In Memoriam: Millard Kaufman, WWII Veteran and Front for Dalton Trumbo

On Veteran's day, a memoriam of writer Millard Kaufman.

O

n Veterans Day this year, which lands very near the release of the film Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston, I thought I’d take a moment to remember my old friend and mentor Millard Kaufman.

Millard not only fought for us in the war, but when he came back home he helped to defend our right to free speech and our ability to pursue happiness in a very fundamental way in his career as a screenwriter.  I often hear friends in the entertainment industry say, “This isn’t brain surgery, we’re not saving lives, here.” but in a great sense Millard was doing that in small steps throughout his career. Millard Kaufman enlisted in the Marines in 1942, served on Guadalcanal, landed at Guam with the 1st Marine Brigade (Provisional) where he wrote an article for the Marine Corps Gazette about the battle, then participated in the Battle of Okinawa with the 6th Marine Division.

Millard Kaufman

I met Millard 20 years ago in 1995 on a trip to Los Angeles with Matt Gross while we were ostensibly programming the 1995 Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium entitled “Framing Society: A Century of Cinema” which coincided with the 100th anniversary of film.  Dr. John Irwin, the long-time head of the Writing Seminars Department at Johns Hopkins, had provided us with a long distance introduction as Millard was a Hopkins alum from the class of ’39. So we met him at his home in the Hollywood Hills looking out over a forested sanctuary. Over our first simple tuna fish sandwich lunch, we began a friendship that spanned the next decade and a half.

Most may remember Millard Kaufman, if at all, as the co-creator of the cartoon character Mr. Magoo, who he based on his uncle, while many others will know his Academy Award nominated films Take the High Ground (1953) or Bad Day at Black Rock (1955). I’ll always remember him for his charm, his wry wit, his ability to swear comfortably in any company, and his sense of fairness.

Millard Kaufman in his youth

Apparently Hollywood itself has glossed over his contribution to helping to maintain Dalton Trumbo’s writing career in the recent release of Trumbo (2015), in which he isn’t mentioned (or portrayed on screen). [I’ll note here that I haven’t yet seen the movie, and may boycott it for the slight.] It is here in which Kaufman’s strong internal moral compass pressured him to help ensure Trumbo’s freedom of speech and, in part, his writing career. In short, the House Un-American Activities Committee’s (HUAC) pressured Trumbo which resulted in Trumbo’s being blacklisted in Hollywood and effectively destroying his writing career.

Trumbo and Kaufman shared the same agent at the time, George Willner. One day, relatively early in Kaufman’s career, Willner approached him to see if he would be willing to put his name on the script Gun Crazy that would turn into the 1950 film-noir crime classic to allow it to get made. As Millard told me many times, “I didn’t have much sense then, but at least I had sense enough to say, ‘Let me talk it over with Laurie’ [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 same year Kaufman, a board member of WGAw, officially requested that the Writers Guild take his name off the credits and replace it with Dalton Trumbo’s name. Kaufman’s fronting for Trumbo helped allow the film to get made, and Trumbo’s career to continue on, even if in the dark. As a board member of the Writer’s Guild Millard helped to restore credits to many writers of the blacklist era who were similarly slighted as a result of their politics at the time. It’s a travesty, that a film gets made highlighting this exact period in Trumbo’s life, but Millard’s small contribution to it has been all but forgotten.  Fortunately there are enough who do remember to tell the story.

Millard Kaufman

When I think of Millard and his various contributions, my favorite is always that he wrote the stunning script for Bad Day at Black Rock (MGM, 1955), a superb Western suspense film starring Spencer Tracy as a one-armed veteran facing mysterious enemies in a small desert town. The film shows how post-World War II America could be be both horrifyingly racist and cowardly, but it also showed a way out through Tracy’s character which always reminds me of Millard’s high-mindedness. It was such a great film, I was personally honored to screen it on November 3, 1995, as the premiere film in Shriver Hall after we had mounted a year-long renovation of the film equipment, screen, and sound system. The day before we were all honored to have Millard speak on “Censorship in Film” as part of the Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium.

