Jerry and Carrie with her two children Ryanne and Ben (1990)

Deconstructing Dad: The Unfinished Life and Times of Jerry Goldsmith

By Carrie Goldsmith

Important Notice

The following excerpts are copyright Carrie Goldsmith and are reproduced here with her permission. Reproduction of this page and its content without the express permission of the author will be an infringement of applicable laws and subject to criminal proceedings.

Joel Goldsmith is also hosting a special preview of Carrie's book. Joel will feature the complete first chapter.To visit Joel's site click here!


Preview of The Aborted Jerry Goldsmith Biography

 

Prelude 

My father was a renowned Hollywood film composer.  If he were alive, and not recently dead of cancer, he would read the preceding words and correct me irritably:   “Don’t call me a ‘film composer’,” he would have said. “I’m a composer.  You don’t refer to Mozart as an ‘opera’ composer.”

My father never minded admitting that once I had saved his life.  He would recount a night I called and woke him out of an almost endless slumber fueled by Nembutal and Vodka without a trace of self-consciousness; to him, it was just another amusing anecdote—and he did give me credit for being a hero. 

And now I’m saving his life again; this time, to disc, hard drive and paper. According to some cultures and traditions, when you save a person’s life, you become responsible for that life until it ends.  Some might argue that my father will live on forever through his music, but I think forever is far too long to be held responsible.   

            In 2004, I left my home in New Hampshire and my job as a high school English teacher, to live in Los Angeles and research my father’s life for a biography.  During five of the seven months preceding his death in July, I taped my father’s stories and recollections.  In addition, I interviewed and taped his friends and associates. 

When I started writing, stacks of notes, files of Xeroxed copies, blurry photographs, a couple of sheets of ancient correspondence, and two shoeboxes full of micro-cassettes surrounded me.  I had pages and pages of transcripts about creative brilliance and originality, charm and charisma, integrity and decency, good times and laughs.  Of course, I had my own version of the story as well, and I found the task to reconcile all of it—daunting. 

            Stories have a way of taking on a life of their own no matter how unbiased the teller’s intent; everybody has a story, and each beats with a pulse beyond any kind of doubt in the teller’s soul. When I started writing about my father, others’ stories kept poking through between the double-spaced lines. Even though I quote from taped interviews, retell from personal experience, and refer to reliably documented sources, versions and interpretations of the same event don’t always align; each teller is the hero of their own story.

When I interviewed one of Dad’s associates, writer/director Michael Crichton, he said to me, “I want to know what drives Jerry.”  

I wanted to know the same thing, but “…while death ends a life,” as Robert Anderson writes in his play, I Never Sang for My Father, “It does not end a relationship which struggles on in the survivor’s mind toward some resolution which it never finds.”

Unlike most literature and movies, endings are not always tidy.

                “…If I were a producer or director and I was looking for someone to score a film, my first choice would be Jerry Goldsmith.  Jerry is uncompromising in his drive for excellence, uncompromising in his bravery to experiment with other media.  He is the kind of composer that makes a film.”

                                                                                Elmer Bernstein, composer

 

Excerpts From Chapter 1:  February 2, 2004 

            When I interviewed Dad for the first time, we sat where we would sit for most of our sessions, in the den of his house in Beverly Hills, under a giant, brazen Lichtenstein.  The painting of juxtaposed triangles and lines dominated the western wall of the room, and the early, afternoon sun filtered in through opposing French doors. In spite of all that light, in spite of the broad expanse of white backing up the blue, black, and yellows in the Lichtenstein, in spite of the beige being more than the darker spots in the faux-leopard-skin patterned carpet, the den, like many of the rooms in my father and step-mother’s house, felt cool and dark.  Maybe it was the dark wood floors, or the almost black marble of the never been burnt in fireplace, or the black cashmere couches where Dad was lying with his legs up.  A veteran of many interviews, he directed how I should set up the microphone and tape recorder with a detached professionalism, and wisely suggested that I test the volume and quality of the pick-up.        

