – 24 November 1980) was an American film actor most closely identified with his portrayals of gangsters in crime melodramas of the 1930s and 1940s.


[edit] Biography

[edit] Early life

Raft was born George Ranft in Hell's Kitchen, 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.

[edit] Career

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.

Vi Kearney, later to be a star dancer in shows for Charles Cochran and Andre Charlot, was quoted as saying:

"Oh yes, I knew him (George Raft). We were in a big show together. Sometimes, to eke out our miserable pay, we'd do a dance act after the show at a club and we'd have to walk back home because all the buses had stopped for the night by that time. He'd tell me how he was going to be a big star one day and once he said that when he'd made it how he'd make sure to arrange a Hollywood contract for me. I just laughed and said: 'Come on, Georgie, stop dreaming. We're both in the chorus and you know it.' [Did he arrange the contract?] Yes. But by that time I'd decided to marry... [Was he (Raft) ever your boyfriend?] How many times do I have to tell you ...chorus girls don't go out with chorus boys."

In the early 1930s Tallulah Bankhead nearly died following a 5-hour hysterectomy for an advanced case of gonorrhea she claimed she got from Raft. Only 70 pounds when she was able to leave the hospital, she stoically said to her doctor, "Don't think this has taught me a lesson!"

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.

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. He 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), Bolero (1934; a rare starring role, with him as a dancer rather than a gangster), 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 (the memorable posters said, "Robinson - He's mad about Dietrich. Dietrich - She's mad about Raft. Raft - He's mad about the whole thing.")

His career went into a period of decline over the next decade, and Raft achieved a place in Hollywood folklore as the actor who turned down some of the best roles in screen history, most notably High Sierra (he didn't want to die at the end) and The Maltese Falcon (he didn't want to work on a remake of the pre-code version of The Maltese Falcon (1931 film)); both roles made Humphrey Bogart a major force in Hollywood in 1941. He was also reported to have turned down Bogart's role in Casablanca (1942), saying he didn't want to work with "some unknown Swedish broad."

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.

He satirized his gangster image with a well-received performance in Some Like it Hot (1959), but this did not lead to a comeback, and in he spent the remainder of the decade making films in Europe. He played a casino owner in Ocean's Eleven (1960). His final film appearances were Sextette (1978) with Mae West and The Man with Bogart's Face (1980).

[edit] Personal life

Raft died from leukaemia, aged 80, in Los Angeles, California and was interred in Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles. His corpse and that of his old co-star Mae West happened to be in the same mortuary at the same time for an eerie posthumous reunion.

In the 1991 biographical movie Bugsy, the character of George Raft was played by Joe Mantegna.

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.

[edit] Filmography

[edit] Footnotes

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[edit] External links

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George Raft

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