Wednesday, March 18, 2009

RIP: Millard Kaufman

Screenwriter and Mr. Magoo co-creator, Millard Kaufman died of heart failure Saturday. He was 92.

Kaufman's many-storied career includes two Academy Award nominations, a WWII tour with the Marines, two terms on the WGA West board, credits as director, credits as producer, and the role of cult icon following the publication of his first novel (at 90!). It was his work as screenwriter of the 1949 short, Ragtime Bear, which garnered him the most acclaim in the mainstream, as it was the first appearance of the beloved cartoon character, Mr. Magoo.

Magoo, voiced by Gilligan's Island actor, Jim Backus (sans his wife) and later portrayed by Leslie Nielsen, is a short, old man who refuses to accept his bad eyesight, yet somehow manages to barely escape disaster at every turn. Magoo was one of the few human cartoon characters of the time and executives only released the Ragtime Bear short because it had a bear in it! But Quincy Magoo would go on to win the studio two Oscars.

In 2007, Kaufman wrote his first novel, Bowl of Cherries. He started work on the bawdy coming-of-age novel when he was 86. Bowl of Cherries was met with critical and popular acclaim, making Kaufman something of a cult icon in certain circles. His second novel, Misadventure, will be published posthumously by McSweeney's.

Millard Kaufman was survived by his wife of 66 years, along with their three children and seven grandchildren.

© C Harris Lynn, 2009
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