Day 24 of Noirvember: Comings and Goings

Duff’s career began in radio.

November 24th was a significant day in the lives of three classic movie performers, each of whom had a prominent role in at least three films noirs – they were either born on the 24th of November, or that was date on which they died. Today’s Noirvember post pays tribute to these perfomers, and the noir films in which they appeared.

Howard Duff

Duff was born on November 24, 1913, in Bremerton, Washington, a day he once described as “so foggy, even the birds were walking.”

Duff started his career in radio, appearing on numerous radio serials before landing the title role in The Adventures of Sam Spade.

His first film was also his noir debut – Brute Force (1947), where he played one of five inmates who plan a risky prison break. Duff’s other noirs were The Naked City (1948), co-starring Ted De Corsia, Dorothy Hart, and Barry Fitzgerald; Shakedown (1950), a rarely seen, but absolutely cracking film noir where Duff plays an unscrupulous newspaper photographer; Private Hell 36 (1954), with Steve Cochran and Dorothy Malone; and While the City Sleeps (1956), starring Thomas Mitchell, Dana Andrews, and Ida Lupino.

Duff, Lupino, and their daughter, Bridget.

Speaking of Ida Lupino, Duff was married to the actress from 1951 to 1984. The two met while filming the noirish Woman in Hiding (1950). When they first met, Lupino declared that she “couldn’t stand Duff,” and Duff maintained that Lupino “scared” him.

During the HUAC witch hunt of the 1950s, Duff was jailed for contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions about Communism in the motion picture industry. His name was included in the publication Red Channels, which identified writers, directors, and performers suspected of Communist affiliations. Duff was removed from the cast of Sam Spade, couldn’t get a radio job for two years, and was able to land only a handful of screen gigs.

The actor died of a heart attack at the age of 76 in July 1990.

Geraldine Fitzgerald

Nobody Lives Forever with John Garfield.

Fitzgerald was born on the same day and year as Howard Duff, in Greystones, Ireland, the daughter of a prominent lawyer.

Encouraged to pursue acting by her aunt, she joined Dublin’s famous Gate Theatre, where her aunt was one of the leading stars. While there, she appeared in productions with future fellow luminaries James Mason and Orson Welles.

The actress was known for her combative nature, and she blamed herself for hampering her early career in Hollywood by fighting with studio heads over her roles. Her daughter, Susan Scheftel, once said, “My mother was just way too feisty to be in bondage to the Warner Bros.” (Incidentally, Susan’s father, Stuart Scheftel, was a businessman and grandson of the founder of Macy’s department store, Isidor Strauss, who, along with his wife, died on the Titanic. He and Fitzgerald were married from 1946 to Sheftel’s death in 1994.)

One of her best-known films was Wuthering Heights.

She appeared in three films noirs: The Strange Love of Uncle Harry (1945), a period piece with George Sanders and Ella Raines; Three Strangers (1946), the eighth of nine features starring Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre; and Nobody Lives Forever (1946), where she was a wealthy spinster who is targeted for a con by John Garfield.

Her best-known roles were probably the second female leads she played in Wuthering Heights, as the pitiable wife of Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) and Dark Victory, as Bette Davis’s best friend.

Fitzgerald died in 2005 at the age of 91, from complications of Alzheimer’s Disease.

George Raft

Raft was born on September 26, 1895 (my older daughter’s birthday twin!) in New York City. His name at birth was George Ranft; one of 10 children, he grew up in the city’s rough Hell’s Kitchen area.

Raft was a dancer early in his career.

A school dropout at the age of 13, Raft was a professional boxer for a while, and then capitalized on his natural dancing ability by working as a “taxi-dancer” in local cafes.

His breakout role was Scarface (1932), a thinly veiled accounting of the exploits of gangster Al Capone. After the release of the film, Capone himself reportedly reached out to Raft to offer his stamp of approval. Over the years, Raft also hobnobbed with other gangland figures, like Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Owney Madden.

Raft claimed that he was “tricked” in 1923 into marrying Grace Mulrooney, who had once worked as one of his ballroom dancing partners. The couple separated soon after they wed, but Mulrooney refused to grant Raft a divorce – a stance that she maintained until her death in 1970.

Raft’s first noir was Johnny Angel (1945).

Under contract to Paramount, Raft was put on suspension for refusing to appear in The Story of Temple Drake (1933), starring Miriam Hopkins. Raft said, “It’s not that I mind being the guy on the wrong side of the law, but I won’t take a role that’s pure heel. The character has to have some ray of warmth, some redeeming quality – or it just isn’t real.” Raft also famously turned down the roles in High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon that would be played to much success by Humphrey Bogart.

Raft appeared in five noirs: Johnny Angel (1945), where he played a ship’s captain investigating the death of his father and his crew; Nocturne (1946), with Lynn Bari and Virginia Huston; Red Light (1950), with Virginia Mayo and Gene Lockhart; Loan Shark (1952), in which he played an ex-con who goes undercover to infiltrate a loan sharking gang; and Rogue Cop (1954), where he played a syndicate boss.

Raft died of emphysema on November 24, 1980, at the age of 85.

Join me in saluting these November 24th illuminaries today . . . and join me for Day 25 of Noirvember tomorrow!


~ by shadowsandsatin on November 24, 2019.

5 Responses to “Day 24 of Noirvember: Comings and Goings”

  1. Your photo of Raft from Johnny Angel has him talking to one of Raft’s best friends and body guard Mack Gray who appeared in most of Rafts films. I would also say that They Drive By Night 1940 is considered a film noir

  2. Geraldine was also a singer. On you tube – Geraldine Fritzgerald at Reno Sweeney Streetsongs TV

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