The sky of Hollywood is full of stars but many fade away and are forgotten by the very generations that made them popular. As the younger generations come of age, these stars are almost completely erased from the memory of Hollywood. Often, this is even truer when those stars lived troubled lives and faded away into oblivion.
One of those stars was George Raft. He was arguably one of the most successful actors of his generation and an inspiration to many who came after him. But he died poor and was largely forgotten after making many dire mistakes.
But how did George Raft start his career? And what was his secret life that caused him such trouble?
George Raft Died Poor and Alone After His Mistakes. Join FactsVerse to learn more about his life and career…
GEORGE RAFT’S EARLY LIFE AND CAREER
George Raft was born as George Ranft on September 26, 1901, in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan. He came from a working-class background and had to work at a young age to help support his family.
He worked as an errand boy and even worked on wrapping fishes from the local market! He left school in his early teens and had to go straight to work to continue to survive – including working as an electrician.
Owing to his natural strength, he soon realized he could make some real money as a prizefighter. He took boxing lessons during his early teens and by his mid-teens he started fighting professionally, and he was able to sustain himself with his hooks and jabs.
His boxing name was Dutch Rauft and there are various accounts of how many fights he engaged him. But every record seems to state that he won the majority of his fights.
He even briefly played baseball and tried to make a living from it but had to eventually quit as he wasn’t the best batter.
Pause for a second. You might be wondering why George Raft kept going in different directions and trying different things. One must remember that he eventually became a star but that he wasn’t born with a silver spoon. He was just looking for a way to survive and needed to find a way where he could make consistent income.
He had even trained as a dancer under his mother’s supervision, and he would dance at carnivals and local fairs. This was one of his earliest experiences with working in show business and he soon realized that it was entertaining others in which he could succeed the most.
Eventually, he became so successful as a dancer that he began touring the United States and Europe as a dancer. He would perform at nightclubs, on Broadway, and in speakeasies. In fact, he is credited as helping make the tango popular in European cities as varied as Paris, Rome, and London. He also helped popularize the dance in his native New York.
He was becoming a bit of a celebrity among dancers and this made him big money. It also got him acquainted with some big people – including some dangerous people: some of the most notorious gangsters of their time. This was the start of George Raft’s rise – but it would simultaneously be the start of his downfall.
But before we get to that, let’s look back on his career as an actor – which is where he gained the most fame.
GEORGE RAFT’S CAREER
George Raft moved to Hollywood in 1927 and decided to try his luck at acting after he had been suggested to do this by a friend. His first film is now considered a lost film but even if we found it – we wouldn’t see him! It was a film called Queen of the Night Clubs and he had a small role as a dancer though all his scenes were cut.
Nevertheless, he had been bitten by the acting bug and realized that he had a future in Hollywood.
His earliest films focused on him being a dancer, so he often worked in musicals. But as the 1930s approached, he began to turn in a new direction and started acting in gangster films – first as a supporting actor and soon as a lead actor.
One of his first notable roles was in the film Taxi! in which he co-starred with James Cagney whom he’d work with in many films. While James Cagney is perhaps more remembered as was always the bigger star, George Raft’s performances were always appreciated and lauded.
But Taxi! was a film where George Raft played a dancer competing with Cagney’s character. His first big break in a gangster film was when he appeared alongside Paul Muni in Scarface. He played Guino Rinaldo who was the main character’s right-hand man. The film brought him fame and from then onward, George Raft was known as the typical gangster actor.
While he had a versatile career and one of his most notable roles was in Billy Wilder’s comedy film Some Like It Hot, he remains best-known for his work in gangster films.
His notable films include Night After Night, Midnight Club, The Bowery, Bolero, The Trumpet Blows, The Glass Key, It Had to Happen, The Lady’s From Kentucky, I Stole A Million, Loan Shark, Around the World in 80 Days, The Upper Hand, Hammersmith Is Out, and The Man With Bogart’s Face – which was his final film released in 1980.
He had become such a huge star that he even appeared as himself in a few notable films including Casino Royale, Deadhead Miles, and Sextette.
George Raft also was so high in demand that other actors wanted to work alongside him and he truly worked with the best of the best including James Cagney, David Niven, Edward G. Robinson, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Paul Muni, Osgood Perkins, and Mae West.
It should also be mentioned that George Raft was such a popular actor that he was often offered many great roles which he turned down – and then he was replaced by other major stars.
You might have liked watching Humphrey Bogart in The Big Shot. Well, did you know that role was originally intended for George Raft until he turned it down? Fred MacMurray’s character in Double Indemnity was originally intended for George Raft. As was Alexander Scourby’s role in The Big Heat.
Some of the other major films that George Raft turned down include The Story of Temple Drake, Belle of the Nineties, Stolen Heaven, St. Louis Blues, City for Conquest, High Sierra, and perhaps most notably, The Maltese Falcon – where, once again, he was replaced by Humphrey Bogart!
That’s how much of a star George Raft was. The original actor considered for Sam Spade was not Humphrey Bogart but George Raft.
Without a doubt, he was one of the best actors of his generation. While he was known mostly for his gangster films he managed to also have a separate and equally successful career as a dancer. He often loved to play villains but he mostly wanted to play villains who had some redeeming qualities – which is why he turned down certain roles that he felt were too bleak or sadistic.
He also lived large and was a major celebrity of his time. You could always find George Raft roaming the streets of Hollywood or at the latest nightclubs. He was in every way a star and at the time, it was almost unthinkable that he would ever be forgotten by Hollywood or by film fans. Today, perhaps only the discerning cinephile knows a lot about George Raft.
But there were few stars who were on his level during his heyday and even upon his death, he was mourned by legions of fans and colleagues alike.
And yet, George Raft died poor and alone after his mistakes…
GEORGE RAFT DIED POOR AND ALONE AFTER HIS MISTAKES
So, what were the mistakes that George Raft made that led to his downfall?
He earned more than many of his co-stars at the time. It’s believed that during his entire career he earned $10 million and this would be a lot more today if adjusted for inflation. Yet, most of his monies ran out when he died because he spent a lot of it on gambling and a lot of it on women – as he was quite the womanizer and loved to spend money on them.
He kept in touch with many of his gangster friends and they got him involved in many of these bad habits. He avoided become a criminal himself but he grew up in tough circumstances and this followed him throughout his life.
He lived his life to the fullest and this attitude is what made him a success but ultimately led him to make mistakes with his money and caused him to die poor and alone.
George Raft died on November 24, 1980 at the age of 79 – this was the same year that his final film was released. So, even though he struggled with his finances he still continued to act until his dying day – partly because of his passion for the craft but also partly because he likely always needed the money.
He is often thought of as Hollywood’s forgotten star and many of the stars he worked with and those who replaced him became more well-known that he is. Whether we’ll see a renewed interest in George Raft’s career or whether he’ll continue to fade into oblivion, is yet to be seen.
So, now let’s hear from you:
Are you a fan of George Raft? Did you know that he died poor and alone after his mistakes?
His life was full of success and joy but these mistakes led to his downfall and it’s a lesson to us all.
With that being said, here’s what we want to know:
Do you think that today’s celebrities are extra careful about maintaining their longevity?
Or are they as susceptible to losing their careers and friends after big mistakes?