Reflections on Baltimore's own Millard Kaufman, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and creator of Mr. Magoo

The Library of Congress recently announced 25 classic Hollywood films it’s adding to its National Film Registry. Included is “Bad Day at Black Rock,” whose screenplay was written by former Baltimorean Millard Kaufman, who graduated in 1934 from City College, and the Johns Hopkins University in 1939.

After working as a newspaperman in New York City and serving with the Marine Corps in the Pacific during World War II, where he was decorated with a Bronze Star for bravery, Kaufman headed to Hollywood where he launched his screenwriting career at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

His first Oscar nomination came in 1953 for “Take the High Ground,” which starred Karl Malden and Richard Widmark.

Two years later came another for “Bad Day at Black Rock,” part-Western and part-film noir, whose all-star cast included Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Dean Jagger, Anne Francis, Walter Brennan, Ernest Borgnine, Russell Collins and a young Lee Marvin.

While continuing to write for the movies, Kaufman branched out into TV in the 1950s.

What is forgotten, perhaps, is that Kaufman, who teamed with animator John Hubley, was the creator of Mr. Magoo, the iconic 1950s cartoon character featuring a nearly blind, cane-carrying gent (actor Jim Backus was the voice) who dressed in an over-sized overcoat, ascot and homburg worn at a rakish angle.

The real-life inspiration for Magoo was Kaufman’s uncle, Leonard Liepman, an eccentric Baltimorean and inventor, whom he lovingly referred to as “Uncle Bub.”

Even though Kaufman was miles and years away from Baltimore, his favorite song, according to his son, New York novelist Frederick Kaufman, continued to be City’s fight song, which he sang until the day he died.

“City forever! And for victory. Rah! Rah! Rah!”

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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