Biography

Raft spent his childhood in the tough Hell's Kitchen area of New York, then left home at 13. He went on to be a prizefighter, ballroom dancer, and taxi-driver, meanwhile maintaining close contacts with New York's gangster underworld. He eventually made it to Broadway, then went to Hollywood in the late '20s. At first considered a Valentino-like romantic lead, Raft soon discovered his forte in gangster roles. He was the actor most responsible for creating the '30s cinema image of gangster-as-hero, particularly after his portrayal of coin-flipping Guido Rinaldo in Scarface (1932). He was highly successful for almost two decades, but then bad casting diminished his popularity. By the early '50s he was acting in European films in a vain attempt to regain critical respect, but he was unsuccessful. He starred in the mid-'50s TV series "I Am the Law," a failure that seriously hurt his financial status. In 1959 a Havana casino he owned was closed by the Castro government, further damaging his revenues; meanwhile, he owed a great deal to the U.S. government in back taxes. In the mid '60s he was denied entry into England (where he managed a high-class gambling club) due to his underworld associations. Most of his film appearances after 1960 were cameos. He was portrayed by Ray Danton in the biopic The George Raft Story (1961). ~ Rovi