David Raksin, passed away after suffering heart failure at the age of 92, in August 2004. It’s hard to believe it is nearly twelve years since his passing. The composer held a unique place in in the film music fraternity and became an iconic part of Hollywood. His haunting music for the movie LAURA (1944), or at least the lingering and somewhat sensual sounding theme, became more popular than the movie it was written for and has achieved an almost cult status with collectors of film music and music lovers all over the world via the many performances it has received by various artists. In fact, the central theme from the movie has been recorded no less than 400 times. Raksin, scored some 200 motion pictures during his prolific and illustrious career, the majority of these were as composer, and some where he acted as either conductor or arranger. In 1951 after admitting being a member of the Communist party between 1938 and 1940 Raksin was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee in Hollywood, which meant that he was unable to find work in movies television or radio. His blacklisting coincided with the release of THE BIG AND THE BEAUTIFUL, which was a success for actor Kirk Douglas. As the anti-communist crisis in Hollywood subsided the composer could return to a more settled working schedule and soon began to write for both TV and film. Providing the theme for the popular television series WAGON TRAIN in 1957 and penning the theme for the even more popular TV series BEN CASEY in 1961.
David Raksin was born in Philadelphia, his Father Isidore Raksin, owned a music-shop and would at times play woodwind with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and conducted the orchestras that accompanied movies in local cinemas. Raksin attended the Central high school in Philadelphia, at the age of just 12 years, he began to experiment with music and led his own dance band. When he was not performing he began to teach himself the craft of orchestration, it was at this time he went to the University of Pennsylvania where he studied music and gained a degree via the teachings of Arthur Schoenburg, who was a figure that influenced the composer throughout his career. Raskin financed his education by working with the band and doing arrangements for other bands, he eventually went to New York where he assisted at various radio stations and worked on arrangements for record companies. It was through an arrangement he had done of Gershwin’s I GOT RHYTHM, that Raksin was recommended by Gershwin himself to music publishers Harms and Chappell who were so impressed with the young musician that they recommended him to various Broadway producers. It was not long before the composer moved from Broadway to Hollywood, where in 1935 he met Charlie Chaplin, the actor asked Raksin to work on the score for MODERN TIMES, as an arranger.
Chaplin was shall we say a difficult character and Raksin was at one point fired by the actor after a disagreement about the direction in which the score should take, only after the assistance of Alfred Newman was Raksin re-instated. However, Chaplin never gave the composer any credit for his work on the picture. After the 24-year-old composer’s involvement on the project he was assured regular employment in Tinsel Town. But his efforts were very rarely recognised or given any credit. He began to write music for various studios, Universal and Columbia to name but two, working on mainly horror movies, it was Columbia pictures that contacted Raksin asking him to instruct Stravinsky in the synchronisation of the music within film. This however never happened as Stravinsky refused to be schooled by anybody and eventually decided not to work in Hollywood full stop. Raskin became unhappy working at Universal he was not a fan of many other composer at the studio who seemed to rush through the composing process, so it did not take much persuasion for Raksin to re-locate to Warner Brothers under the supervision of musical director Leo Forbstein, working on movies such as THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, FOREVER AMBER, THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE, FALLEN ANGEL and many others that are now considered as classics. Raksin was asked to establish a collection of his manuscripts in the music division of the Library of Congress the first composer to be invited to do so. He also became a professor of film music at the University of Southern California.
David Raksin, was born on August 4th, 1912 and passed away on August 9th, 2004.