            He was wearing one in a succession of jogging suits, which he was wearing everyday, although jogging was the last thing he was doing…Through the years, however, Dad’s favorite uniform had been jeans and a shirt with its sleeves rolled up— Oxford, Polo, maybe with a sweater.  Dad preferred sneaker type footwear, but his twelve by sixteen foot walk-in closet was filed with a huge collection of designer shoes, shirts, jackets, and suits…

 

            …As a kid, I remember thinking that my father looked more like a movie star than a composer.  Pictures of Beethoven portrayed a sloppy man with wild, crazy hair, not all that different from some of Dad’s contemporary composer friends.  But my father was always manicured, groomed, and stylish.  His hair went from dark to silver early, but he always had it clipped according to fashion in the trendiest of salons, moving effortlessly from crew-cut to a Beatles-cut to his later-in-life signature white pony tail.  And although his skin was ruddy, his nose Romanesque, my father’s face was handsome, long, and square.  His blue eyes crinkled when he flashed his charming, thin-lipped smile, and he always retained a certain boyish charisma to the day he died…

 

[My father was born on February 10, 1929, in Los Angeles, California.  His father was a structural engineer, and his mother taught kindergarten.  The young family lived at first in a large home in downtown Los Angeles with my father’s maternal grandparents—Jewish Romanian immigrants.  Later, my grandfather moved the family to a home in the Crenshaw District of L.A. on Lorado Street, where my father would live until he moved out after marrying my mother in 1950…]

                       

            …“When did you start playing the piano?”  I asked.

            “When I was six, my parents made me take lessons.  Don’t all parents make their kids take piano lessons?” 

            “No,” I said.  “You didn’t make me take piano lessons”

            “Everybody thought I was a genius,” Dad said.  “Everyone would come over, and they’d say, ‘Jerrald plays so beautifully,’ and I wasn’t athletic, I didn’t play any sports, and you know, ‘Play the piano, make friends, you’ll be the hit of the party.’”

            “And, were you?”

            “Girls like a guy who can play all the hit songs.”

            My father took from the lady piano teachers in the neighborhood; he didn’t remember his first piano teacher, but he remembered his second, a Miss Pierce, whose father was a piano tuner.

            “She wasn’t too bad a teacher,” Dad acquiesced.  For Miss Pierce, Dad practiced so much that his father worried the neighbors might be bothered. 

            Every night after work, the streetcar would drop Grandpa off at the corner, and from down the street he could hear Dad practicing.  Dad practiced, practiced, and practiced, and while Grandpa admired the hard work, he worried the neighbors might complain. 

            But they didn’t…

 

…“Did your parents always call you, ‘Jerrald’?” I asked.

            “Always.  But my father did call me ‘Jerry’ a couple times towards the end of his life; it sounded too weird.”

            To his friends in school and later at work, he was always “Jerry.”  However, when he and my mother took his parents with them to the premiere of his first movie, 1956’s Black Patch, his mother was livid about the “Jerry” Goldsmith credit she saw on the screen.    

            She complained so much about him using a shortened version of his name, that Dad tried to appease her by using “Jerrald” for his Dr. Kildare credit.

“But people would come up to me and ask, ‘Are you really, Jerrald?’” Dad said.  “And that was it.  That put an end to it.”

Dad paused and grinned caustically:  “Maybe I should have done the John Williams thing and stuck to changing my name from ‘Jerry’ to ‘Jerrald.’  He changed his name from ‘Johnny’ to ‘John’.”

            “Maybe,” I said.

“And don’t forget your old boyfriend; he went from ‘Jamie’ to ‘James’, and look what that did for his career.”

  Dad was talking about composer James Horner, who I’d known in high school through a friend of mine he was dating…Dad loved to exaggerate my one outing with Jamie Horner into boyfriend proportions…

 

