George Raft: Light on his Feet

Not-So-Tough Guy Raft Dancing with Carol Lombard

Like fellow Hollywood tough guy James Cagney, George Raft started out as a hoofer. And before that?  Let’s just call it research for his roles. Born this day in 1895 in Hell’s Kitchen, he dropped out of school at a young age and Drifted. He tried his hand as a professional boxer, a pool hustler (one of his partners was Billy Rose), and a taxi dancer (one of his colleagues was Rudolph Valentino). The latter occupation was led him into legitimate show business. A gifted dancer (Fred Astaire was a huge admirer), by the 1920s, he was playing major nightclubs like Texas Guinan’s El Fey Club and headlining Big Time vaudeville. A turn in the 1929 film Queen of the Night Clubs (loosely based on Guinan’s life) brought him to Hollywood. A role in 1932’s Scarface (and a reputation for a criminal past) established him as one of Hollywood’s top “gangsters”. In 1932 he gave Mae West her start as a film actress by recommending her for Night After Night . Raft was a top Hollywood star until the mid 1950s. He passed away in 1980.

To find out more about history of vaudeville and performers like George Raftconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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