George Raft Talks (1934) 🇺🇸
And here you have the answers to the questions all Hollywood wanted to ask.
by Nan Campbell
When George Raft was questioned by reporters concerning reports that as soon as the Chicago beauty, Mrs. Virginia Peine Lehmann, got her divorce she would become his bride he said, “She’s a lovely girl, but the rumors are ridiculous. I have a wife.”
And that was the first time that he had actually admitted the existence of the girl he married ten years ago. It is true that a few people knew that he was married but Raft, himself, had not revealed the fact. His admission at last cleared up a lot of questions about which Hollywood had been worrying. It explained why, when he and Marjorie King were seen dining and dancing in the smart Hollywood restaurants, Marjorie ducked at the approach of news photographers. It explained why — although George seemed to like the ladies and the ladies all liked George — there had been no engagement announcements. But it still left unanswered questions.
Why had he kept marriage a secret all these years? If they were separated — as they seemed to be — why didn’t they get a divorce? Was keeping this mysterious wife George’s way of side-stepping matrimony with girls who would have welcomed the chance of becoming George’s bride?
But at last these questions are answered. At long last George has talked for New Movie readers.
“We married when we were both quite young,” he said. “At the time she wanted it kept a secret. I didn’t. I was proud to be married to such a swell girl. I had a job, but I wasn’t making much money. I couldn’t buy her grand clothes and take her to grand places. I thought she wanted those things — and I wanted to give them to her. But I couldn’t.
“She didn’t like the business I was in and wanted me to get out of it, but there was nothing I could do besides what I knew. And — well, we had been married just a year when we decided to separate. I don’t know all of the trouble now.
“Well, we didn’t get a divorce when we first separated. We’re not even legally separated, but when I signed my contract at Paramount the first thing they asked me was, ‘Are you married?’
“I told them sure I was, but that I was separated. They asked me if there was a chance of our going back together again and I told them absolutely not, so they said, ‘Okay, then; we just won’t mention it.’
“At that time whatever the studio decided was great with me. I had nearly starved before I got that job. There were times in California when I didn’t have enough to eat — but I was too proud to tell anybody or to borrow money, so I went right on starving until I got a job.
“The studio wasn’t paying me much money at first, which was right because it was up to me to make good. A couple of people knew about my marriage and begged me to talk about it — but I wouldn’t.
“Then Virginia Peine Lehman went back to Chicago to get a divorce and it happened that we were on the same train together and I had taken her out a few times in California — so you know how those reporters are — they asked me point blank if she and I weren’t going to get married. There was nothing to do then but admit I was already married — was there?”
I admitted that there wasn’t. “But why?” I asked, “now that it has all been admitted, don’t you get a divorce?”
“I’m going to talk to my wife about that,” he said. “I spoke to her on the telephone as soon as I got to New York. We’re neither of us getting any younger. It seems a shame that she has to be tied to me when she might want to marry somebody else.”
And that brings . up the question, which I asked: “But don’t you want to get married, yourself?”
“Listen,” George said earnestly, his face full of concentration and sincerity, “I wouldn’t take a chance on marriage.
“Let me tell you why. I’d like people to know. I’d like others to see my position in that special matter.
“Right now I’m on top of the world. They tell me my new picture is going over great at the box office. Well, that’s fine. But how long will it last? How long can I stick at the top? All you have to do is to look around you and see guys who were once big shots in pictures who haven’t a dime today. Maybe I’m good for five years more — maybe three, maybe two. I might flop after my next picture.
“For myself I don’t care. As long as I have my health and two arms and two legs and two eyes I’ll get by. I haven’t any pride about what I do. I’d just as soon shovel snow for a living — and let anybody say, ‘Why, there’s George Raft, shoveling snow.’ That wouldn’t worry me. But suppose I was married. Suppose I married one of the girls I know now. I’m making some money now. I could buy her swell clothes and a good car and give her a nice house to live in. But what would happen if I couldn’t keep it up?
“Look at Mrs. Virginia Peine Lehman. Look what she’s used to — jewels and clothes and cars. Do you think I’d ask a girl like that to stick to me if I didn’t have a dime? You bet I wouldn’t.
“As for me — I’ve known poverty and I’m not afraid of it. One person can always get along. When I was in California — starving almost — the person I loved better than anything in the world next to my mother — that was my father — died. I managed to get together $180. I could have gone home on that but I figured, ‘What would be the use of all of us starving? My mother can use that hundred and eighty better than having me come home.’ So I didn’t get to see my father before he was buried. I’ve never gotten over that.
“Now it would have been different if you married before you made a lot of money and went through all those things together.
“I know I’m not a great actor. I try to be natural and sincere on the screen and I think about my part so hard that lots of times I don’t speak to people I pass on the lot because I’ve got my mind on my work and don’t see them. So, if I’m anything on the screen I’m a personality. The personalities are the ones who don’t last forever. The great actors go on and on. So I’ve got to think about the future.”
And there you have, from George’s own lips, the answer to all the questions that Hollywood has wanted answered. The mystery is cleared up. Raft is an “on the level guy” — to use his own expression to describe a friend of his. I believe that he would always do what he considered fair. And you mustn’t blame him for worrying too much. You need only look in his face to know that there is a man — still young — who has been through enough poverty and suffering to suffice as penance for a lifetime of even contemplated misdeeds. With success coming to him, as it did, so rapidly, so unexpectedly, you must not wonder that he doubts its reality.
Unless some girl is able to convince George that she would stick by him no matter what happened, I’m afraid he is going to continue on — just as he is — for a long, long time!
Menace? George Raft’s face shows suffering as well.
(Right) With Jean Acker, once the wife of his good friend, Rudolph Valentino.
Source: New Movie Magazine, August 1934