… I asked Dad how he started studying with Jakob Gimpel, who we children called, “Uncle Kuba.”  When I was a kid, all of our parents’ closer friends were “uncles” and “aunts.”  There was Uncle Joel, Uncle Nathan, Aunt Tee and Uncle Kuba and his wife, Aunt Mimi.  My father’s piano teacher, Jakob Gimpel—Uncle Kuba—was a constant presence in our early lives.  Even though his role as teacher had long before ended, Gimpel was a tall and slender dinner guest, with thin strands of graying hair combed straight back from his shinning forehead.  His hands and fingers were long, narrow, and delicate like a concert pianist’s should be, although the delicacy belayed the fact that his hands were capable of great strength, reach, and agility.  With his European accent and mannerisms, Uncle Kuba epitomized well-spoken refinement.  Mom and Dad deferred to his leads in conversation and action, and I was respectfully in awe of him, even though he really didn’t intimidate me.  Maybe it was familiarity, or maybe it was because his wife Mimi was so open, warm, and bubbly.  She was short to his tall, and rounder to his slender.  She had snow-white hair and a wide open face that usually held a smile in contrast to her husband’s sternness.  Mimi was very easy to hug, and her embraces were genuinely affectionate.  The Gimpels were with us for birthdays, holidays, and any major celebration.  But the Gimpels were also close to Dad’s parents.  The couples first met in 1943 when my father started studying with Kuba, but the Gimpels were still relatively new to the country; they were refugees.  They had to flee their native Poland to escape the German invasion and Nazi persecution of Jews. My grandmother often helped Mimi by driving her places.   

            “The families were very close,” Dad said.  “When Mother died, we didn’t know a rabbi.  It was Kuba who got Rabbi Zeldon for the service.”

Dad explained that at 12 or 13, he got, “serious” about music. 

            “All the rest was fiddling around.”

            He thought he wanted to be a concert pianist and knew that he needed a “real” piano teacher.  He heard Jakob Gimpel perform with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, playing Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto, and the maestro’s virtuosity awestruck my father.  When Gimpel advertised for students in the Sunday Times, Dad showed the ad to his parents.           

            “I’d grown dissatisfied with my teacher,” Dad said, “and they went to see Gimpel.  But we quickly found out that I wasn’t the child genius everyone thought.  I liked Kuba.  He was tough, but I liked him.”

            My father started studying with Gimpel in 1943 and quickly realized that he’d been “stuck with mediocrity up until then.”  He’d been given the wrong pieces to study; he had to start all over again.  But my father learned more than just piano technique from Gimpel.

             “Kuba taught me everything about music.  He was a great musician, and the best music teacher I ever had; my most significant teacher. Musicality, interpretation, these were the things we discussed…”

           

…I imagined my father’s childhood in colors, clothes, and cars parked on the street, resembling the look and feel of the cinematography in Chinatown.  The way my father described his parents’ chilliness, it all took on a film-noir sort of ambience. The Los Angeles skies were crisper in the late 30’s and 1940’s, like the pre-synthetic fabrics the people wore.  There were fewer cars on the streets, and the freeways were ten years away.  People got around on streetcars and buses, or walked short distances in the warm Southern California sunshine.  Twice a week, my father used to walk to the movies at the Leimert Theater with its Spanish-tinged Art Deco fašade.  It was at this theater right off Crenshaw Boulevard that Dad saw Spellbound when it was first released.

“I was only fourteen,” Dad liked being quoted in interviews, “but I knew right then and there that I wanted to grow up and write music for movies and marry Ingrid Bergman. At least one of my dreams came true.” 

 “Didn’t you study with Rozsa?” I asked.

            “I loved his score to Spellbound,” Dad answered. “So when Miklos Rozsa taught a class once a week at USC, I took it for a while.  But Rozsa was a terrible teacher, and his class was all a bunch of, ‘Then I wrote’s…’ But I’d met Rozsa before, at the Gimpels, so I wasn’t completely in awe…”

 

             …At 16, Dad started studying composition with another European refugee, well-known Italian composer, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.  Tedesco was best known for his lyrical compositions for guitar; he wrote for Segovia.  Dad said Tedesco became, “the teacher du jour in Hollywood.”

            Andre Previn and John Williams studied with Tedesco, and at the time, many successful, popular arrangers were moving from big bands to writing music for film and needed help.

            “Don’t get me wrong,” Dad said, “arranging is quite the skill, something I could never do, but these guys had no clue about composition; they went to Tedesco for help.  Tedesco scored a couple pictures, and he was a much better teacher than Rozsa, but the two of them were good friends…Tedesco was a lovely man.” 

            One day, my grandmother went through Dad’s shirts while doing laundry and found leaves of tobacco in the breast pocket.

            “There were no filtered cigarettes back then,” Dad said, “so the damn things shed everywhere.  Mother figured out I was smoking, and she was so pissed off at me that she refused to pay for my composition lessons.”

            My father had to tell Tedesco, who laughed when he heard the story; he was a four pack a day smoker himself. 

