Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I Hope His Life Was a Bowl of Cherries

A popular and somewhat quirky novel we sell a good amount of is Bowl of Cherries, written by Millard Kaufman, a screenwriter who published his debut novel at age ninety-one. Sadly, Mr. Kaufman died Saturday at age 92, two days after his birthday.

Kaufman earned Oscar nominations for his screenwriting on "Bad Day at Black Rock" and "Take the High Ground!" A former newspaperman who launched his screenwriting career after serving in the Marines during World War II, Kaufman quickly made a mark on pop culture by writing the screenplay for "Ragtime Bear," the 1949 cartoon short that introduced the near-sighted Mr. Magoo, which became the basis for the popular, long-running cartoon. The character, which was voiced by actor Jim Backus, was modeled in part on Kaufman's uncle. Kaufman spent more than a decade as a writer at MGM, where he was known as a top script doctor. Early in his Hollywood career, Kaufman fronted for blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo on the 1950 film-noir crime classic "Gun Crazy." In 1992, Kaufman officially requested that the Writers Guild of America West take his name off the credits and replace it with Trumbo's name.

Kaufman had a major screenwriting assignment at age 86, but then the project fell through. "I decided, knowing that nobody my age gets work in movies, and that I had to do something, otherwise I'd get into terrible trouble, that I would try writing a novel." Bowl of Cherries has been described as "equal parts Catcher in the Rye and 'Die Hard,'" and as a blend of "Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller." The book is the hilarious coming-of-age story of Judd Breslau, who was kicked out of Yale at age 14 and who falls in with a bathrobe-wearing Egyptologist working out of his dilapidated home laboratory. Kaufman's debut is a book of astounding breadth and sharp consequences, containing all the joy, madness, terror, and doubt of adolescence and everything after.

Kaufman's second novel, Misadventure, is due out this fall.

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