Like the Hollywood Ten, Maurice Rapf was a successful Hollywood screenwriter, blacklisted for his Communist ties during the late 1940s. Still, his work both at Dartmouth and in Tinseltown continue to be recognized as some of the finest additions to the cinema library, despite the long-standing infamy of his alienation.
Maurice Harry Rapf was born May 19, 1914 in New York City to Harry Rapf, one of the financiers and head honchos at Metro Goldwyn Mayer studios. Maurice spent most of his younger days on the lot meeting celebrities - including F. Scott Fitzgerald, who modeled his character Cecelia Brady from The Last Tycoon on the witty prep Rapf.
Rapf attended Dartmouth, majoring in English literature, and while he was there he visited Nazi Germany. He was so reviled by what he saw there that he came home and took a keen interest in the philosophies and ideals of communism, even going so far as to visit the Soviet Union as part of the Anglo-American Institute.
In 1935, Rapf moved to Hollywood and became a writer, working on such pictures as Spencer Tracy's They Gave Him A Gun, Ann Sheridan's Winter Carnival, and the socialist propaganda animation The Brotherhood of Man. For Winter Carnival, Rapf had the daunting task of replacing his old friend F. Scott Fitzgerald, too drunk to complete the screenplay in time for production.
In 1944, Rapf tried to get a commission from the US Navy, the OSS, and the US Marine Corps, but his politics prevented him from getting a job. He was finally assigned to the Industrial Incentive Division of the Navy, but he only worked there for six months before receiving his walking papers.
Rapf's big break came in 1946, when he was hired by Walt Disney to write Song of the South. He contributed to all of the Brer Rabbit segments, giving them a sharp humor and a polished touch - though his main job (one he considered a failure) was to remove the racist overtones from the film. The movie was a qualified success, and Rapf seemed headed to the top of the movie business. To top it off, he met and married Louise Seidel in January of 1947. Together they had three children.
At about the same time, Rapf became a major player in the creation of a new guild for screenwriters - carefully avoiding the dreaded buzzword of American labor: union. With Lillian Hellman, he cofounded the Writers Guild of America, and the two began demanding better pay rates for what they felt was a largely unrewarded contribution to American cinema. Studio executives - including friends of Rapf's father - vehemently disagreed, and eventually his ties to communism (though he held no formal membership) were revealed and he was blacklisted by the industry in 1947.
Dejected, Rapf moved back to Dartmouth and established the Dartmouth Film Society, the first such film society in the nation. He also continued to write for television and movies - all uncredited, though he would receive payments from other writers on the side. In 1967, he was given a job teaching at Dartmouth, and 8 yeas later, he helped found the film studies program at the school. In between teaching, he review films for both Family Circle and Life magazines, becoming somewhat of a notorious crank in the process. He retired from teaching in 1996.
In 1999, he was finally awarded credit for his co-writing job for 1954's Father Brown. It is not known how many other works he collaborated on, as he refused to reveal which writers had come to him asking for help, fearing they, too, would still be punished by history for their beliefs. He also wrote two books about his Hollywood experiences: his autobiography, Back Lot: Growing Up With The Movies, and an insider look at cinema production, All About the Movies: A Handbook for the Movie-Loving Layman.
Maurice Rapf, screenwriter, activist, and teacher, passed away April 15, 2003 in Hanover, New Hampshire. He was 88.