            “Tedesco told me not to worry,” Dad said.  It turned out that powerful head of music for 20th Century Fox, Alfred Newman, was paying for his younger brother Lionel to take composition classes.  Lionel, however, never showed up for his lessons.  He’d go golfing instead.  “Tedesco told me I could take classes in Lionel’s place. I would tell this story to Lionel, years later when I was working for him at Fox, and he would just laugh.”

            Dad started his college education at USC, “But USC was a waste of time. I’d been studying privately since I was fourteen, and to go back to Harmony or Counterpoint 101, it was ridiculous!”

            Instead, he found out that Los Angeles City College, a small, two year community school on Vermont Avenue, had more practical programs; he could even earn some money on the side playing accompaniment for voice students.  Dad still studied with Tedesco, but while at City College, he also signed up for classes in composition with another displaced European, the Neoclassicist, Ernst Krenek.

 “It was a wonderful opportunity,” Dad said.  “Krenek was one of the leading composers of the 20th century, and was becoming more enamored with modern and contemporary artists. It’s funny, but at that time, I thought Copland‘s Third Symphony was too difficult to listen to.  Now it sounds like pop music.”

            Dad was initially in awe of Krenek’s musicianship, but the composer’s appearance disconcerted him. 

            “He was a very good composer,” Dad recalled, “but he was bald, and he never wore socks.  I know it’s cool now, but in 1948, it looked like poverty.  It seemed dirty.”

            And, Krenek hated my father’s compositions.  Dad was trying to hand in the same weekly assignments to Krenek that he wrote for Tedesco.  What worked for the steeped-in-Romantic/Impressionistic-tradition Tedesco certainly didn’t fly for Krenek, the Schoenberg-atonal disciple.

            “Krenek was so arrogant,” Dad said.  “He threw my work out of class.  Me, a know-it-all 19 year old, felt insulted.  And get this: one day, some other student, who probably had never taken a music lesson before in his life, he brings in this piece of shit composition, and Krenek loved it!   This classically trained composer praises to high heavens an unschooled piece of shit. It pissed me off.”

            “You should have done your homework,” I suggested.

            “You’re right,” Dad grinned.

            “But other teachers were more supportive, more encouraging than Krenek…right?”

“Gimpel was always very patient with me,” Dad said.  “He was supportive in his way, more than my other teachers.  Kuba very proud and pleased by what I was doing.  He got very excited about Patton and Sand Pebbles.   But my counterpoint teacher, Gerhard Albersham, he was such a snob.   He thought I would make a good music librarian for one of the studios.”

“That doesn’t sound like encouragement.”

            “You know,” Dad said, pushing away his half-eaten plate, “people in the arts are insecure.  Everybody is.  You’re always worried that someone is going to find out that you’re a phony, that you’ve been faking it all along…”           

“…The happiest phase of picture making comes with the blending of the music and dramatic content.  In my opinion, Jerry has no peer in the understanding and pursuance of both.  He is an artist who meets all the demands upon the composer in film.  His music stands by itself as a musical entity.”

                                                Franklin J. Schaffner, director, Patton

 

Excerpts From Chapter 4: February 5, 2005 

            …“Do you have anything you’d like to talk about in particular?” I offered.

            “No.  Where were we?”

            “City College and the such…why don’t you tell me about how you got started at CBS?”

            “That was the Workshop…”

            CBS gave its employees a studio and an engineer, and the employees got to produce their own radio show; it was a means for auditioning new talent.  The program was cut on acetate and passed around to various producers and directors under contract to CBS.  Work was reviewed, and sometimes someone would get a promotion—moved

 up and out of the secretarial pool or mailroom to broadcast shows.  Actors, writers, and composers could get a start this way.

            An acquaintance from Dad’s class with Rozsa worked at CBS and got a job at the last minute orchestrating for the Dragnet radio show.  He was supposed to be working the Radio Workshop, but Dragnet was a paying gig.  He called Dad in desperation, asking if my father could do the employee show.  Of course my father said yes, “Because everyone knew about this showcase for talent.”  He scared up an orchestra, did the show, and everyone loved what he did.  They wanted him to continue composing for the workshop.

