George Raft (1895-1980)
- Jack La Rue, The Story of Temple Drake, 1933.
The All-Time Loser... Raft could never see beyond the end of his ego. Though he did replace Gary Cooper in one film and James Cagney in another, his nit-picking rejection record is abysmal. Usually, dumb! And the reason why Humphrey Bogart became a star… Raft accomplished more for Bogie than his agent. Paramount suspended him for refusing this one, a film every studio had been forbidden to make by the censorious Hays Office - based on William Faulkner's Sanctuary. Raft insisted that the “revolting character” of Trigger would ruin his career, even end it. Didn’t hurt La Rue. He went on into a further 118 screen roles for a career total of 141… compared to Raft’s 82.
- Fredric March, The Eagle and The Hawk, 1933. Raft refused to join Cary Grant as RAF pilots in WWI. The RAF 's sigh of relief in London must have been heard at the Paramount HQ, 5451 Marathon Street, LA.
- Cary Grant, She Done Him Wrong, 1933. Testing Broadway sensation Mae West on film meant a quickie, Night After Night, 1932, with Raft as her leading man, before risking Mae's more expensive stage hit, Diamond Lil. Paramount changed her title. And her leading man. And not because Mae had seen Grant, on the lot and said: "If this one can talk, I'll take him." That 's as fake as: "How old Cary Grant?" "Old Cary Grant fine. How you?" Pity!
- Roger Pryor, Belle of the Nineties, 1934. Said Mae West: "I'd'a had him [in her debut, Night After Night] and I woulda hadda co-star with him again. This way I didn't hafta co-star with anyone. I just featured them."
- Fred MacMurray, The Princess Comes Across, 1935. As usual, Raft found something to object to. This time it was co-star Carole Lombard's choice of cameraman Ted Tertzlaff. She chose Raft’s replacement - easily. Just as (lovers) Katharine Hepburn and Claudette Colbert voted for MacMurray for seven more films that year.
- Humphrey Bogart, Dead End, 1937. The start of a wonderful relationship - first of nine roles Bogie inherited from reluctant Raft. Nine!
- Lloyd Nolan, St Louis Blues, 1939. "I'm not a good enough actor to trust myself to any but the best director, best cameraman and best story." And this was "another of those hurry-up things," admitted director Raoul Walsh. "Didn't have much of a story, didn't play at all, And the music was no good, too."
- Lloyd Nolan, Johnny Apollo, 1939. The titular Tyrone Power gets a decent dramatic role - and in modern dress - for once in his Fox career but Raft passed on his offer. “I said: No more gangsters!”
- James Cagney, Torrid Zone, 1939. Raft was supposed to star - and not Cagney in a Gable tash. What was he thinking ? That had been bad enough in Ceiling Zero, 1934. (Gary Cooper didn’t wear one in the 1952 re-make, Blowing Wild). First slated as a B quickie, the action was as rapid as the dialogue once Jimmy was aboard. Cagney and Raft met in vaudeville and Jimmy helped give him a leg up into movies when he also arrived in Film City. So much so, it is said (and by Cagney, himself), that Raft used his gangster connections to cancel a Mafia hit on Cagney (by dropping a klieg light on him) when he was fighting the mob for real as President of the Screen Actors Guild.
- Humphrey Bogart, It All Came True, 1940. Raft was right. The tale of a killer hiding out in a rundown boarding house of stage amateurs went, said the New York Times' critic, BR Crisler, "from simple to simple-minded."
- Humphrey Bogart, High Sierra, 1940. Raft was wrong. But then he was Raft. And superstitious. Stupidly so. "I won't die at the end." "Who can we get?" said Jack Warner. Bogart, said Raoul Walsh. "He's a tough guy to handle," said Warner. "Always grumbling. And saying around town that I'm a fairy... Go, read it to him. I'm not sure he can read." Bogie craved Mad Dog Earle. That’s why he had talked Raft out of it. “Not a film for you - just another gangster movie where the gangster gets shot at the end.” Bogie even gave top billing to Ida Lupino. And his own dog, Zero, played Pard.
- George Brent, South of Suez, 1940. By now, George was rowing with Warners and staying pally with a New York boyhood buddy: gangster Bugsy Siegel.
- Anthony Quinn, City For Conquest, 1940. Having refused a Cagney role, legend says Raft actually tested for for Quinn’s menacing role. (So did Cesar Romero). But the gigolo-dancer (nearly stealing Ann Sheridan from Cagney) was a mite too close to home.
- Boris Karloff, Devil's Island, 1940. Planned since 1927, when the French stopped using the island as a penal colony,Raft was due to make it as Song of Hell, until Warners matched the Universal impact of horror with Karloff. France called it anti-French and banned all Warners films.Warners wilted and re-shotscenes - by which time the Nazi Occupation of France banned all US films.
- Humphrey Bogart, Virgina City, 1940. Raft refused to be a villain (not to mention the fourth billing!), thus inventing The Bogart Role. As Vincent Sherman explained it: "If it's a sonuvabitch, give it to Bogart."
- Victor Mature, I Wake Up Screaming, 1940. Change of Frankie, being railroaded for murder by Laird Cregar’s cop in a B-thriller. As late as June 6, 2006, New York Sun critic Gary Giddins was hailing director H Bruce Humberstone’s work as “one of the most beautiful black-and-white movies ever made. Nearly every detail… suggests the glossy perfection that exemplifies what Andre Bazin famously called ‘the genius of the system’.”
- Spencer Tracy, Tortilla Flat, 1941. Paramount lost interest in John Steinbeck’s book when Raft turned down the lead in the 30s.As did Paul Muni at Warners- when Steinbeck declined to write any script. Steinbeck also refused to pen a script for Tracy unless he got “a lot of money and the right to work somewhere but Hollywood.”
