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A George Raft Autograph And The Pen

09/26/2020

Films and film stars of the 1930’s, 40’s and early 50’s have fascinated me for years. Film noir and musicals are of particular interest though the Thin Man movies and My Man Godfrey all starring William Powell are favorites, too. However, the man at the top of my list is George Raft, a dancer on Broadway before becoming a leading man in Hollywood. He was also a very good man, uncommon in the cut-throat entertainment industry.

George was born 125 years ago today, September 26, which got me looking at files and photos. Based on autographs, he most often used a fountain pen with brown ink. I have also seen him use turquoise. He appreciated and could afford the finest quality available so it would be reasonable to assume he owned a Montblanc pen. Both of the ink colors, especially for the time, showed sophisticated taste, not surprising for the debonair actor. I wonder which brand of ink he used.

This autograph from my collection looks to have been written with a ballpoint pen. What do you think? If so, that would date it to the mid 1950’s or later when ballpoints became common. The paper has yellowed and appears to be at least that old. “George” is written less firmly than “Raft” so either it was written on an uneven surface or the pen failed to write consistently when first put to paper. There are none of the blobs of ink that one would expect from a ballpoint so perhaps the signature was written with a fountain pen. Again, what do you think?

If you have an interest in George Raft, here are some notes from research for a possible tribute site. Perhaps because he was and still is a legend, there is a bit of inaccurate information about him circulating online. Correcting the record suits the investigative journalist in me. Whether that comes about or not, he made audiences during the Depression, World War II and the beginning of the Cold War, forget their troubles. For that alone, he has earned my respect.

Often remembered as the quintessential movie gangster, he was also a romantic lead adept at comedy as well as drama. He insisted his tough guy characters have redeeming qualities. None were all bad even the most villainous ones.

From his start on the mean streets of Hell’s Kitchen to dancing on Broadway to making movies in Hollywood, George became a style icon, suave, handsome, kind, funny, charming, generous and ever the gentleman. Women whether fans or friends adored him. His prowess was legendary but he never spoke ill of any woman much to his credit. It might seem incongruous, but he was self-effacing, shy, and insecure. He needed no pick-up lines since his shyness kept him from making the first move. He was an unassuming ladies’ man for which he was richly rewarded.

A genuine tough guy, George was fully capable of decking any comer should one be foolish enough to ask for it and not afraid to stand up for what he knew was right. He was resilient, perhaps because life knocked him around, but it also made him empathetic and generous to a fault. He was forever giving money away and expected nothing in return. He basically lived by his own code of helping others whenever he could. He was a very, very good man.

George was one of the highest paid actors of the 1930’s. His earliest outstanding role was as the coin-flipping Guino Rinaldo in Scarface (1932). If there had been a supporting actor category that year, he would have at least been nominated if not the winner. Several other films were standouts include Bolero (1934), Each Dawn I Die (1939), They Drive by Night (1940) and Some Like It Hot (1959). My current favorite is Red Light (1949) for George’s performance though not the plot line. Nocturne (1946) is also a good film.

He dropped out of school at the age of eleven and for the rest of his life was embarrassed by his lack of education. His prodigious memory may have filled the gap as he was nevertheless said to be a most charming companion.

A lack of belief in himself, made selecting scripts difficult. George said he never regarded himself as an actor. “I wanted to be me”.

George had some very bad advice and made some poor choices of films. He made Bogart’s career by turning down High Sierra and, on the advice of his agent, The Maltese Falcon, a film that would have been perfect for him.

His acting suffered at the hands of mediocre directors. Good ones brought out good performances whether comedy or drama just as working with good actors elevated his delivery. He had chops as they say, but he was seldom encouraged to show it. Hollywood was a narrow-minded and often cruel place to work (still is), and George like Jimmy Cagney and other multi-talented actors were seldom allowed to stray beyond unimaginative type-casting. However, George was feisty and fought for what he thought would be better roles earning him a reputation for being difficult. His chutzpah was admirable even if his choices were not.

But first and foremost, George was a dancer. He was a self-taught, natural dancer who spent countless hours honing his skills. Known for his lightning-fast legs, sensual hip motion and light footwork, he was smooth, classy and could make the tango an act of vertical seduction. He was the bad boy any woman could love. (Links below.)

The quintessential tough guy said this about himself: “I must have gone through $10 million during my career. Part of the loot went for gambling, part for horses, and part for women. The rest I spent foolishly.”

Charismatic whether the villain, hero or someone in between, George Raft deserves legend status if not for the roles he played, then the man he was.

George Raft and Janet Blair Dance the Tango in Broadway (1942).  Another version edited to Dean Martin’s Sway. Watch their hands. Elegant and sensual even if suited to a G rating. The first clip is the original though interrupted by some cuts to other characters. It is still worth watching.. I have read that this film was at least in part based on George’s real life experiences on Broadway.

George Raft and Carole Lombard in Rumba (1935). Carole was not a dancer but she was very athletic. George had to manage her as well as the gorgeous dress. He makes her the focus but in truth he was the star.

George Raft Dances to Sing Sing Sing by Louis Prima (1929). Not the original score but very fitting. Look at the legwork and the fit of George’s clothes. He was still doing these moves when he was 60!

George Raft Enhanced Dance Scene from Loan Shark (1954). Not that anyone could imitate George’s swaying hips or smooth moves, but dancing with him looked like something even an untrained partner could manage.

More videos at George Raft The Dancer and films at Hollywood-The Golden Age. My George Raft YouTube channel and George Raft Films have clips and films saved while doing research. If you want to learn more, he has his own Facebook group called George Raft The Actor, Dancer, Producer. Good stuff there.

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