06 April 2005
(Jim Block photo)
Kragen, who served as the Shannon Cecil Turner Professor of Law, left a lucrative Hollywood law practice in 1952 - with clients who included Mickey Rooney, Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, and Errol Flynn - to teach at his alma mater at one-fifth the salary.
"My father left behind the power, the money, and the glitter of Hollywood to do what he knew in his heart was the right thing, the thing he loved the most - to teach," his son, Ken, said in a 1998 profile of Kragen in California Monthly. Listening to him talk about tax law in class, said Boalt alumni David Flinn, "was like listening to Einstein talk about the atom."
Kragen argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, co-authored a leading textbook on taxation (now in its fourth edition), drafted legislation, and published widely in professional journals. From 1940 to 1944, he served as California deputy attorney general under attorney general and then-Gov. Earl Warren.
The grandson of a San Francisco street peddler from Hamburg, Germany, and son of a furniture manufacturer, Kragen dropped out of high school to take a job with a jewelry company. "Theoretically, it was a management position," he told California Monthly. "They put me in charge of four brooms."
He later went back to high school, got his diploma, and became the first in his family to attend college - earning his bachelor's degree from Berkeley in 1931. He was inspired to pursue law by Boalt professor and future California Supreme Court Justice Roger Traynor, from whom he took a class in tax law his senior year.
Kragen served as vice chancellor of the Berkeley campus from 1960 to 1964 and continued teaching at Boalt until 1994, when he retired at the age of 87. A devoted alumnus and an avid fan of Cal athletics, Kragen served on many Academic Senate committees, on the Boalt Hall Capital Campaign Committee and the Bear Backers Council, and as chair of the UCB Emeriti Association.
A strong advocate for a comprehensive campus retirement center, Kragen was instrumental in securing funding and a space for the Berkeley Retirement Center, in 2 Boalt Hall.
"Professor Kragen epitomizes the vitality and drive of Berkeley retirees who remain active in campus life," the center's director, Shelley Glazer, said at the 1998 ceremony naming the center's conference room in Kragen's honor. Though he first retired in 1973, she said, "at 90, he still comes into his office once a week and actively supports and participates in Boalt Hall and Cal athletics."
Kragen helped create Camp Blue, a family camp for Cal alumni. He received many campus awards, including the California Alumni Association's Alumnus of the Year award in 1998, the Berkeley Citation in 1973, and Boalt Hall's Citation Award in 1972.
Kragen's wife of 52 years, Billie Bercovich, died in 1987. He is survived by his son, Ken; daughter, Robin Merritt; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
A celebration of Kragen's life will be held on Friday, April 8, at 4 p.m. in the Boalt Hall courtyard. The event is open to the public. Donations may be made in his name to the Boalt Hall Fund, 303 Boalt Hall, Berkeley, CA, 94720-7200.