David Raksin was the last great film composer of the 20th century, with a string of successes across four decades and one timeless classic, the song "Laura," to his credit. David Raksin was born in Philadelphia in 1912; his father ran a music store, and as the younger Raksinmanifested an interest and ability in music at an early age, he had ample opportunity to pursue this study, first on the piano and then on the woodwinds. He was something of a prodigy, and before he reached his teens he had organized a dance band of his own, and subsequently taught himself the art of arranging and orchestrating. Soon he was composing as well, and the group had its own weekly radio spot. In his teens, Raksin was a fully paid-up member of the musicians union. As a high-school student, he was proficient as a singer, player, and arranger, and worked with ensembles across the popular music spectrum. He attended the University of Pennsylvania and, after graduating, moved to New York, where he played piano in Benny Goodman's band. An arrangement that he'd written of "I Got Rhythm" was bought by bandleader Al Goodman -- Oscar Levant, who was working as the pianist in Goodman's band, brought the arrangement to the attention of the composer who, in turn, helped Raksinget a spot as an arranger for Harms, Inc., a major publishing house. Raksin continued his music studies with Arnold Schoenberg and moved to Hollywood.
In 1936, Raksin was asked by Alfred Newman -- then based at United Artists and serving as the music director on Charles Chaplin's Modern Times -- to assist Chaplin in scoring the movie for 20th Century Fox. Raksinsubsequently got to work on such big-budget releases as Suez (1938), Hollywood Cavalcade, and Stanley and Livingstone (both 1939), and he also worked as an arranger.
In 1944, Raksin got his first important film assignment, scoring Otto Preminger's Laura. He was said to have been inspired to write the movie's brooding theme after receiving a farewell letter from his wife. Laura was a huge success, and its release turned Raksin's music into a hit in its own right. There were so many requests for the music that Fox's publishing arm was obliged to try and generate a song from the central theme -- dozens of lyrics were submitted, until a set of words by Johnny Mercer won Raksin's approval (at one point, the publishing division hinted to Raksinthat they thought he was being unreasonable, insisting on quality lyrics for the song, until he reminded them that he didn't have to approve any words, or allow the piece to be turned into a song). The Raksin/Mercer song "Laura" became one of the most recorded songs of the 1940s, generating many hundreds of versions and enduring across the decades, so that even Frank Sinatra (who described it as a favorite) recorded it on three different occasions across 30 years.
Raksin's career was made from that point on. He moved to the front rank of staff composers at Fox, and was from then on a respected, established member of the Hollywood music community. From his "accidental" choice to score Laura, he was now specifically chosen for some of the studio's most high-profile productions, among them Forever Amber, directed by Preminger, for which Raksinengaged in some faux English-sounding period scoring, evoking the era of Restoration England, and earned one of his two Oscar nominations; and Preminger's Whirlpool (1949), which marked the end of his initial tenure at Fox. Separate from the studio, Raksinalso scored the Goldwyn -produced Danny Kaye vehicle The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) and the independently made crime thriller Force of Evil, where his more modernistic sensibilities took hold. The latter was another case where he clashed with a director, in this case Abraham Polonsky, and one result of their dispute was the use of a theme from Beethoven's String Quartet No. 14 in one key sequence, building up to the execution of a key character. But Raksin's mu