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Memorial Service to be held Saturday, May 31, 10am at the Hood Museum Loew Auditorium.
Maurice Harry Rapf, writer of films such as the Disney classics Song of the South, So Dear to My Heart and Cinderella, and professor emeritus and founder of Film Studies at Dartmouth College, died on April 15, 2003, in Hanover, N.H., at the age of 88.
Born on May 19, 1914, in New York City, Rapf was the son of Tina Uhfelder Rapf and Harry Rapf, one of the founders of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. Surrounded by the first generation of American movie makers, young Maury witnessed the industry's evolution firsthand throughout his childhood.
"My father started producing features in 1916 when I was two years old. A year later, I began a brief career as a movie actor, playing war orphans, street urchins and assorted brats. That ended when I started school. My father moved from New York to Hollywood and in 1924 became a mogul at MGM. Making movies was the family business, and with parental help, it became mine as well," Rapf wrote in a 1990 article for the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine. In later years, he recorded his childhood memories more fully in his autobiographical book, Back Lot: Growing Up With the Movies.
Rapf's interest in the movies continued during the years he spent as an English major at Dartmouth College. As part of a student body that also included Budd Schulberg, Hayes Goetz and Jim Goldstone – all sons of movie executives – and isolated in a small New Hampshire town, movies were a frequent source of entertainment. "In those days, the crowds could be pretty rough. People talked back to the movies. Sometimes the screen would be in poor condition because it had been hit by apples," he once recalled of his college days.
After graduating from Dartmouth in 1935, he worked as a screenwriter at several major studios. Among his early credits was Winter Carnival, a Dartmouth classic, written in collaboration with Schulberg; Rapf replaced F. Scott Fitzgerald, who had originally been assigned to the project. During this time, he also became a vocal advocate for the rights of screenwriters, and helped to found the Screen Writers Guild, later renamed the Writers Guild of America. With the creation of the union, a formal system of credit and remuneration was finally instituted to recognize the contributions of writers.
Blacklisted in 1947 because of his support for the Communist Party and his unionizing activities, Rapf moved east with his family and settled in Norwich, Vt., for several years. During this time, he helped establish the Dartmouth Film Society, the first college film society in the country and made some films for the college, including My First Week at Dartmouth starring Buck Henry (née Buck Zuckerman '52). For many years afterwards he worked in New York City as a writer, director and producer of more than 60 industrial and commercial films. He was also a film reviewer for Life and Family Circle magazines. In his later years, Rapf also wrote the film text All About the Movies.
In 1967, Rapf returned to Dartmouth to begin a long and fulfilling career as a beloved teacher of film. He joined the faculty fulltime in 1976, helping nurture the nascent film studies program at the college. He gained a reputation among students for his ardent honesty and curmedgeonly affection. Many of Rapf's devoted students have gone on to become established filmmakers in their own right, and until his death, they continued to turn to him for no-holds-barred critiques and advice on their projects.
"Because of Maurice Rapf's commitment, love and encouragement, the Dartmouth Film Society is a highly-regarded Dartmouth institution and Film Studies is a strong and thriving department on campus. Dartmouth is forever enriched by his commitment. We will greatly miss our friend and colleague," said President James Wright.
Rapf was predeceased by his wife of 56 years, Louise Seidel Rapf, and his brother, Matthew Rapf, Dartmouth '42. He is survived by two daughters, Joanna Rapf, of Hanover, N.H., and Geraldine Van Dusen, of Ossining, N.Y., a son, William Rapf, Dartmouth '68, of Amherst, N.H., and four grandchildren.
A memorial service for Maurice Rapf is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, May 31, at the Hood Museum Loew Auditorium . Rand-Wilson Funeral Home of Hanover, N.H., is assisting with arrangements. Memorial contributions in his name may be sent to Nancy Bates, Office of Donor Relations, Dartmouth College, 6066 Development Office, Hanover, N.H. 03755.
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