Scarface: George Raft Brought Real Crowd Bonds To The Original Film
Raft never forgot the mugs from his old neighborhood. When Meyer Lansky sent Siegel, who had made hits for Murder, Inc., to shore up Las Vegas for the syndicate, Raft’s childhood pal stopped in Hollywood first. Siegel made Mickey Cohen his number two in Los Angeles, taking over the Screen Extras Guild and the Teamsters. Raft made Siegel a Tinseltown legend, introducing him to Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Louis B. Mayer, Jack Warner, Tony Curtis and Virginia Hill.
Always ready to help a friend in need, Raft testified on Siegel’s behalf in 1944 when the mobster was arrested for a half-million-dollar-a-day bookmaking operation. It was one of many businesses Siegel stole from West Coast crime family boss Jack Dragna, including gambling, numbers rackets, and drug trafficking. Siegel was a very enterprising mobster. He even got a share in the construction of the Hoover Dam.
Raft was an easy-going diplomat, appearing at crowd overtures and bringing along his movie star friends. When the mob built the Sands in Las Vegas, Raft and Frank Sinatra were brought into the deal, with the singer getting a 9% stake in the hotel/casino. Siegel and Moe Sedway took over the Flamingo Hotel from William R. Wilkerson and set out to redesign it into an oasis of play and entertainment. The famous casino opened its doors on Boxing Day 1946. Raft was a guest of honor in a nearly empty room.
When Siegel was assassinated on June 20, 1947, Raft took death very hard. Lansky appreciated the personal connection and offered professional courtesies. He put Raft on the payroll at the Capri hotel in Cuba. The actor barely made it out alive when Fidel Castro’s guerrillas ousted Fulgencio Batista from leadership and banned casinos. In the 1960s, Raft chaired Lansky’s hip London casino, the Colony Sports Club. British authorities branded Raft a mob leader and expelled him from the country. The reputation of an actor had succeeded him.
A longtime Hollywood legend claims that Bogart got the role of Rick Blaine in casablanca after Raft turned him down. The two actors, who have been paired in several must-see movies, have maintained a gag of undying professional gratitude for years. Raft turned down lead roles in High Sierra, The Maltese Falconand All night long, all taken by Bogart. But Raft was never up for the iconic saloon keeper character, according to the book, Casablanca: behind the scenes by Harlan Lebo. He lobbied for it but had rejected too many parts, irritating Jack Warner.
Raft found a wide range of vehicles with every major studio, most of which had him under contract or suspended him from one throughout his career. He was a versatile dancer, whose tango was memorably inscribed on screen in Bolero (1934). Raft’s low-key, no-frills delivery brought cinematic magic to social dramas, urban mysteries and political thrillers of film noir. But he will forever be considered one of Hollywood’s first badass. scarface starred Muni as the tragic villain. Raft stole the film as a true outlaw.