George Raft

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George Raft (September 26, 1895 - November 24, 1980) was an American film actor most closely identified with his portrayals of gangsters in crime melodramas of the 1930s and 1940s.

Born George Ranft in Hell's Kitchen, New York City, he 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. This item I picked up from my mother (stage name Vi Kearney, later to be a star dancer in shows for Charles Cochran and Andre Charlot): "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 your father." (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 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. 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 achieved one of his biggest successes in They Drive by Night (1940).

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 of the decade, most notably High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon; 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 did not want to play opposite "some unknown Swedish broad" (Ingrid Bergman). Approached by director Billy Wilder, he refused the lead role in Double Indemnity (1944), which led to the casting of Fred MacMurray. His lack of judgement combined with the public's growing distaste for his apparent gangster lifestyle effectively ended his career as a leading man.

He satirised 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. His final film appearance was in The Man with Bogart's Face (1980).

Raft died from leukaemia in Los Angeles, California and was interred in Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.

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.


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