[Othermindsforum] David Raksin (1912-2004) . . . OM 3 Composer
charles at artsplural.com
Tue Aug 10 11:00:14 MDT 2004
To the Other Minds Family:
We sadly pass on this notice about the death of
David Raksin, noted composer of film and concert
music, who was a guest at the Other Minds
Festival in 1996. A longtime friend of mine and
many other composers who spent any time at all in
Los Angeles going to contemporary music concerts,
Raksin was, along with George Antheil, one of
that fraternity who frequented contemporary music
concerts and kept up friendships with the latest
concert music types even as they attained
increasing success in the world of Hollywood film
scoring. David's wry wit and fearless
predictions ("Rachmaninoff is going to a big
comeback. Mark my words!") kept his associates
on their toes as did his Oscar Levantine humor
("He's giving incompetence a bad name.")
Thanks to George Lewis, one of David's composer
colleagues at the 3rd Other Minds Music Festival,
for passing on this notice.
>Date: Tue, 10 Aug 2004 00:51:34 -0700
>To: charles at otherminds.org
>From: "George E. Lewis" <gl2140 at columbia.edu>
>Subject: David Raksin
>Thank you for making it possible for me to meet
>him. It was an extraordinary moment--
>George Lewis, composer/OM 3 (1996)
Los Angeles Times
August 10, 2004
David Raksin, 92; Longtime Film Composer Had Hit Song 'Laura'
By Dennis McLellan, Times Staff Writer
David Raksin, the noted film composer for
"Forever Amber" and "The Bad and the Beautiful"
whose hauntingly memorable theme song for the
1944 film noir classic "Laura" became one of the
most recorded tunes in history, has died. He was
Raksin, the last surviving major composer from
Hollywood's Golden Age and a onetime Communist
Party member who reluctantly named names before
the House Un-American Activities Committee, died
of heart failure caused by cardiovascular disease
Monday at his home in Van Nuys, said his son,
In a more than half-century career in Hollywood
that began in 1935 when he was hired to assist
Charlie Chaplin with the music for "Modern
Times," Raksin received Academy Award nominations
for his scores for "Forever Amber" (1947) and
"Separate Tables" (1958).
He also wrote music for "The Secret Life of
Walter Mitty" (1947), "Force of Evil" (1948),
"Carrie" (1952), "Pat and Mike" (1952), "Too Late
Blues" (1961), "Will Penny" (1968) and more than
100 other films. And he composed music for some
300 TV shows, including the theme for "Ben Casey"
(1961) and the 1989 TV movie "Lady in a Corner."
Singer and pianist Michael Feinstein, a longtime
friend, told The Times recently that his favorite
Raksin score was for the 1952 drama "The Bad and
the Beautiful," starring Kirk Douglas and Lana
"The synthesis of blues and jazz, combined with
his classical background, created a hybrid that
is a distillation of the disparate influences on
David," said Feinstein. Raksin's musical style,
Feinstein said, "is as recognizably unique as
George Gershwin. He wrote complex music, but he
also was a great melodist."
Lyricist Marilyn Bergman, president and
chairwoman of the American Society of Composers,
Authors and Publishers, the performing rights
group, told The Times on Monday that Raksin "was
a composer whose music was just as meaningful in
a concert hall as it was on a soundtrack on a
"I think that, along with people like Alex North
and Bernard Hermann and Jerry Goldsmith and John
Williams, David Raksin was in the forefront of
serious American composers," she said.
Raksin may be best known for his score for
"Laura," a romantic mystery starring Dana Andrews
as a detective who falls for a woman (Gene
Tierney) as he investigates her apparent murder.
Cole Porter, once asked what piece of music he
most regretted not having composed, replied,
"Laura." And Hedy Lamarr, asked why she had
turned down the title role in the film, said,
"Because they sent me the script instead of the
Alfred Newman, who headed 20th Century Fox's
music department, assigned Raksin to the film,
produced and directed by Otto Preminger.
"I was typed as a composer for detective
pictures, and they thought that's what 'Laura'
was," Raksin once recalled. But he saw the movie
as a love story.
