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David Raksin, 92; Longtime Film Composer Had Hit Song 'Laura'

August 10, 2004|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Raksin was under contract to MGM in 1951 when he was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee. He had been a member of the Communist Party from 1938 to 1940; he later said he was asked to leave after expressing opinions that were contrary to the party line.

Prior to appearing before the committee, Raksin sought the advice of Martin Gang, an influential entertainment lawyer who counseled clients to cooperate with the committee in order to be cleared from blacklists and return to work.

In a 1997 interview with The Times, Raksin recalled: "He said, 'If you don't talk, those bastards will put you in jail.' Gang told me, 'Don't hide anything; they know all about you.' "

During his testimony, Raksin provided the names of 11 party members. But, partially ignoring Gang's advice, he only named people, he later said, who were dead or already had been named. He denied knowing if others were party members.

"It wasn't an abject capitulation," Raksin told The Times. "I told the committee they should leave the Communist Party alone, not try to crush it. But there I was, a guy with a family to support and a fairly decent career that was about to go down the drain.

"What I did was a major sin, but I think I did as well as most human beings would've done under torture,"

For decades, Raksin taught classes on composition for motion pictures and TV at UCLA and USC.

Raksin was the first film composer chosen by the Library of Congress to have a collection of his manuscripts in its music division.

His stage works include three produced musicals and several ballets, as well as incidental music for plays. His concert works, many of them adapted from his film scores, have been performed by several leading orchestras.

In addition to his son, an editorial writer for The Times, the twice-divorced Raksin is survived by his daughter, Valentina Raksin; and three grandchildren.

A celebration of Raksin's life and work is pending.

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