George Raft: Forgotten Star of the Golden Era – What Led to His Obscurity?

In the illustrious history of Hollywood, countless stars have risen and fallen, with some etching their names into the annals of time, while others gradually fade into obscurity. Today, we delve into the story of one such forgotten luminary: George Raft, a once-prominent figure whose name has sadly slipped from the collective memory, overshadowed by the passage of time and the emergence of new cinematic icons.

Born George Ranft on September 26, 1901, in the bustling metropolis of New York City, George Raft led a life as fascinating as any character he portrayed on screen. Raised in the gritty environs of Hell’s Kitchen, he found himself immersed in the underworld from a young age, his experiences in the criminal milieu leaving an indelible mark on his psyche. Yet, it was his prowess as a dancer that initially set him on the path to stardom, honing his skills amidst the glitz and glamour of Broadway and vaudeville shows.

Raft’s big break came in the early 1930s when he caught the eye of director Howard Hawks, who cast him in a supporting role in the seminal crime drama “Scarface.” Despite his limited screen time, Raft’s magnetic presence left an indelible impression, paving the way for a string of memorable performances throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Renowned for his portrayal of tough, street-smart characters, Raft became synonymous with the gangster archetype, bringing depth and complexity to roles that would otherwise have been one-dimensional.

From his standout performance in “Each Dawn I Die” opposite James Cagney to his gripping portrayal in “They Drive by Night” alongside Humphrey Bogart, Raft’s on-screen charisma captivated audiences and critics alike. Yet, for all his early success, Raft’s later years were marred by missed opportunities and poor career choices. His refusal to accept iconic roles, including the lead in “The Maltese Falcon,” proved to be a fatal misstep, relegating him to the periphery of Hollywood’s elite.

Moreover, Raft’s association with the criminal underworld, while lending authenticity to his portrayals, tarnished his public image and contributed to his declining popularity. Despite these setbacks, Raft’s contributions to the film industry cannot be overlooked. His performances during Hollywood’s Golden Age remain a testament to his talent and dedication, deserving of recognition and remembrance.

George Raft’s career in Hollywood was often shadowed by his alleged connections to criminal figures, lending an air of intrigue to his persona both on and off-screen. One notable incident occurred when James Cagney, then president of the Screen Actors Guild, found himself embroiled in a fight against the Mafia’s infiltration into the movie industry. In 1942, amidst rumors of a mob hit targeting Cagney, it was purported that Raft intervened, allegedly making a call to halt the assassination attempt, showcasing his purported influence within underworld circles.

Additionally, Raft’s interactions with law enforcement further fueled speculation about his associations with organized crime. He was interviewed by FBI agents on multiple occasions, including inquiries about his knowledge of notorious figures such as Louis Buchalter and Jacob Shapiro. Furthermore, allegations of tax evasion in 1942 and his involvement as a witness in Bugsy Siegel’s trial in 1944 only added to the mystique surrounding Raft’s ties to the underworld. These incidents underscored the blurred lines between reality and fiction in Raft’s life, cementing his reputation as a figure entrenched in the murky world of organized crime.

In his personal life, George Raft’s story was as enigmatic as the characters he portrayed on screen. He married Grace Mulrooney in 1923, long before his rise to stardom in Hollywood. Despite their early separation, Mulrooney, a devout Catholic, refused to grant a divorce, leaving Raft legally bound to her until her death in 1970.

Throughout his life, Raft’s romantic entanglements with numerous Hollywood starlets added to his allure as a captivating figure. His love affairs included relationships with Hilda Ferguson, Betty Grable, Marlene Dietrich, Tallulah Bankhead, Carole Lombard, and Mae West. Despite his public declaration of wanting to marry Norma Shearer, his wife’s steadfast refusal to divorce him ultimately led to the end of their prolonged romance.

In the twilight of his life, George Raft faced financial challenges and lived modestly in Los Angeles. He succumbed to emphysema at the age of 79 on November 24, 1980. Raft left behind a meager estate, consisting of a $10,000 insurance policy and some furniture, as he had lived on a modest income of approximately $800 a month derived from social security and his pension in his final years.

George Raft was laid to rest at the Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles. Remarkably, Raft’s personal effects and wardrobe were later sold through a classified advertisement in Hemmings Motor News in the fall of 1981, underscoring the stark contrast between the glitz of his on-screen persona and the simplicity of his final days.

George Raft’s contributions to the entertainment industry were commemorated with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. One star honors his achievements in film, located at 6150 Hollywood Boulevard, while the other recognizes his impact on television, situated at 1500 Vine Street. These stars serve as enduring symbols of Raft’s enduring legacy in both the cinematic and television realms, ensuring that his name and contributions are forever etched into the illustrious history of Hollywood.

However, as we reflect on George Raft’s storied career, let us not consign him to the forgotten pages of history. Instead, let us celebrate his legacy and acknowledge the enduring impact he had on the cinematic landscape. For in the vast tapestry of Hollywood’s past, George Raft remains a thread worth remembering.

Expanding upon Raft’s legacy, it’s essential to delve deeper into his personal life and the challenges he faced off-screen. Despite his success in Hollywood, Raft’s personal life was marked by turmoil, including tumultuous relationships and financial struggles. Additionally, his involvement with notorious figures from the criminal underworld, such as Owney Madden and Bugsy Siegel, added a layer of complexity to his public persona.

Furthermore, Raft’s reputation as a demanding and temperamental actor often led to conflicts on set, earning him a reputation as difficult to work with. These behind-the-scenes challenges, coupled with his declining popularity, contributed to Raft’s gradual descent from the heights of stardom.

Despite his later years being overshadowed by adversity, George Raft’s contributions to cinema endure. His unique blend of charisma, talent, and real-life experience brought authenticity to his performances, leaving an indelible mark on the silver screen. While his name may have faded from public consciousness, the legacy of George Raft lives on in the countless films he graced with his presence, a testament to his enduring impact on Hollywood’s Golden Age.

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