At a meeting with Preminger after Raksin viewed a
rough cut of the film, Preminger said he planned
to use Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" to
evoke the beautiful murder victim. Raksin
objected, telling Preminger that while it was a
great song, it was all wrong for the movie.
The meeting was on a Friday and Preminger gave
Raksin the weekend to come up with something. The
next morning Raksin received a letter from his
then-wife, Pamela Randell, a model, singer and
dancer who was working on Broadway.
"I couldn't make head or tail of it and put the
letter aside so I could get back to work," he
recalled in a 1976 Times interview.
When he still hadn't come up with anything by
Sunday night, he tried a technique he had used
before: propping something up before him to
divert his mind and get his creative juices
going. This time, he used his wife's letter.
"Suddenly the meaning of her letter got through
to me; she was kissing me off," he recalled. "And
then, like in a corny scene from a bad Warner
Bros. movie about a composer, I found myself
playing the entire first phrase of 'Laura.'
"Audiences loved it so much that Raksin was
deluged with fan letters.
He reworked the melody so it could be sung and,
with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, "Laura" became a
hit in 1945. It's among the most recorded songs
ever, with more than 400 recordings over the
Raksin was born in Philadelphia on Aug. 4, 1912.
His father was a music store operator who
conducted an orchestra at a silent movie theater
and sometimes played with the Philadelphia
Orchestra. Raksin began piano lessons at 6, but
later switched to the saxophone. By 12, he was
leading a small dance band, which he expanded in
high school for broadcasting on the local CBS
affiliate. He taught himself orchestration in
high school and while majoring in music
composition at the University of Pennsylvania
played in society bands and radio orchestras.
Raksin was 23 and arranging Broadway musicals
when he was invited to Hollywood to work on
"Modern Times." Credited as an arranger on the
film, Raksin wrote down and developed Chaplin's
musical ideas, which the comedian hummed,
whistled or played with two fingers on the piano.
Raksin was under contract to MGM in 1951 when he
was subpoenaed by the House Un-American
Activities Committee. He had been a member of the
Communist Party from 1938 to 1940; he later said
he was asked to leave after expressing opinions
that were contrary to the party line.
Prior to appearing before the committee, Raksin
sought the advice of Martin Gang, an influential
entertainment lawyer who counseled clients to
cooperate with the committee in order to be
cleared from blacklists and return to work.
In a 1997 interview with The Times, Raksin
recalled: "He said, 'If you don't talk, those
bastards will put you in jail.' Gang told me,
'Don't hide anything; they know all about you.' "
During his testimony, Raksin provided the names
of 11 party members. But, partially ignoring
Gang's advice, he only named people, he later
said, who were dead or already had been named. He
denied knowing if others were party members.
"It wasn't an abject capitulation," Raksin told
The Times. "I told the committee they should
leave the Communist Party alone, not try to crush
it. But there I was, a guy with a family to
support and a fairly decent career that was about
to go down the drain.
"What I did was a major sin, but I think I did as
well as most human beings would've done under
For decades, Raksin taught classes on composition
for motion pictures and TV at UCLA and USC.
Raksin was the first film composer chosen by the
Library of Congress to have a collection of his
manuscripts in its music division.
His stage works include three produced musicals
and several ballets, as well as incidental music
for plays. His concert works, many of them
adapted from his film scores, have been performed
by several leading orchestras.
In addition to his son, an editorial writer for
The Times, the twice-divorced Raksin is survived
by his daughter, Valentina Raksin; and three
A celebration of Raksin's life and work is pending.
Artistic & Executive Director
Other Minds, Inc.
333 Valencia St. #303
San Francisco, CA 94103 USA
(415) 934-8136 fax
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OTHER MINDS 11 FESTIVAL
February 24-27, 2005
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
San Francisco, CA
Featuring composers Michael Nyman, Phill Niblock,
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Alvear, Fred Frith John Luther Adams, Evan
Ziporyn, Billy Bang, SO PERCUSSION and others TBA.
SOUNDS LIKE TOMORROW
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