Spotlight Articles And Features

Arthur Morton – Composer/Orchestrator 1908-2000
By Alan A Thomas


In the art of scoring for film few will ever match the contribution made by
Jerry Goldsmith in influence, quality, or quantity of output. Arthur Morton was his orchestrator and friend for over thirty years and is remembered here.

Arthur Morton, aka Arthur Goldberg, was born on 8th August 1908 in Duluth at the southern end of Lake Superior, 150 miles from Minneapolis. He was educated at West High School , 2808 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis. The school closed in 1982.

He continued his education at the University of Minnesota, on the east bank of the Mississippi River, where he also played in jazz bands. He graduated in 1929 and after a year studying law and undertaking further graduate work in philosophy he moved to
Los Angeles. Surprisingly, there is no mention of him receiving an advanced musical education.

In 1935 he married Emmy Lou Hellman, the daughter of screenwriter Sam Hellman and the sister of Verna Fields, the Academy Award winning film editor of “Jaws”.

His 65-year career in Hollywood began in the music departments of the Hal Roach Studios - of Laurel and Hardy fame - and at Columbia Pictures, composing and orchestrating uncredited stock music. His first credited film score was for
Night Life of the Gods (1935).

While at Columbia he began collaborating with George Duning, aka George Dunning, composing additional music for films such as the 1949 film Lust for Gold and eventually becoming Duning’s orchestrator. During the period, he composed and orchestrated music for over fifty films including: From Here To Eternity (1953), The Man From Laramie (1955), Kismet (1955), and the cult film Oceans Eleven (1960) staring The Rat Pack.

In 1955, he orchestrated perhaps the most famous of George Duning’s scores for the film Picnic, which included the hit song Theme from Picnic, which in the film, was blended with the 1930’s standard Moonglow. The score was nominated in 1956 for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

Arthur Morton recalled:

"George never took any easy means. He always had a shrewd sense of what would and wouldn't work in scoring films, of what you could and couldn't do. George is a first-class musician and working with him was a pleasure."

George Duning left Columbia in 1962 to begin a freelance career until his retirement in 1983. He died in 2000, he was 92. 

The decade 1950-1959 was an exciting time period for television in the USA and in the late 50’s Arthur Morton began composing music for television. He continued to work in both television and film through the 60’s and 70’s, composing music for  episodes of Peyton Place (1964-1969) for 20th Century Fox and The Waltons (1972-1974 ) for Lorimar.

In the 50's Jerry Goldsmith was also in Hollywood writing for television and in the 60's began writing music for film. In 1963 they worked together on the film Take Her She's Mine. Goldsmith was the musical director as well as the composer of original music and may have chosen Arthur Morton as orchestrator. In 1965 they worked together again on Von Ryan's Express and Morituri and in 1966 on Our Man Flint, The Trouble with Angels (with Frank De Vol) and Stagecoach.

So began a professional partnership and friendship that was to last over 30 years.
Some notable scores during the period were: Planet of the Apes (1968), Patton (1970), Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), Papillon (1973), Chinatown (1974), The Omen (1976), Islands In The Stream (1977), MacArthur (1977), Capricorn One (1978),
Magic (1978), Alien (1979), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979),
Poltergeist (1982), First Blood (1982), Under Fire (1983), Supergirl (1984),
The Russia House (1990).

As well as exclusively orchestrating every Jerry Goldsmith score  in the 70's and 80's, he worked with other orchestrators such as Herbert Spencer  - John Williams’ orchestrator -  providing additional orchestrations for Star Wars (1977) and Superman The Movie (1978).

The last score that Arthur Morton orchestrated for Jerry Goldsmith – jointly with Alexander Courage – was L.A. Confidential (1997), both uncredited. By then, Arthur Morton was in his late eighties and naturally slowing down and Jerry Goldsmith had to rely more on his close friend Alexander Courage, composer of the original Theme From Star Trek, to orchestrate his later scores.

Arthur Morton died on 15 April, 2000, in Santa Monica, California, USA. He was 91 and survived by two daughters, Ann Stone and Jane Morton and two sons, Thomas and John. Son John (S) Morton, is an avant-garde composer living in Tappan, Rockland County, New York and is married to sculptor Jacqueline Shatz.

The relationship between a composer and orchestrator is complex and can operate at many different levels. Little is known publicly about the Goldsmith/Morton relationship.

According to Paul Andrew McLean (Film Score Monthly):

“A composer like Jerry Goldsmith, ‘sketches’ his cues, every creative detail is provided in these sketches - instrumental groupings, dynamics, and indications for all the notes. It is just written in a kind of compressed ‘shorthand’, perhaps with some occasional verbal instructions.”

Also, Arthur Morton once said that his job in orchestrating for Jerry Goldsmith was very straightforward:

I take the music from the yellow paper and put it on the white paper.”

So, should we believe that Arthur Morton was nothing more than Jerry Goldsmith’s copyist as these anecdotes imply? The fact that Arthur Morton, himself a prolific composer, was willing to orchestrate almost exclusively for Jerry Goldsmith for over
30 years, and is credited in all of the earlier Jerry Goldsmith scores, would imply that the relationship went much deeper.

When talking about The Omen underscore Jerry Goldsmith recalled:

"At least 65% of the choral writing was arranged by Arthur … he opened it up in a way that sounded much better than the way I wrote it."

While the music is pure Goldsmith, when we thrill to the impact of the choral sections of The Omen, let us at least spare a thought for Arthur Morton, ochestrator.