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Maurice Rapf, Film Writer, WGA Co-founder Dies

Veteran Hollywood screenwriter Maurice Rapf who wrote DISNEY'S SONG OF THE SOUTH and co-founded the Writers Guild of America (WGA), died April 15, 2003 at the age of 88 in Hanover, New Hampshire. Rapf was the son of Harry Rapf, one of the MGM Studio pioneers. He appeared briefly as a child actor. While attending Dartmouth College he went on a summer trip to the USSR in 1934. He became active in politics and attended Communist Party functions. Rapf became a Hollywood writer of live-action features and later helped found the WGA.

Karl Cohen, author of FORBIDDEN ANIMATION: CENSORED CARTOONS AND BLACKLISTED ANIMATORS and president of ASIFA-San Francisco, said that while Rapf was waiting in 1944 for his commission papers in the Navy to arrive, "he reluctantly accepted a job at Disney to work on the script of UNCLE REMUS. The project was renamed SONG OF THE SOUTH before it was released. Rapf thought taking the job might hurt his career. Writing for animation wasn't considered as a very worthy credit to have, but Disney assured him most of the film would be live-action. Rapf was also worried the film might contain racist material. Disney said he was being hired to remove such material from the script." Rapf later admitted SONG OF THE SOUTH was a failure in terms of being acceptable to all.

Rapf worked on an early draft of CINDERELLA. He also worked on DEAR TO MY HEART and the animated short THE BROTHERHOOD OF MAN (1946). Blacklisted in 1947 for his support of the Communist Party and his union work, Rapf moved east to establish the Dartmouth Film Society and was a film critic and professor at Dartmouth. Rapf wrote his autobiography BACK LOT: GROWING UP WITH THE MOVIES, published in 1999 by Scarecrow Press. He is survived by two daughters, a son and four grandchildren.

"I feel Rapf was one of the most important men I have met," said Cohen, "in terms of my own understanding of what it was like to be a political person working in the film industry in the 1930s and 1940s, to be blacklisted in the 1950s and to understand the importance of sticking to ones moral principle and beliefs."