|Name Maurice Rapf|
Children Joanna E. Rapf
|Born 19 May 1914 (1914-05-19) |
Occupation screenwriter, university professor
Died April 15, 2003, Hanover, New Hampshire, United States
Spouse Louise Seidel (m. 1939–1993)
Books All about the movies, Back lot
Movies Song of the South, So Dear to My Heart, They Gave Him a Gun, Gnomes, Call of the Canyon
Similar People Harry Rapf, Ted Sears, Ken Anderson, James Baskett, Sterling North
Maurice Harry Rapf (May 19, 1914 – April 15, 2003) was an American screenwriter and professor of film studies. His work includes the screenplays for early Disney live-action features Song of the South and So Dear to My Heart, uncredited work on the screenplay for Cinderella, and several films of the late 1930s. He was a co-founder of the Screen Writers Guild. He was blacklisted in 1947 due to his association with the Communist Party USA. He later taught at Dartmouth College.
Rapf was Jewish, the son of Harry Rapf, an executive at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, and worked briefly for his father as a child actor. In 1934, while majoring in English at Dartmouth, Rapf visited the Soviet Union as an exchange student, where he was impressed by the presentation of Communism he was shown. Despite the danger for a Jew to visit Berlin at that time, he stopped there on the way home, an experience which he described in his autobiography as convincing him that Communism was the only thing capable of defeating Hitler, and greatly influenced his political views. He graduated in 1935, and moved to Hollywood. In 1947, he married actress Louise Seidel, with whom he had two daughters (Joanna and Geraldine) and a son (William).
In Hollywood, he joined the Communist Party USA, and remained active in the party even after other Jewish sympathizers became disillusioned with it over Moscow's attempted appeasement of Hitler before World War 2. He became an advocate for the rights of creative professionals, and helped found the Screen Writers Guild (one of the groups that formed into the Writers Guild of America, West).
He entered the "family business" of filmmaking, and co-wrote screenplays for We Went to College (1936), They Gave Him a Gun (1937), and The Bad Man of Brimstone (1937). He went on to work on action films such as Sharpshooters (1938) and North of Shanghai (1939). When F. Scott Fitzgerald became incapacitated by drinking, Rapf replaced him co-scripting Winter Carnival (1939), a film about the Dartmouth traditional event, which Rapf later described as a "clinker".
In 1944 Rapf was recruited by Walt Disney to work on the screenplay for Song of the South, from a treatment by screenwriting newcomer Dalton Reymond. According to journalist Neal Gabler, one of the reasons Disney hired Rapf was to temper what Disney feared would be Reymond's white Southern slant:
Rapf was a minority, a Jew, and an outspoken left-winger, and he himself feared that the film would inevitably be Uncle Tomish. "That's exactly why I want you to work on it," Walt told him, "because I know that you don't think I should make the movie. You're against Uncle Tomism, and you're a radical."
Rapf initially hesitated, but when he found out that most of the film would be live-action and was told that he could make extensive changes, he accepted the offer. Rapf worked on the project for about seven weeks, but when he got into a personal dispute with Reymond, he was taken off it.
In July 1946, Rapf was one of several people listed in a column by The Hollywood Reporter publisher William Wilkerson, identifying them as Communists and sympathizers. "Billy's List" formed the basis for what became the Hollywood Blacklist, and while Rapf was excused from testifying to the House Unamerican Activities Committee, being summoned effectively ended his career in the industry. His work on Cinderella (1950), which he tried to imbue with an sense of the class struggle, was not credited. He did some further writing for film and television using "fronts" and pseudonyms, including The Detective (1954) starring Alec Guinness.
In 1949 he moved with his family to Sergeantsville, New Jersey, and worked briefly as a screen writer in New York as an industrial film writer. In 1951 he moved to Norwich, Vermont (near Dartmouth College), where he helped establish the Dartmouth Film Society. In the early 50's he relocated to New York, where he pursued a career as a film critic (writing for Life and Family Circle magazines), and worked at Dynamic Films as a writer, director, and producer of commercial and industrial films.
In 1967 he returned to Darthmouth to teach film studies, becoming a full-time member of the faculty in 1976. He had one additional screenwriting credit in 1980: the 45-minute made-for-television animated film Gnomes which was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program. Late in life he wrote an autobiography entitled Back Lot: Growing Up With the Movies (1999) and All About the Movies: A Handbook for the Movie-Loving Layman (2000).