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George Raft

Posted: April 24th, 2012, 4:03 pm
by Western Guy
Still a relative newbie to this fun, entertaining and overall informative site, I'm wondering if anyone has yet opened a discussion on George Raft. Granted, we're not talking Actor of the 20th century here, but the man often did display an onscreen strength that occasionally overshadowed his shortcomings as a thesbian. In addition, he certainly led a most interesting offscreen life, in stark contrast to Cagney and Robinson.In reviewing many of Raft's films I was surprised to discover just how many good movies he appeared in. Until his career pretty much petered out in the late '40s, with a few '50s exceptions ("Rogue Cop", "Some Like It Hot"), he really possessed a pretty inpressive screen resume.

A quick, interesting story: A good friend of mine was a movie bit player in the '50s. One of the films in which he appeared was "What Price Glory". One day he overheard Cagney talking with Dan Dailey about Raft, with Jimmy saying that George Raft could have been one of the biggest stars in Hollywood if he hadn't been so damn stubborn. I think Cagney made a valid point. Raft was offered some of the choicest roles in Hollywood and turned them down based on his own idiosyncratic principles. Case in point: Rejecting an A-picture like "High Sierra" because he didn't want to play a gangster who dies at the end but basically begging to go on loan from Warners to appear in a similar role in "The House Across the Bay". Pleading with the studio to cast him in a good guy part but turning down the part of heroic George Leach in "The Sea Wolf". Huh?

Would love to hear some comments.

Thanks!

Re: George Raft

Posted: April 25th, 2012, 12:47 pm
by charliechaplinfan
George Raft isn't someone who's career I've followed, although I've watched him in quite a few films and been more impressed with him that 'folklore' would have had me believe. Reading the more scurilous publications you'd think that he'd been employed because of his gangster connections, or if not that much has been made of those connections that they've overshadowed his screen work. Then there are all the rumours of his off screen dalliances which again overshadow his screen work. Like you said he's not actor of the century but he's very watchable, no dummy at all and has made some good films, They Drive By Night and Manpower spring to mind. The earlier Bolero with Carole Lombard is quite good to watch. It's interesting what your friend overheard, Cagney would know more than most about what the reality behind the demise of Raft's career. I can't imagine High Sierra without Bogart but I could see Raft playing the part although I'm not sure he would have adopted the haircut.

As for his connections, has anyone ever written a reliable article or biography on him? Are they tall tales, making a lot of connections or are they deeper.

Re: George Raft

Posted: April 25th, 2012, 1:44 pm
by mongoII
I for one enjoy George Raft films especially "They Drive by Night", "Manpower", "Scarface", Souls at Sea", Spawn of the North", "Nob Hill" and "Race Street", among others.
I heard that he refused to do "The Maltese Falcon" and some say even "Casablanca".
Unfortunately he is rarely mentioned here at SSO.

According to James Cagney's autobiography Cagney By Cagney, (Published by Doubleday and Company Inc 1976), a Mafia plan to murder Cagney by dropping a several hundred pound klieg light on top of him was stopped at the insistence of George Raft. Cagney at that time was President of the Screen Actors Guild and was determined not to let the mob infiltrate the industry. Raft used his 'many' mob connections to cancel the hit. He was quite a guy.

Re: George Raft

Posted: April 25th, 2012, 2:25 pm
by Western Guy
The "Casablanca" story is not quite the way it often has been told. Jack Warner thought the movie would be ideal for either Raft or Bogart (who had risen in the ranks at the studio, due in no small part to George). After making two Warner career blunders (refusing "High Sierra" and "The Maltese Falcon"), Raft apparently saw how fast Bogie was ascending at the studio, perhaps felt his own status threatened, and expressed interest in playing Rick, but Hal Wallis (tired of Raft's rejections) championed Bogart, as did Michael Curtiz, and so Bogie stepped into the part and his screen immortality was assured. George left Warners after just one more picture, the "Casablanca"-wannabe "Background to Danger" (which really is not a bad film) and gradually drifted into lesser films, then bits and cameos.

Between his career mistakes, dramatic drop from stardom, underworld associations and his legendary prowess as a ladies man, Raft's story would make one hell of a compelling movie - not like "The George Raft Story" which varied wildly from the facts.

BTW: Based on Burnett's description of Roy Earl(don) in "High Sierra", Paul Muni actually would physically have been the perfect choice. And he was the first to turn down the role since he was intent on doing a biography of Beethoven (which, of course, never materialized).

Re: George Raft

Posted: April 25th, 2012, 2:33 pm
by Rita Hayworth
mongoII wrote:According to James Cagney's autobiography Cagney By Cagney, (Published by Doubleday and Company Inc 1976), a Mafia plan to murder Cagney by dropping a several hundred pound klieg light on top of him was stopped at the insistence of George Raft. Cagney at that time was President of the Screen Actors Guild and was determined not to let the mob infiltrate the industry. Raft used his 'many' mob connections to cancel the hit. He was quite a guy.


