A few weeks ago we wrote about Judy Canova, the radio star of the 1930’s and 40’s who also made movies.
We also wrote about George Raft — the tough guy who turned down the role of Sam Spade in 1941’s “The Maltese Falcon,” which went to Humphrey Bogart and is generally considered to have made Bogie’s career.
So it was fun when we ran across this picture of Canova and Raft (in their later years, of course) and we decided to share it with you.
Hello everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers here musing about the workings of Hollywood, which in its heyday really was a small town where all the stars ran into each other at parties and openings.
That’s Raft, of course, on the right, bald but still able to turn on one of his dazzling smiles. Judy is the woman next to him also sporting a big smile and multiple strings of (real?) pearls. The strikingly chic woman on Raft’s arm bears little resemblance to the homespun comedienne Judy played back her heyday. (Another Hollywood illusion dashed!)
Offhand, we cannot easily come up with an odder Hollywood couple than Judy Canova and George Raft.
She was Florida born in 1913, and cut her early show biz teeth in a family vaudeville and radio act billed as The Three Georgia Crackers. Judy gained notoriety for her cornpone comedy routines capitalizing on her rubbery face (she purposely made herself up to appear homely). She eventually signed on with Warner Brothers in the early early 1930’s as the studio’s hick-from-the-sticks version of Martha Raye.
Judy appeared in several forgettable movies through the Thirties and early Forties, usually with hillbilly-goes-to-Hollywood plot lines. She is probably best remembered for her radio appearances on “The Judy Canova Show,” which ran into the mid-50’s on CBS and then NBC.
Raft was anything but a hick from the sticks. It’s fair to say that he had one of the weirdest Hollywood careers in movie history. He wasn’t a terribly good actor, and he was made well aware of his limitations.
But a huge Achilles heel was his truly TERRIBLE judgement. Allowing his enlarged ego to get in the way, Raft rejected starring parts in three of the greatest classics in movie history: “The Maltese Falcon,” 1941’s “High Sierra,” and 1942’s “Casablanca.” By doing so, he inadvertently allowed a then little known studio upstart, Humphrey Bogart, to solidify the basis of a hugely successful career.
Raft was born in New York City of immigrant German parents (his surname at birth was George Ranft) in either 1895, 1901 or 1903 –take your pick since the record books are unclear on this too. He grew up in a tough urban neighborhood, and learned early to dress sharply, take care of business and survive. He also happened to be a pretty fair dancer with show business aspirations.
It’s impossible to talk about George Raft without getting into his alleged mob connections including, supposedly, easy access to notorious Hollywood mobster Bugsy Siegel. Even the most hardened studio bosses were said to actually be afraid of crossing Raft. His stints at Paramount and Warner Brothers resulted in a long list of undistinguished movies opposite leading ladies including Mae West (her first feature, 1932’s “Night After Night”) and Silvia Sidney.
Raft’s best work, for our money, is on display in Howard Hawk’s marvelous “Scarface” of 1932. Also, Frank likes him in various film noir parts including an entertaining walk-through in 1953’s “The Man From Cairo.” Also definitely worth another look-see is director Raoul Walsh’s trucker melodrama, 1940’s “They Drive By Night,” with Raft costarring with Ida Lupino, Ann Sheridan and, yes, Bogart.
Trivia point — Raft is one of the few Hollywood actors to have a movie based on his life filmed while he was still alive. Who can forget 1961’s Allied Artists production of “The George Raft Story,“ costarring Ray Danton as Raft and one Jayne Mansfield as his lover of the time, Lisa Lang? (No guarantees from the management about this one.)
Raft’s tough-guy career, which began in 1929, tapered off into near extinction by the mid-Fifties. As he got older and farther from the Hollywood movie making machinery, he took to making personal appearances at gambling casinos around the world. For example, he was a familiar figure in pre-Castro Havana. Various legal problems dogged him to the end, which came in Los Angeles in 1980.
Raft supposedly said before he died that he burned through a cool $10 million over the course of his lifetime –women, gambling and lousy investments. But on this particular evening, the one shown in the picture above, he and Judy looked like one of those million bucks.
Have you any photos of stars you’d like to share? Send them to us and we’ll be happy to relate a story to go with them.