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March 14, 2009

Millard Kaufman Passes

Writer co-created Mr. Magoo at UPA

Millard Kaufman

Writer co-created Mr. Magoo at UPA

Millard Kaufman, a film and television writer and novelist who earned two Oscar nominations, died of heart failure March 14, 2009, in Los Angeles. He was 92.

With animator John Hubley, Kaufman created Mr. Magoo, the nearsighted character, voiced by Jim Backus, for the 1949 short "Ragtime Bear" at UPA Productions. Kaufman modeled the nearsighted character in part on his curmudgeonly uncle. He also wrote the story for UPA's "Punchy de Leon" short.

In 1954, his screenplay for WWII boot camp drama, "Take the High Ground" was Oscar-nommed. He was again nommed for Western "Bad Day at Black Rock," starring Spencer Tracy.

During the McCarthy Era, Kaufman risked his career by lending his name to the screenplay "Gun Crazy," by blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Initially unsure whether he should help out, he consulted with his wife. "But we discussed it and we believed it was rotten that a man couldn't write under his own name," Kaufman told Daily Variety in 1992. That year he officially requested the Writers Guild of America West take his name off the credits, replacing it with Trumbo's name. "I've been telling people for years that I didn't write that movie, but I guess it never becomes official until it appears in the newspaper," Kaufman said.

Kaufman worked in Hollywood for more than 50 years, writing screenplays' including "Never So Few," "The Warlord," "The Klansman" and the anti-capital punishment film, "Convicts Four" (1962), which he also directed.

For television, he wrote the docudrama "Enola Gay" and wrote for series including "Police Story" and "Starsky and Hutch."

He became a novelist at the age of 86 when McSweeney's published his book "Bowl of Cherries." The novel "is equal parts 'Catcher in the Rye' and 'Die Hard,'" noted The New Yorker.

Born in Baltimore, Kaufman graduated Johns Hopkins U. and then worked as a newspaper reporter. During WWII, he served in the Marines and earned a bronze star. He moved with his wife to Hollywood after the war to recuperate from the malaria and dengue fever he had contracted in the South Pacific.

Kaufman also authored screenwriting text "Plots and Characters," published in 1999. He lectured on screenwriting at the institutions including the Sundance Institute, Johns Hopkins, UCLA, and USC, and was a mentor to many aspiring writers. His second novel, "Misadventure," will be published by McSweeney's later this year.

He is survived by his wife of 66 years, Lorraine; two daughters, a son and seven grandchildren.

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