An Oscar®-nominated screenwriter and co-creator of the cartoon character Mr. Magoo, Millard Kaufman was a former newspaperman who began writing for films after distinguished service in the Marines during World War II. His Oscar® nominations came for two MGM films, Take the High Ground! (1953), a drama about Army basic training starring Richard Widmark; and Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), a superb Western suspense film starring Spencer Tracy as a one-armed veteran facing mysterious enemies in a small desert town.
Kaufman wrote the screenplay for Ragtime Bear (1949), the first animated short to feature Mr. Magoo, a character modeled in part on Kaufman's uncle. "My uncle had no problem with his eyes," he once said. "He simply interpreted everything that came his way in his own particular manner."
Kaufman was born in 1917 in Baltimore, Md., and before moving to MGM had a couple of screenplays produced at minor-league studios. At United Artists, he fronted for blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo on the film noir classic Gun Crazy (1950). He later insisted that the Writers Guild take his name off the credits and show Trumbo as the true author.
Kaufman spent a decade at MGM, where he was known as a reliable script doctor in addition to writing his own screenplays. Highlights at that studio included Raintree County (1957), with Kaufman serving as associate producer in addition to condensing Ross Lockridge, Jr.'s epic novel into a comprehensible and often moving screenplay; and Never So Few (1959), an adaptation of the Tom T. Chamales novel about O.S.S. operatives in World War II Burma, starring Frank Sinatra, Gina Lollobrigida and Steve McQueen.
After leaving MGM Kaufman wrote screenplays for Allied Artists' Convicts Four (1962), a prison drama starring Ben Gazzara; and Living Free (1972), Columbia Pictures' sequel to Born Free (1966) which focuses on the cubs of the original film's lioness. He also did some television work and, at age 90, published his first novel, A Bowl of Cherries. A second novel, Misadventure, was published posthumously in March 2010.
Kaufman, who was married and had three children, died in 2009. One of his screenplays, The Big Blow, is scheduled to be released as a film in 2011.
by Roger Fristoe