Obituaries

Herman Raucher, Screenwriter Best Known for ‘Summer of ’42,’ Dies at 95

Herman Raucher, who turned his memories of a summer as a teenager on Nantucket, Mass., which included a sexual encounter with a young war widow, into the screenplay for the nostalgic 1971 film “Summer of ’42,” died on Dec. 28 in Stamford, Conn. He was 95.

His daughter Jenny Raucher confirmed the death, in a hospital.

Mr. Raucher spent the 1950s and ’60s writing scripts for anthology television series and advertising copy for the Walt Disney Company and various agencies.

But recollections of his own summer of ’42 lingered. So did the memory of one of his close friends, Oscar Seltzer, a medic who was killed on Mr. Raucher’s 24th birthday, in 1952, while caring for a wounded soldier during the Korean War.

“Summer of ’42” tells the story of three 15-year-old friends — Hermie, Oscy and Benjie — and their early exploration of girls and, tentatively, sex, during a summer vacation on a Nantucket-like island early in World War II.

Hermie (played by Gary Grimes) becomes infatuated with Dorothy (Jennifer O’Neill), a woman in her early 20s. In one scene, he visibly trembles on a ladder as she hands him boxes for him to place in her dusty attic. Their tender lovemaking occurs after she receives a telegram telling her that her husband was killed in the war.

The scene parallels Mr. Rauch’s real-life experience at age 14 with a woman on Nantucket.

“I was in love with her before the incident ever happened,” Mr. Raucher told The Stuart News of Florida in 2002.

In “Summer of ’42,” Hermie, a teenage character based on Mr. Raucher and played by Gary Grimes, falls in love with an older woman, played by Jennifer O’Neill.Credit…Warner Bros.

“Summer of ’42” won an Oscar for Michel Legrand’s original score and received four other nominations, including one for Mr. Raucher’s screenplay. It was the fifth-highest-grossing film of 1971, taking in $32 million (or about $245 million in today’s dollars) at the box office.

Herman Raucher was born on April 13, 1928, in Brooklyn. His Austrian-born father, Benjamin, was a traveling salesman who had been a soldier, a boxer, a bouncer and, Mr. Raucher said in an interview, possibly a gun runner in Cuba. His mother, Sophie (Weinshank) Raucher, was a homemaker.

Mr. Raucher graduated in 1949 from New York University, where he majored in marketing and created cartoons for a campus newspaper and magazine. He was soon hired by 20th Century Fox as a $38-a-week office boy. He was drafted into the Army in 1950 and served two years stateside during the Korean War.

After being discharged, he got a call from Disney — he did not know how the company discovered him — and he worked in the company’s advertising department. He also wrote for ad agencies in the 1950s and ’60s, and was hired by Gardner Advertising as a vice president in 1964.

He had begun writing for television and the stage in these years, including scripts for the anthology shows “Studio One,” “The Alcoa Hour” and “Goodyear Playhouse,” as well as a play, “Harold,” starring Anthony Perkins and Don Adams, that opened on Broadway in 1962 but closed after 20 performances.

Mr. Raucher adapted his unproduced play, “Sweet November,” into a romantic melodrama starring Anthony Newley and Sandy Dennis in 1968. He then collaborated with Mr. Newley on the script for “Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?” (1968), which was a notorious failure. Mr. Newley, who was also the star and director, plays a singing star simultaneously making and showing a movie about his self-indulgent life.

Mr. Raucher’s next film, “Watermelon Man” (1970), starred the comedian Godfrey Cambridge as a bigoted white insurance salesman who overnight turns Black. Critics were not kind; writing in The Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas said the “script is so uninspired and the direction so inept that ‘Watermelon Man’ runs out of gas long before the end is in sight.”

Mr. Raucher told the film website Cinedump in 2016 that the director Melvin Van Peebles turned “Watermelon Man” into “more of a Black power film than I’d wanted.”

Then came “Summer of ’42,” his biggest cinematic success. He had written the screenplay in 1958, but movie companies had rejected it, by his count, 49 times by the time Warner Bros. acquired it in 1970 and put it in the hands of Robert Mulligan, who had been nominated for an Oscar for directing “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962).

“Bob fell in love with the screenplay,” Mr. Raucher told Cinedump. “They asked how big a budget it was, he said a million dollars,” he added, referring to Warner Bros. executives. “They said go make it; they never read the script, they left us alone.”

The studio did, however, ask that Hermie be 15, not 14 as Mr. Raucher had been.

After the filming of “Summer of ’42” was completed, Mr. Raucher wrote a novel based on his screenplay. It was published before the film was released.

During the filming, on the coast of Mendocino in Northern California, Mr. Mulligan told The San Francisco Examiner, “The story deals rather simply with the process of growing up, not unlike Salinger’s ‘Catcher in the Rye,’ which has some of the same comic spirit.”

In the film, Dorothy leaves the island after her romantic interlude with Hermie and writes him a farewell note. The same thing happened to Mr. Raucher.

Sometime after the film’s release, Mr. Raucher said, he received a letter, with no return address, from a woman in Ohio who he believed was the widow.

“She wrote that the ghosts of that time were better left alone,” he told The New York Times in 2001 when a stage musical version of “Summer of ’42” was being performed in Connecticut.

Mr. Raucher wrote several more screenplays, including “Class of ’44” (1973), a sequel to “Summer of ’42”; “Ode to Billie Joe” (1976), which was inspired by Bobbie Gentry’s song of the same name and directed by Max Baer Jr.; and “The Other Side of Midnight” (1977), based on Sidney Sheldon’s novel about love and vengeance set in Washington, Paris, Athens and Hollywood.

He also wrote the novels “A Glimpse of Tiger” (1971), about two con artists; “There Should Have Been Castles” (1978), about a playwright and a dancer in the 1950s; and “Maynard’s House” (1980), about a troubled Vietnam veteran who is bequeathed a house in Maine by a slain comrade.

Besides his daughter Jenny, Mr. Raucher is survived by another daughter, Jacqueline Raucher-Salkin, and two granddaughters. His wife, Mary Kathryn Martinet-Raucher, a dancer, died in 2002.

After the filming of “Summer of ’42” was completed, it was in postproduction for a year. During that time, Mr. Raucher wrote a novel based on his screenplay.

“As fate would have it, the book comes out and becomes a best seller,” he told Cinedump. “So when the movie is finally released, the ad line is ‘Based on the national best seller.’ Which is absurd, because the book was written after the movie!”

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