Friday, March 20, 2009

Recording Executive Alan W. Livingston and Screenwriter Millard Kaufman Pass On

Two men recently died whose names would probably not be recognised by the average person. That having been said, both men have had a huge impact on anyone who has been exposed to popular culture. They were recording executive Alan W. Livingston and screenwriter Millard Kaufman.

Alan W. Livingston died on March 13. He was 91 years old.

Alan W. Livingston was born on October 15, 1917 in McDonald, Pennsylvania. His was the youngest of three children. His brother, Jay Livingston, would become one of the most famous composers of all time, co-writing such songs as "Buttons and Bows," "Silver Bells," and the Bonanza theme with Ray Evans. While his brother Jay took piano lessons, Alan Livingston learned to play the saxophone and clarinet. Both Jay Livingston and Alan W. Livingston attended the University of Pennsylvania. While there the two brothers made money with an orchestra which played at school and fraternity dances.

After Alan W. Livingston graduated from college, he worked for three years in advertising. During World War II he served as a second lieutenant in the United States Army. Following the war Alan W. Livingston was hired by Capitol Records as a writer and producer. It was in 1946 that he had the idea of combining storybooks for children with records which Livingston named Record Readers. Among the earliest Record Readers was one called Bozo at the Circus, for which Alan W. Livingston created Bozo the Clown. Other Record Readers would feature characters from Disney movies and Warner Brothers animated cartoons. Alan W. Livingston also wrote the novelty tune "I Taut I Taw a Puddy Tat," performed as a conversation between Tweety and Sylvester and featuring the vocal talents of Mel Blanc.

By the early Fifties Livingston had been promoted to vice president in charge of creative operations at Capitol Records. Livingston signed Frank Sinatra, whose musical career had been ailing. Teaming the singer with arranger Nelson Riddle, Livingston relaunched Sinatra's career with such classic albums as In the Wee Small Hours (one of the earliest concept albums, Where Are You, and Come Fly With Me. In 1955, Livingston left Capitol for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). His biggest achievement there may have been signing David Dortort to produce the pilot for a new series called Bonanza. He also hired his brother Jay Livingston and his partner Ray Evans to write the show's theme.

After five years with NBC, Alan W. Livingston returned to Capitol Records. He would become president of the company and eventually its chairman of the board. He was also named to the board of Capitol's parent company, Electric and Musical Industries (EMI). While at Capitol Alan W. Livingston singed The Beach Boys, although in the end he would be remembered for signing an even bigger act. In the United Kingdom, Capitol Records' parent company EMI were releasing records performed by a group called The Beatles to fantastic success. Partially owned by EMI, Capitol had the right of first refusal of The Beatles' records. And they did refuse The Beatles, four times in a row. This resulted in Alan W. Livingston receiving a call from Brian Epstein, The Beatles' manager, who asked why Capitol kept turning the band down. When Livingston confessed he had not actually heard the band (he was acting on the advice of Capitol's producers), he consented to listen to one of The Beatles' singles. Livingston did so, and he signed The Beatles to Capitol with an agreement to a $40,000 budget to promote the bands' first single. "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was then released, and Beatlemania swept the United States.

Alan W. Livingston left Capitol again in 1968, and formed his own company Mediaarts, which produced music such as Don McClean's American Pie and movies such as Unman, Wittering and Zigo. Livingston eventually sold Mediaarts to United Artists. He went onto become president of 20th Century Fox Film Corporation's entertainment operations from 1976 to 1980. He was later president of president of Atalanta Investment Company. He also wrote a novel, Ronnie Finkelhof, Superstar.

For a man who did very little in the way as an artist himself, Alan W. Livingston would have an enormous impact on Anglo-American pop culture. He created Bozo, who became a star not only of records but early children's television. He signed David Dortort to create Bonanza, possibly the most popular Western TV show of all time. He signed The Beach Boys and brought The Beatles to the United States, so that he was also responsible for much of the Sixties' biggest music. Without Alan W. Livingston, the landscape of American pop culture would be very, very different.

Screenwriter Millard Kaufman passed on March 14 at the age of 92. He died only two days after his birthday.

He was born on March 12, 1917 in Baltimore. He attended John Hopkins University in 1939, then served as a reporter on Newsday and The New York Daily News. In 1942 he enlisted in the United States Marines. Following the war, Kaufman moved to Los Angeles with the intent of becoming a screenwriter. He did his earliest work for animation studio UPA. It was there that he wrote the story for the short "Ragtime Bear." The short introduced to the world the near sighted, stubborn, and elderly Mr. Magoo. Mr. Magoo would become a hit and a UPA's biggest star. He also wrote one of the Fox and Crow shorts, "Punchy de Leon."

Millard Kaufman would go onto writing featuring films, although his first credit was as a front for blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo--Deadly Is the Female (AKA Gun Crazy). He would go onto write screenplays for Aladdin and His Lamp, Bad Day at Black Rock, Raintree County, The War Lord, and The Klasman. His last screen credit, The Big Blow, is to be released next year. For television he wrote the telefilms The Nativity and Enola Gay: The Men, the Mission, the Atomic Bomb. He was twice nominated for the Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay, for Take the High Ground and Bad Day at Black Rock. He served two terms on the board of the Writers Guild of America, West.

Millard Kaufman became a novelist very late in life. He published his first novel, Bowl of Cherries, in 2007 at the age of 90. His next novel, Misadventure, is set to be published this fall. He had also written the non-fiction work Plots and Characters: A Screenwriter on Screenwriting, a primer for writing screenplays.

Millard Kaufman will always be remembered as the creator of Mr. Magoo, but he was also a phenomenal screenwriter. While he had his misfires (The War Lord is one of the worst medieval adventure movies written), Kaufman turned out some extremely original classics, including Take the High Ground (which recognised the fact that our military was integrated in the Korean War) and Bad Day at Black Rock (which dealt with the United States' attitudes towards the Japanese following World War II). Raintree Country was a War Between the States romance which avoided most of the genre's cliches. Kaufman was an original writer who brought a new perspective to film.

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