Childhood & Early Life
George Raft was born George Ranft, in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, on September 26, 1901, to Conrad Ranft and Eva Ranft (née Glockner). His mother was a German immigrant, while his father was born in Massachusetts, to German immigrant parents. His family survived amidst poor financial conditions, and George later acknowledged that he had avoided a life of crime very narrowly, as he grew up in an environment that was not ideal.
The troubled financial situation of his family had George working ever since he was a kid. After returning from school, he would work as an errand boy and a fishwrapper. In order to save him from the bad influence of their neighborhood, his parents sent him away to live with his grandparents. George quit school when he was 12 years old, and a year later, he left his home, too.
George was a young boy of many talents. He worked as an apprentice of an electrician and devoted time to boxing at the same time. He was also a good pitcher in baseball, but his batting was poor. Thus, he was not considered for big baseball leagues.
He had taken dance lessons from his mother, and he saw people made good money by dancing. He honed his skills and started to look for a career as a dancer.
He eventually started taxi dancing in the predominantly backward parts of New York City, and although he struggled financially at first, he eventually started making money. Winning a Charleston competition also helped. Slowly, he made a great name as a dancer and started touring around in cities such as London, Vienna, and Paris.
His immense success at dancing led him to work as a dancer in ‘Broadway’ shows. Some of his most popular performances were for ‘The City Chap’, ‘Madhattan,’ and ‘Palm Beach Nights.’ In 1942, he made an autobiographical film based on this part of his life, titled ‘Broadway.’
After being suggested by a few friends to pursue his film career, George moved to Los Angeles to try his luck in films in 1927. During the early phases of his struggle when he was not getting steady work in films, George danced in clubs of Los Angeles to make fast money.
In 1929, George made his acting debut with a film titled ‘Queen of the Night Clubs.’ The film is now considered lost, and there were rumors that George's scenes had been chopped out from the final print of the film.
Following his debut film, in which he had a small role, George appeared in minor roles in films such as ‘Gold Diggers of Broadway’ and ‘Side Street.’ In both films, he played small roles as a dancer.
His career picked up a relentless pace in the early 1930s, when he was spotted by filmmaker Rowland Brown, who gave him a meaty part in his film ‘Quick Millions.’ George also had a solo dance sequence in the film, which brought him more attention.
He then appeared in supporting roles in films such as ‘Hush Money’ and ‘Goldie.’ His portrayal of a gangster in the 1932 film ‘Dancers in the Dark’ won him further critical acclaim.
1932 was the luckiest year for George, as it brought his first major breakthrough in Hollywood. The gangster drama film ‘Scarface’ was released that year. The film featured George in the role of ‘Guino Rinaldo.’ The film became a critical and commercial hit and ended up being regarded as a cult classic by audiences.
George was signed up by ‘Paramount Studios,’ and he appeared in the lead role in the 1932 film ‘Night After Night,’ which was a success.
Thrilled by this new-found success, George appeared in many films in the mid-1930s. Some of such movies were ‘Bolero,’ ‘The Trumpet Blows,’ ‘Limehouse Blues,’ ‘Rumba,’ and ‘Stolen Harmony.’
With the 1935 film ‘Every Night at Eight,’ George explored the comedy genre and then appeared in another comedy film, ‘She Couldn’t Take It.’
George also tasted considerable success with ‘Warner Bros. Pictures’ in the 1940s and appeared in some successful films such as ‘They Drive by Night,’ ‘Manpower,’ ‘Stage Door Canteen,’ and ‘Background to Danger.’
However, in the late 1940s, George’s stars started to fade away, with quite a few unsuccessful films, such as ‘Johnny Allegro,’ ‘Red Light,’ and ‘A Dangerous Profession.’ Some of his last screen appearances were for films such as ‘The Man with Bogart’s Face’ and ‘Sextette.’
Family & Personal Life
George Raft married his long-time girlfriend, Grace Mulrooney, in 1923. Although the couple separated soon after their marriage, Grace refused to sign the divorce papers. George supported her financially throughout her life.
George was known to have had romantic involvements with several actors of his time, such as Norma Shearer, Mae West, and Carole Lombard.
George was also linked with the underworld many times. In 1967, he was denied permission to enter the UK due to his associations with the underworld.
George died from emphysema on November 24, 1980.