Screenwriter Millard Kaufman who died last week at age 92 was twice nominated for an Oscar for writing Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) and Take the High Ground (1953), but he may be more remembered for writing Raintree County which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. And for those unfamilar with those movies or Kaufman at all will undoubtedly be familiar with a character he helped co-create, Mr. Magoo.
Mr. Magoo first came on the scene in 1949 in the cartoon Ragtime Bear. The near-sighted Mr. Magoo had many incarnations over the years and two short films featuring him won Oscars, Magoo’s Puddle Jumper and When Magoo Flew. Of course, a large part of Mr. Magoo’s charm was the unusual delivery by actor Jim Backus who was the voice of Mr. Magoo.
Kaufman was born and raised in Baltimore and didn’t set out to be a screenwriter until after World War II where he was a Marine seeing action in Guadalcanal, Guam and Okinawa. And though Kaufman had a great run from ’49 to ’57 with Magoo, Liz, and Oscar (nominations) he continued to write into old age publishing his first novel Bowl of Cherries when he was 90.
“Years ago, I was working in Italy, and Charlie Chaplin and his family came from Switzerland. We were at a beach north of Rome, and it was a very foggy day and the beach was lousy. At about three o’clock it cleared up, and Chaplin said, ‘I’m going back to the hotel. Unless I write every day, I don’t feel I deserve my dinner.’ That made an impression on me.”
First At Ninety by Rebcca Mead
The New Yorker
Kaufman also wrote a book on screenwriting, Plots and Characters. A Screenwriter on Screenwriting.