- John Garfield, The Sea Wolf, 1941. "I want to work," Raft cabled Hal Wallis from New York, "but this is just a little better than a bit. I don't blame this on you because you're a nice guy and I know you tried your best for me." It was a great part in a great script, ran the Wallis reply: "the kind you have been wanting to play, namely the romantic lead in a good, gutty picture, you are not a heavy and you get the girl."
- Brian Donlevy, Two Yanks in Trinidad, 1941. Columbia tried to lease Raft from Columbia to add some class to two hood pals turning US spies in the extremely B thriller. What else - when helmed by Gregory Ratoff!
- Humphrey Bogart, The Maltese Falcon, 1941. Bogie was taken off suspension to play Sam Spade in... "not an important picture," exploded Raft’s letter to Jack Warner. "I must remind you again, before I signed the new contract... you promised me that you would not require me to perform in anything but important pictures." Bad enough that Dashiell Hammett's novel had been filmed twice when Raft's contract also stipulated no re-makes, but they tried to stick him with a brand new, untested director. John Huston!
- Humphrey Bogart, All Through The Night, 1942. Bogart's agent Sam Jaffe reported Bogie was unhappy about another Raft hand-me-down. "For the past year he's practically pinch-hitted for Raft and been kicked around from pillar to post." It was about time a film was prepared exclusively for Bogart. Enter: Casablanca.
- Humphrey Bogart, The Big Shot, 1942. A rotten judge of scripts, Raft never learned... and made a star of Bogie with all his rejections. "Bogart saved the film from disaster, " declared producer Walter MacEwan
- Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca, 1942.
- Ronald Reagan, Juke Girl, 1942. Reagan was (allegedly) trying to make up for (allegedly) rejecting Casablanca.
- Humphrey Bogart, Action in the North Atlantic, 1942. Raft passed another good ’un to Bogie. And Bogart played it superbly, as first mate to skipper Raymond Massey, as they help the crew survive after their oil freighter is sunk by a German U-boat.
- Fred MacMurray, Double Indemnity, 1943.
“I knew this was going to be a great picture,” said Billy Wilder. “Because Raft turned it down.” He was still refusing to die - even though the gas chamber finale was cut. "I don't read scripts," he told director and co-scripter Billy Wilder. "Tell it to me." Raft didn't like what he heard. "Let's get to the lapel bit." "What lapel bit, Mr Raft?" "The lapel! You know, when the guy flashes his lapel, you see his badge, you know he's a detective." "There is no lapel bit, Mr Raft," said Wilder. "So long pal," said Raft. He had as much lapel work as he could take when playing NYPD detective, Lieutenant George Kirby, in I’m The Law, TV, 1952-1953, a gritty, shot-on-location crime series which apparently spawned Naked City, Cagney & Lacy and NYPD Blueamong much other cop art. Director Billy Wilder's other thoughts for the murdering adulterer Walter Neff: James Cagney, Brian Donlevy, Alan Ladd, Fredric March, Gregory Peck. Spencer Tracy. They all fled!
- Humphrey Bogart, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, 1948. When the project as born in 1941, John Huston visualised Raft, John Garfield, Edward G Robinson, in the major roles. When Huston returned from WWII, Bogie was the new Big Cheese and Raft the rotten smell.
- Gordon MacRae, The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady, 1949. Theatre owner and performer Antonio Pastor was first aimed at Raft - until the brothers Warner decided to go younger with the 1880s tale and give Pastor more songs. At 28, MacRae was 20 years Raft’s junior.
- Robert Mitchum, The Big Steal, 1949. As soon as Raft passed, director Howard Hughes rushed it into production to keep RKO's favourite son on-screen... while in jail after his drugs bust.
- Glenn Ford, The Big Heat, 1953. Producer Jerry Wald first thought of going against type and selecting a famous baddy - Raft, Paul Muni or Edward G Robinson - as the tough cop Dave Bannion. Director Fritz Lang had other ideas.
- Edward Andrews, The Phenix City Story, 1954. Without stars (Raft, Edward G Robinson fleeing another gangster story), it had a slashed budget and higher critical acclaim for its docu-style look at what New York Times critic Bosley Crowther called “the shrewd chicanery of evil men, the callousness and baseness of their puppets and the dread and silence of local citizens” in the true tale of the little Alabama city.
- Ron Randell, Morning Call, 1957. George flew into London, hated the B-script - anywsy, he was refused a work permit by the British government. By 1966, he was totally barred from entering the UK because of Mafia connections.
- Cesar Romero, Agente quasi speciale Frank Putzu 1X7(UK/US:Madigan’s Millions), Italy-Spain-USA, 1966. An unwell Raft was Mike Madigan, until Romero had to take overthe US gangster deported to Italy. Enter: Dustin Hoffman in his first cinema movie (!), as the Italian title’s agent -US Treasury, not CIA. Jason Phister was called Frank Putzu in Italiano.And crap in the US, where producer Joseph E Levine offered to buy it and lose it to avoid embarrassing his Graduate. Hoffman's debut fee: $5,000. He graduated with:$17,000.
- Robert De Niro, Once Upon A Time In America, US-France, 1983. Early on in the writingprocess, maestro Sergio Leone decided to have his two Jewish hoodsplayed as children, adults, and old-timers.James Cagney was flattered by the invitation to be the older De Niro, but was not up tothe task.Nor indeed was Raft.And Paul Newman “no longer wanted to be associated with violence in films.”OK, said Leone, one actor will do…