By D'Lynn Waldron

David Raksin was born into a musical family in Philadelphia and began studying a variety of instruments at a young age. In high school David was involved in many musical activities. At 12, he had his own dance band for which he taught himself arranging and orchestration, and he composed for his own jazz band which played on a weekly radio broadcast. David Raksin graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and was a student of Arnold Schoenberg. After graduation, David Raksin went to New York and played for a while in Benny Goodman’s band. Raksin sold an elaborate arrangement of 'I Got Rhythm' for a Broadway production and Oscar Levant brought this to the attention of George Gershwin, who got Raksin a job with a music publishing house. David Raksin’s first job in Hollywood was composing music for Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times in 1935.

David Raksin then spent some years under Alfred Newman, director of the music at Twentieth Century Fox, working on a variety of mainly horror B movie scores. Raksin was considered too ‘far out’ and independent to be trusted with an A movie. Raksin’s big break came in 1944 when the top composers at TCF turned down the psychological detective story Laura, and Raksin then fought with the formidable studio head Darryl Zanuck to have the critical scene left in where the audience understands that the detective has fallen in love with the supposedly deceased Laura. Zanuck gave Raksin a weekend to make the scene meaningful with music, and by sad but significance coincidence, Raksin learned that weekend that his beloved wife was leaving him- the result was the haunting melody of Laura, which, with Johnny Mercer’s lyrics, is the iconic song of motion pictures.

Raksin used to say that a movie composer must walk a fine line between too much emotional involvement with the story of the film, which can hurt the creative process, and too little emotional involvement which prevents empathizing with the characters and their situation. David Raksin had a professional ethic to do his best for every film he composes for, even when he knew that his good score will disappear into oblivion with a bad movie. Like most successful movie composers, Raksin did put the needs of the film above displaying his musicianship.

David Raksin had composed the scores for more than 450 movies and TV shows and is best known for Laura, Jane Eyre, Forever Amber, and The Bad and the Beautiful. He has also composed works for musical theatre, dance, voice, and chamber groups and his works were played by major symphony orchestras. David Raksin was president for eight terms of the Composers and Lyricists Guild and was on it’s Board of Directors, along with being on the board of ASCAP, and the Library of Congress National Film Preservation Board, plus many other activities.

Apart from his music, David Raksin also taught for 21 years in the USC School of Public Administration where Urban Ecology is studied. Raksin’s last job at age 90 was professor of film scoring at USC, where he has been teaching and nurturing young composers since 1956.

David Raksin died of heart failure at 8:55 a.m. Monday, August 9, at his home in Van Nuys, Calif. He was 92.

David Raksin Interview
Live from Lincoln Center:

The Chamber Music Society
30th Anniversary Gala 10/14/98

Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television

The Thornton School of Music with its excellent faculty is on the same campus as the USC School of Cinema and Television (usually called the USC Film School) where many great film makers have studied, and where friendships have been forged that have resulted in some of the most important collaborations in the movie industry.