I got to read that book someday! ... Maybe my local library might have it!

Re: George Raft

Posted: April 25th, 2012, 3:46 pm
by Western Guy
kingme, the story is also told in John McCabe's biography "Cagney". Another source worth checking out.

Re: George Raft

Posted: April 25th, 2012, 5:21 pm
by Rita Hayworth
Western Guy wrote:kingme, the story is also told in John McCabe's biography "Cagney". Another source worth checking out.


Thanks ... I add that book to my list of reading material, Western Guy :!:

Re: George Raft

Posted: April 26th, 2012, 4:21 pm
by Western Guy
To those of you who might be interested, here's a link I found to something rare and interesting:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPhxfiNqhys

Re: George Raft

Posted: April 27th, 2012, 12:41 pm
by charliechaplinfan
I have the feeling that Hollywood's folklore hasn't been kind to George Raft and it's only by coming here and talking to other film fans that some kind of reality emerges.

Re: George Raft

Posted: April 27th, 2012, 1:34 pm
by Western Guy
I totally agree. For a guy who was one of the biggest starts in the 30s and into the 40s, Raft really has become pretty much a forgotten name. I found it interesting how the show "Biography" did pieces on Bogart, Cagney, Robinson - even John Garfield, but never even touched Raft, who, as I said before, led a life a hell of a lot more colorful than any of these fellas.

Re: George Raft

Posted: April 27th, 2012, 1:46 pm
by charliechaplinfan
Sometimes it's a wonder to look behind the headlines of some of the more controversial stars and watch them act and realise that the public wasn't being fed a star that the studio manufactured but that there was talent there and Raft is such a guy, I'd love someone to write a well researched biography that throws away all the folklore and starts again from scratch. I'm glad you started a thread for Raft, I realised I'd seen more than I realised, Scarface made his name but I remember reading somewhere that he'd been looked at as a replacement for Rudolph Valentino, they both had the dancing background and Raft looked a little like the Italian heartthrob.

Re: George Raft

Posted: April 27th, 2012, 2:32 pm
by Rita Hayworth
Western Guy wrote:I totally agree. For a guy who was one of the biggest starts in the 30s and into the 40s, Raft really has become pretty much a forgotten name. I found it interesting how the show "Biography" did pieces on Bogart, Cagney, Robinson - even John Garfield, but never even touched Raft, who, as I said before, led a life a hell of a lot more colorful than any of these fellas.


Thanks for pointing that out Western Guy! ... I thought Biography would do a piece on George Raft ... but didn't. Thanks for sharing this piece of Information here.

Re: George Raft

Posted: April 27th, 2012, 2:56 pm
by Western Guy
Well, in fairness, George did come across as a virtual footnote in the "Biography" episodes on Bugsy Siegel and Bogart.

Re: George Raft

Posted: April 27th, 2012, 6:55 pm
by feaito
Hi Western Guy. Have you seen George Raft in "Night after a Night" (1932), a film chiefly -and unfairly- remembered mostly due to Mae West's debut? Don't get me wrong, Miss West is fine, but it's also a good film in which Raft gives a very fine performance as low class gangster who wants to improve himself and falls for impoverished socialite Constance Cummings (lovely woman), but he's involved with a vulgar moll (Wynne Gibson -good too), thus he hires a lady to teach him how to behave and acquire the manners of the higher classes (Alison Skipworth-a hoot!).

Re: George Raft

Posted: April 28th, 2012, 1:15 pm
by Western Guy
Hi feaito. Thanks for weighing in. Have enjoyed your postings since before I joined the forum.

Interesting that you bring up NIGHT AFTER NIGHT. As you may be aware, this was the first film that George received top-billing in, though his Paramount contract fee was less than that earned by Alison Skipworth and, surprisingly, Mae West, in her debut, in which George was instrumental. Raft's old Broadway pal Texas Guinan (who together with mobster Larry Fay would later receive screen immortality as Panama Smith and Eddie Bartlett in Warners' THE ROARING TWENTIES) was Paramount's first choice for the role of Maudie, but though Raft said Guinan would be good in the part, he knew someone who "would be sensational". Of course Mae's great success in the role apparently led to Raft's famous line that Mae West "stole everything but the cameras."

Actually feaito, as I point out in my book about Raft, NIGHT AFTER NIGHT is overall a pretty dull effort, as are, for the most part, many of Raft's Paramount features. Try watching UNDER-COVER MAN for a snoozefest. Outside of maybe 4 or 5 of his Paramount output, the rest are mostly forgettable IMO. George really belonged at Warners, and it's interesting to speculate how his early career would have fared had he signed on with Jack L. rather than Adolph Zukor after his success in SCARFACE. One thing for sure: More of his movies would today turn up on TCM.