Gangsters, everybody loves them Crimeziners. But who or what is responsible for this state of affairs—the Great Depression, Prohibition, or the shoot out sensationalism of 30s and 40s Hollywood? There can be no doubt that a confluence of these notorious times led to the rise of the gangster, but one man more than any other embodied the gangster legend.
Meet George Raft, a man who lived out the fast times and dangerous glamour of the New York underworld—famed for his roles in such classic movies as Scarface, Each Dawn I Die and the 1935 adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s Glass Key, Raft hit Hollywood by a route even more wild and compelling than that told by his success on the silver screen.
Rising out of Hell’s Kitchen New York City in the 1920’s, Raft was a smalltime boxer and baseball player, working his way through tough times anyway he knew how. He was childhood friends with many gangster legends, including Owney “the killer” Madden leader of the ruthless Gopher gang, and Benny—don’t call me Bugsy—Siegel. Always coy about his connections with the mob, Raft confessed to knowing such notorious names as Al Capone and racketeering legend Arnold Rothstein, but maintains he himself did nothing more than run bootleg liquor for the Madden mob.
A slick mover, Raft also made a mint as a dancehall lothario with pal and future screen legend Rudolph Valentino. The dance hall gigs proved a lucky break for Raft leading to a showbiz life several worlds away from his seedy gangster past. He never forgot his roots however and utilized his personal knowledge of the underworld’s most dangerous movers and shakers in his many film roles.
Now I know you are anxious to hear all the stories aren’t you Crimeziners? How Raft met Al Capone and what Capone’s verdict on the movie Scarface was? How Raft made Humphrey Bogart by turning down roles in The Maltese Falcon and High Sierra? How Raft seduced Betty Grable, Marlene Dietrich and Mae West? How despite all these affairs, and being the most sought after male lead in Hollywood he could never marry the woman he loved—how his relationship with Bugsy Siegel came back to haunt him and nearly ended his life?
Teasing Crimeziners. If you want to know all this and more, you will have to read Lewis Yablonsky’s book, George Raft. This excellent tome dishes the dirt on Raft’s crime connections, gives fascinating insights into the birth of Hollywood and the gangster movie; it also sets the social scene for these crimetastic events with perhaps the greatest gangster actor Hollywood ever saw.
So, if you want to get in at ground zero of the American gangster legend and find out how it all started, this is the book for you. The painful demise of Raft is also covered in some detail—but his death from Leukemia in 1980 is omitted Crimezine thinks it is high time for a new edition with an updated conclusion—sadly this update is unlikely, as acclaimed Sociologist Yablonsky died in 2014. Like gangsters? Buy this book today.