John Raitt

John Emmet Raitt (January 29, 1917[1] February 20, 2005) was an American actor and singer best known for his performances in musical theatre.

John Raitt
John Emmet Raitt

January 29, 1917
DiedFebruary 20, 2005(2005-02-20) (aged 88)
OccupationStage, film, television actor
ChildrenBonnie Raitt, Steve Raitt, and David Raitt

Early years

Raitt was born in Santa Ana, California. He got his start in theatre as a high school student at Fullerton Union High School in Fullerton, California.[2] While there, he played in several drama productions in Plummer Auditorium. Raitt sang in the chorus of The Desert Song.[3] (A few years before he died, Raitt again came back to the Plummer to see a rehearsal, visit students and recollect his beginnings.) He is on the school's "Wall of Fame" for his accomplishments.[4] In 1935, Raitt won the "football throw" at the California State High School Track and Field Championship; his mark of 220 feet remains the state record in that short-lived event.[5] He was named "Athlete of the Meet" after that accomplishment.[6] He graduated from the University of Redlands in 1939.[7] After graduating, he was initially inclined toward a classical concert career as a lyric baritone, using as his model Thomas L. Thomas, the elegant Welsh baritone. But after a consultation with Romano Romani, the composer, conductor, and coach who had shaped the career of soprano Rosa Ponselle, Raitt accepted that the timbre (or tone quality) of his voice was that of a tenor rather than a lyric baritone, but without the high notes of a concert tenor. As a result, he decided upon a career in popular music.


He is best known for his stage roles in the musicals Carousel, Oklahoma!,[8] The Pajama Game, Carnival in Flanders, Three Wishes for Jamie, and A Joyful Noise, in which he set the standard for virile, handsome, strong-voiced leading men during the golden age of the Broadway musical. His only leading film role was in the 1957 movie version of The Pajama Game opposite Doris Day.[9]

On television, he was seen many times on the Bell Telephone Hour. A clip of a television performance of Raitt singing the final section of the song "Soliloquy" from Carousel is included in the documentary film Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There. In 1957, also for television, he and Mary Martin re-created their starring roles in the national touring version of Annie Get Your Gun. On September 29, 1953, he joined Jackie Gleason and Phil Foster in an appearance on the CBS panel discussion This Is Show Business. On January 26, 1961, he appeared in the last season of NBC's The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford.

Raitt appeared in the 1960 episode, "The Man on the Road", on the syndicated anthology series, Death Valley Days, hosted by Stanley Andrews. He was cast as Jim Dandy, an itinerant peddler who befriends a boy, Pete Rawson (Kevin Jones), whose father, played by House Peters, Jr., has been jailed falsely for horse theft. The episode also stars Mort Mills as Holt, a leader in the efforts to lynch the suspect. Jim Dandy devises s scheme to find the real horse thief. Raitt also manages to sing one song in this episode.[10]

In addition, Raitt made several studio cast recordings of Broadway musicals, including Oklahoma! (as Curly) and Show Boat (as Gaylord Ravenal).

In 1945, John Raitt was one of the recipients of the first Theatre World Award for his debut performance in Carousel. In 1965, he starred in the twentieth-anniversary production of the show at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

In January 1992, Raitt was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Live Theatre, located at 6126 Hollywood Blvd.

Later years

In 1981, he found out that his high school sweetheart was widowed. Having recently divorced from his second wife, he phoned her. "Having played Zorba, I believe in grabbing at life," he recalled. "So I called her and this sweet voice answered. 'I'm free now,' I told her, 'and I'm coming to dinner.'" They married.

Raitt appeared in a 1996 cameo role in Season 1 (episode 12, "Frozen Dick") of 3rd Rock from the Sun in which he sings a portion of the title song from Oklahoma!

He died on February 20, 2005, at his home in Pacific Palisades, California, from complications due to pneumonia, aged 88.[11] Raitt was laid to rest at Anaheim Cemetery in Orange County, CA., beside his beloved wife of 23 years Rosemary.

From his first marriage, Raitt was the father of singer Bonnie Raitt, and former father-in-law of Michael O'Keefe. He was also the father of David Raitt and Steve Raitt, who played in bands and then switched to designing high-end home entertainment systems in Eden Prairie in Hennepin County, Minnesota, where he subsequently died of cancer. Raitt's grandson, Bay Raitt, is the creator of Gollum's face for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.


  1. Some sources claim January 19, but Raitt's official website provides January 29, 1917
  2. Morris, Kathy (2004). Fullerton. Arcadia Publishing. p. 22.
  3. "Hollywood Star Walk - John Raitt". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 26 December 2013.
  4. list of Wall of Fame members,, accessed 2011-09-29
  5. "California State Meet Results - 1915 to present". Hank Lawson. Retrieved 2012-12-25.
  6. John Raitt-Biography (IMDB)
  7. Author unknown. "John Raitt - Boradway's Legendary Star". Career - Broadway. Definite Maybe Productions LLC. Retrieved 21 June 2013.
  8. Severo, Richard (February 21, 2005). "John Raitt, 88, Star of 'Carousel' and 'Pajama Game,' Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 December 2013.
  9. "The Man on the Road on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved September 1, 2018.
  10. Weil, Martin (February 21, 2005). "Broadway Mainstay John Raitt Dies at 88". The Washington Post. Retrieved 26 December 2013.
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