For those who never had the chance to meet him, I’m including a short 3 minute video of several clips of him talking about a variety of topics.  The Millard portrayed here is the no-holds barred man I’ll always remember. Thanks for fighting for all of us, Millard!

 

For those looking for more information about Millard Kaufman, I’ll include the following articles:

Millard Kaufman, on writing novels. Quoted in Vulture while discussing his debut novel Bowl of Cherries.

Kaufman hands to head

“…[Millard] is the only first-time novelist I’ve met who could relate first-hand writing advice from Charlie Chaplin.”

Jordan Bass, editor, McSweeney’s in Salon (April 21, 2010). 

 

4-04-2008 Los Angeles ,CA Novelist Millard Kaufman, who published his first novel, "Bowl of Cherries," at age 90, at his home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles. Mr Kaufman is a veteran of WWII , a former newspaper copy boy, and a Hollywood screenwriter. He is also co-creator of Mr Magoo. photo © Jonathan Alcorn
4-04-2008 Los Angeles ,CA
Novelist Millard Kaufman, who published his first novel, “Bowl of Cherries,” at age 90, at his home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles. Mr Kaufman is a veteran of WWII , a former newspaper copy boy, and a Hollywood screenwriter. He is also co-creator of Mr Magoo.
photo © Jonathan Alcorn
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Author: Chris Aldrich

I'm a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, theoretical mathematics, and big history. I'm also a talent manager-producer-publisher in the entertainment industry with expertise in representation, distribution, finance, production, content delivery, and new media.

31 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Millard Kaufman, WWII Veteran and Front for Dalton Trumbo”

  1. Chris, Liked the piece much! I did 3 interviews with Milliard thanks to my friend Stan Kallis, and found him to be a fascinating guy to say the least. We knew the same actress a million years ago, who appeared in his movie. I saw movie Trumbo and I was disappointed by the omission of Milliard Kaufman’s name.

  2. LA Times Real Estate features one-time home of @JohnsHopkins alum (’39) & noted screenwriter Millard Kaufman
    In the Sunday section of the Los Angeles Times, this week’s “Home of the Week” is that of noted screenwriter and Johns Hopkins alum Millard Kaufman (class of 1939).  Kaufman passed away in 2009 just two years after publishing his debut novel.
    Kaufman is often best known as the co-creator of the cartoon character Mr. Magoo as well as for his Academy Award nominated screenplays for Take the High Ground (1953) and Bad Day at Black Rock (1955). He’s also known for having fronted the screenplay for Gun Crazy on behalf of blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo who was the subject of the recent film Trumbo.
    The Modernist home at 3574 Multiview Drive, Los Angeles, is listed at $2.495 million. (BelAirPhotography.com)
    Click through to the article which features a gallery of 21 fantastic photos of the interior of the Millard Kaufman residence.

    Three noted architects shaped a Midcentury Modern in Hollywood Hills
    This Midcentury Modern house in Hollywood Hills is named the Millard Kaufman residence for its one-time owner, who was a screenwriter, an author and the co-creator of the cartoon character Mr. Magoo. A trio of notable architects left their marks on the two-story post-and-beam house, which features exposed wood ceilings, walls of glass and original paneling.Location: 3574 Multiview Drive, Los Angeles 90068Asking price: $2.495 million


    — Source: Lauren Beale writing for the Los Angeles Times
    The home has also been featured before in Curbed [here and here] when it was previously for sale. There’s also a video walk through on YouTube (see below.)

    via stream.boffosocko.com

  3. Milliard Kaufman was a hero to me thanks to Stanley Kallis. Milliard’s life, his body of creative legacy will always be an important part of our nation’s world. For his country he defended us against an enemy and suffered at their hands…And, he still gave all of us great happiness with the characters and the movies he helped create.

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