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.
This clip from 1934 of him doing the Bolero with Carole Lombard is just the sort of thing he used to do before he began playing gangsters in Hollywood. The dance starts at about 1:50:
To find out more about vaudeville past and present, consult 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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