            “But you had to be an employee of CBS to work on the show,” Dad explained, “and they were very strict.  ‘You’ll have to work here,’ they told me, and said they could get me a job typing scripts.  ‘I don’t type,’ I told them, but they said not to worry and faked the typing test for me.  The head of mimeographing was directing the next week’s show, and he passed me.”

            Dad was 22 at the time, and he and my mother were living in an apartment over a garage in Laurel Canyon.  Mom was pregnant with Ellen, and for Dad to take the $37.00 a week typing job at CBS, he would have to give up his real job:  delivering paper goods.

            “Mom always says that you had a future in toilet paper.” 

            “That’s right,” Dad laughed weakly.  “My boss, Mr. Suffwitz, he wanted to make me an assistant manager and give me my own route.”

            “That must have been a tempting future to give up for CBS,” I said, “but Mom encouraged you to take the job, didn’t she?”

“Yeah; your mother always supported my career, what I wanted to do, even though she was nuts to trust it was okay.  I quit and told Mr. Suffwitz I was getting a job in show business, and pretty soon, CBS gave me a $2.00 raise and promoted me to supervisor of the newsletter department. I could hire and fire people.”

            “Why were you promoted? Because you typed so well?”

            “I did take one semester of typing in junior high.”

            Dad’s new job “supervising” meant somebody in publicity would write a rough copy, send it downstairs where they typed it, and then they‘d mimeograph it.  Dad “supervised” while also writing for the employee workshop.  Nevertheless, it felt to Dad as if everyone were getting promoted to “talent” except for him.  He kept getting moved around the office; in 1952, his new CBS job was scheduling announcers.

            “Announcers would suck up to me to get on the schedule,“ Dad said, “and these were all guys I was familiar with from years of listening to the radio. 90% of them were alcoholic, and the way they would suck up to me would be to buy me Screwdrivers at the bar across from the studio.”

            Dad’s next job at CBS was substituting for a woman on a leave of absence. 

            “She had a pretty good job for a woman in those days,” Dad said.  “She scheduled the productions of shows, and she had a secretary and a private office.  I kind of liked that, so when she returned, I didn’t want to go back to what I was doing.”

            Instead, he took a stack of acetates of his workshop shows and went to Lud Gluskin, head of the CBS Music Department.

            “I’d been chatting-up Lud’s secretary for weeks,” Dad said, “and she arranged the meeting…”

            …And Lud liked what my 23-year-old father did.  He gave Dad a job on the Hallmark Playhouse picking the cue music; they didn’t use a real orchestra, they used track music.  Most radio show music was produced by “needle drop”, lowering the phonograph needle to cues on records.  CBS owned a huge library of stock music that Gluskin had recorded in Europe, avoiding U.S. union restrictions.   

            “I’d seen Sandy Courage making track music by using two engineers,” Dad said, “and he would conduct the two guys like an orchestra.  Sandy made the music sound seamless.”

            Each engineer had two turntables, but Dad quickly graduated to four guys with eight turntables.  He, like Sandy Courage, made the music sound seamless. 

            “It was library music,” Dad said, “and everybody thought I was a genius.”

            Needle-dropping was painstakingly tedious because of the minute and precise need for calculating tempo and pitch.  But Dad got to know all the actors, directors, and producers, and pretty soon he was able to con his bosses into thinking they needed an orchestra.   The “orchestra” was Dad on piano and a guy on a flute. 

            “I somehow convinced them,” Dad said, “that the ‘orchestra’ was cheaper in the long run.  Which was eventually true for live television, but radio had a built-in cost for engineers…”

            …I asked my father if he were tired, if he wanted to make it a short day.

“But I want to talk about live television,” he said, a new energy in his voice clearly palpable…

           

            …Again, Dad at first had to use library music; again, like with radio, he made it very complex.  He would have five guys, and ten turntables, and conduct them like an orchestra.  Then, on a night before a show, he recorded it all with an engineer.

            “It made it much simpler, “Dad said, “but I must admit, I did some amazing things.” 

            He did a show for John Frankenheimer, and he stayed up two nights piecing together music from the library using two tape machines and a razor blade.  He made a percussion piece, a montage, that he was very proud of, and he saved the tape to show off what he could do.

            But this process became very expensive; he was using five engineers to drop needles. 

“Like radio, I kind of set it up that way,” Dad admitted, “so I could go to the producers and say, ‘four musicians wouldn’t be that much more expensive….’”

