Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Favorite Classic Film Stars - GEORGE RAFT

George Raft, one of my favorite gangster actors was born on September 26, 1895 in Hell's Kitchen in New York City. His birth name was George Ranft and his fathers name was Conrad Ranft and his mothers name was Eva Glockner. Raft quickly adopted the "tough guy" image he would later go on to use in films.

Initially interested in dancing, as a young man he showed great aptitude for it and this combined with his elegant fashion sense, allowed him to work as a dancer in some of New York's most fashionable nightclubs.

In early 1929 Raft moved to Hollywood and took small roles in films. 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 in real life to several organized crime figures, including Bugsy Siegel, Owneg Madden and Siegel's suspected killer Meyer Lansky.

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 became a pop culture icon in the thirties matched by few other film stars.

Raft was definitely one of the three most popular gangster actors of the thirties along with James Cagney, and Edward G. Robinson (Humphrey Bogart never matched Rafts 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 career of Mae West with a supporting part as well as providing Raft's first leading role. (Raft and West would die two days of each other forty eight years later and their bodies would wind up in the same morgue at the same time!).

Some of Raft's other films include "If I had a Million" (1932), "Bolero" (1934), "The Glass Key" (1935), "Souls at Sea" (1937), Invisible Stripes" (1939) and "They Drive by Night" both with Humphrey Bogart with whom he was supposed to be bitter enemies with off screen.

1940-1941 proved to be Raft's career height. He went into a period of decline over the next decade though and achieved the unenviable place in Hollywood folklore as the actor who turned down some of the best roles in screen history. Most notable were "High Sierra" ( He didn't want to die at the end), and "The Maltese Falcon". Both roles which would go on to transform Humphrey Bogart from a supporting actor into a major force in Hollywood in 1941.

Approached by Billy Wilder, he also refused the lead role in "Double Indemnity" (1944). which led to the casting of Fred MacMurray in the towering classic that would have undoubtedly revived Raft's career. His lack of judgement (probably grounded in the fact that he was more or less illiterate, which made judging scripts more problematic than usual), combined with the public growing distaste for his apparent gangster lifestyle effectively ended his career as a leading man in mainstream movies. His final film was in "Sextette" in 1978 with Mae West in an amusing cameo.

George Raft died from Leukemia at the age of 85 on November 24th, 1980 in Los Angeles, California and is interred in Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles California.

No comments: