Saturday, December 22, 2012

Classic TV Ads: The George Raft Prison Ad for Alka-Seltzer

By Nicholas Stix

Thanks to jeclark2006.

This one has to be on the short list for the all-time greatest TV commercial. It was an instant classic in my childhood. It was reportedly made in 1969, and entitled, "The Unfinished Lunch."

I believe that this spot was created by the legendary ad agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach (now known as DDB Worldwide). I could not find definitive confirmation of this hunch, but DDB appears to have had the account at the time. I could not yet determine who wrote and directed the spot.

Who was George Raft?

“I must have gone through $10 million during my career. Part of the loot went for gambling, part for horses and part for women. The rest I spent foolishly.”

George Raft
(Back then, 10 mil was real money.)

Readers who are not movie lovers are not likely to recall the name George Raft, but he was a big star in the 1930s and early ‘40s, born either in 1895, as was until recently reported, or in 1901, as is now widely reported. (I find it highly unlikely that a movie star would let a false report gain credence that he was six years older than he really was, when that report could prematurely end his days as a star. Plus, in 1959’s Some Like It Hot, Raft looked plenty old.)

Raft first made his name as a professional dancer, but became a star playing gangsters, a role he was quite familiar with.

Raft was a close friend, since their childhood in murderous Hell’s Kitchen, of gangster Bugsy Siegel. Raft was a notorious womanizer, even by Hollywood standards, and was considered an intimidating character, even if he was only 5’7.” His big break came with his role as Paul Muni’s right-hand man in Scarface (1932).

The reason Raft isn’t better remembered, is that aside from a limited acting range, he had horrible judgment. He reportedly turned down three huge roles Warner’s offered him, all of which then went to Humphrey Bogart, and which made Bogart, “Bogie.”

High Sierra’s (1941) clever (for the role it assigns the press in making criminals stars), sensitive script by a young John Huston and W.R. Burnett, intelligent direction by Raoul Walsh, and a bravura performance by Bogart as Roy “Mad Dog” Earle, with able support by Ida Lupino as Earle’s girl, made it one of the greatest gangster pictures ever made.

The Maltese Falcon, based that same year on the classic Dashiell Hammett novel, with script and direction by Huston, became the ultimate private eye movie masterpiece, the stuff celluloid dreams are made of.

The following year, Casablanca attained such legendary status that people have devoted entire books to it. After that, the rest was history.

But just to keep on the safe side, Raft is supposed to have turned down the male lead opposite Barbara Stanwyck in Billy Wilder’s first masterpiece, Double Indemnity (1944), which was co-scripted by Wilder and Raymond Chandler.

Thereafter, Raft still worked on a regular basis, but the great lead roles stopped coming.

And that, boys and girls, is why the whole world isn’t familiar with the name, George Raft.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing Alka-Seltzer commercials all the time in the 1960's, but don't recall that one.

My favorite George Raft film is "They Drive By Night," in which he co-starred with Humphrey Bogart. I think Raft had top billing.

Bogie is supposed to have been worried he would end up as "another Barton MacLane." In other words, playing character roles as a heavy most of the time.

Getting the lead role in "High Sierra"and "The Maltese Falcon" made his career. According to the commentary by his biographer on the Maltese Falcon DVD, Bogie said something like "first I knocked off Muni, then Raft."

David In TN