THE GEORGE RAFT DANCE PARTY--THREE CLIPS
Let's close the week's journey from Paris nightclubs to Tango madness with, of all things, a look at the dancing career of Hollywood tough-guy-but-really-mushmouth-with-a-good heart-and-he-might have-once-been-a-gangster-but-who-can-trust-a-movie-like-the 'George Raft Story'...George Raft. Although born in Hell's Kitchen and a childhood friend of gangsters like Owney Madden, Raft--after stints as a boxer and pro-ballplayer--somehow drifted into dancing as a profession. Hard to picture now, but the 'hoofer' of the 1920s was a tough guy whose prowess with the feet was all the rage with the dames. (Am I making an politically incorrect assumption that all dancers were later a bunch of nances who scored sleeping pills for Judy Garland, danced at the Trocadero under the direction of famous swish Billy Daniels and wound up, if lucky, in Jack Cole's good graces and on George Cukor's Sunday afternoon invitation list? Nah...)
Raft was indeed a superb dancer and participated in a number of Broadway shows of the 20s, as well as being a staple of nightclub queen Texas Guinan's floorshow. After being ordered to Hollywood by a few gangsters who probably owned a 'piece' of him, he wound up breaking through as a dancer in movies like 'Side Street', a 1929 pre-code musical which is Rafts earliest extant talkie. ('Queen Of The Nightclubs' is a lost film and only two reels of 'Gold Diggers of Broadway' survive). Above is a clip of a kicking 'crazy-legs' groove that Raft must have perfected on the dance floors of Prohibition New York's classiest speakeasies.
But the untrained Raft could dance a Bolero as good as anyone in Hollywood and the below clip, from 1934 Carol Lombard vehicle 'Bolero' shows her and Raft performing the eponymous dance. Racy stuff for its day--especially given that the Production Code was in effect when the film went into release. The opening minute sets up the scene--apparently they were once dance partners, before Carol went hoity-toity and gave Raft, clearly the hoi-polloi, the grand go-by.
Finally, here's Raft dancing a tango with the luscious Janet Blair from the 1942 Raft vehicle 'Broadway', which was ostensibly based on his life. I must admit that I saved it for last for reasons all too evident if you compare it with yesterdays tango as performed my the masterful Veloz and Yolanda; it simply isn't in the same league. Stiff and formal, the Raft/Blair tango has a very 'Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing In a Hurry' feel. Even the music chosen is as typical and stiff as a Tango can be. Could Raft have done better? Most likely. Perhaps by then he no longer really cared much for his former career and just wanted to slam through it and head to Romanoff's for a pre-prandial Martini. But it's still worth a few minutes of your time, especially if, like me, you're in serious work-avoidance mode.
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 11:35 AM