Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Celebrity: George Raft

George Raft (Lewis Yablonsky, Signet, 1975 — The cover shown here is from the 2000 reprint, company unknown)
Written while Raft was still alive and with the man's complete cooperation, the book tends to be a bit fawning at time, with many too many people telling how great Raft is and far too few telling any dirt. Still, Yablonsky keeps his white washing brush dipped but lightly in the paint and tries to tell the complete story, just telling it in a way that always makes Raft seem misunderstood or misconstrued or simply wrongly accused.
As anyone knows who has seen a Raft film, as an actor he was essentially a one trick pony, but his trick was done well. True, he could hoof it better than many of them, but though it was his twinkle toes that brought him to Hollywood, it was his aura of gangster danger that made his career on the screen. Insecure and probably overly conscious of his own shortcomings, Raft turned down tons of films that went on to become classic Bogart projects — had Raft had more balls (instead an eternally stiff dick), he might easily have become legend instead of simply a familiar face in movies of the past. His biggest mistake was probably letting himself get tricked into marrying his wife Grace, a catholic who forever refused to let him divorce her but had no qualms about leaching money from him her entire long life. A good argument that Raft really did have no "real" mob connections is the fact that she never suffered an "accident."
A sex addict that makes even Michael Douglas seem like an alter boy, Raft is more than willing to admit that he probably was the main source of income for half the whores in Hollywood during the heyday of his career, forever cursed to lose the women he actually loved by his inability to offer them what the all wanted most: marriage. One thing that comes across in the book is that Raft had no easy life. His roots based in the tenements of Hell's Kitchen, he was a troubled youth who left home at thirteen and lived by wits, dancing and otherwise entertaining women, not to mention occasionally breaking the law. That he eventually went as far as he did is less a miracle than proof that the man was as driven as he was a "type" that was well suited for the years that he was most popular. His decline in later years is less surprising or sad than to be expected. Had he only had more common sense in regards to money and friends his last years might have been much more successful and comfortable.
But then, common sense is one of the great joy-killers of life...

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