 

…When Dad did his first Climax in 1954, “I didn’t know what I was doing, but nobody knew what they were doing!  Live television was a unique art form; it was a combination of theater and cinema and its own thing…When John Frankenheimer, whose only previous experience was assistant directing, came on board Climax, I was sent to his office to meet him.  I thought he was a nice young guy, and he looked as uncomfortable as I felt.”

John asked Dad, “What do we do?” 

            “He had never directed a show before, and I had done two Climax’s:  I was the expert!  But John had worked as an AD on some pretty important shows, and he knew his way around the booth.” 

             Dad had to meet with his directors to figure out where they wanted music, but it was hard tracking them down, getting them out of rehearsal, and “I’d end up in these strange places.” 

            Allen Reisner insisted Dad meet him at his house, at night, and have a couple drinks.  That week’s female star would be with Reisner: Allen Reisner always had an affair with his female stars.

“Not one night-ers: one week-ers,” Dad explained. 

 Dad would meet director Ralph Nelson in a bar on Santa Monica and Fairfax on a lunch break.

            “It was called Archie’s, and it wasn’t a restaurant, it was a bar.  They didn’t serve lunch, but you could get a bag of pretzels.  Ralph would have three or four martinis and we’d spot the show…”

 

[Dad talked about producer Norman Felton, with whom he worked on many television shows—Studio One, Dr. Kildare, Man from U.N.C.L.E.; Jericho…]

 

“… When Norman Felton eventually left CBS to go to MGM where he made Kildare, he of course asked me to do the score.”

            “You liked Norman very much,” I said.

“Yeah, I liked Norman.  He was a good guy, a straight shooter, and he had taste.  He was very loyal, and everything he did he wanted me to do; I just didn’t want to do more television. When I went back to do Kildare, I said this is the theme, and I’ll do half a dozen episodes; I don’t want to do anymore.”

“But wasn’t the theme a ‘big’ hit?”

            “It was…the love theme for Dr. Kildare was a hit tune:  ‘Three Stars Will Shine Tonight’…”

“How did it feel to have a hit?” I asked.

“Strange thing,” Dad said.  “I was getting ready to go to Rome to do Freud, and I get this phone call from the publisher saying, ‘We want to put lyrics to the theme of Dr. Kildare, and Richard Chamberlain is going to sing it.’  I told them it wasn’t a song, but the publisher insisted and said they’d send me the lyrics.  They did, and they were terrible!   I told them, ‘You can’t use these lyrics, they’re awful!  And then I left for Europe.” 

Dad forgot about the proposed song and terrible lyrics, but when he got back, the publisher called him and asked how it felt to have a hit song; the theme to Dr. Kildare was in the top five on the pop charts.  While my father was in Europe, the publishers found a new lyricist, Hal Wynn, and his efforts were very successful. 

“That was great,” Dad said laughing, “but a few years later, I went to London to do Sebastian, and I needed a couple songs.  Hal Shaper was recommended to do the lyrics, and I was immediately charmed…”

Hal Shaper, the son of South African immigrants to England, was for all appearances the quintessentially urbane, swinging Londoner.  When Dad first met him in 1967, Hal epitomized a mod, British bachelor with a fair impression of a BBC accent, hip clothes from Carnaby Street and Kings Row, and a string of beautiful girlfriends.  Hal had just written a huge hit, a song called, “Softly As I Leave You”.

“…Which, as it turns out,” Dad said, still laughing, “was just a literal translation of the Italian lyrics. But that was Hal’s biggest hit song.”

            When Dad and Hal Shaper were getting to know each other, Hal wanted to know whatever happened to a lyric he wrote for the theme to Dr. Kildare. 

            “You wrote a lyric for that theme?” Dad asked Hal.

            “Yes,” Hal said.  “Now some other lyric is out and the song’s a big hit.”

            “I had to tell Hal that I had rejected his lyric,” Dad exclaimed, “and Hal was the epitome of diplomacy.  He just said something like, ‘Oh well…’  I remember going to the Museum of Radio and Television, and they had the pilot of Kildare, and I played it, and I thought, it was very good, I was very impressed, and it was something I had done, how many years ago?”

“Forty four.”

“You never think that you’ve done anything important enough.  Even after all those years, you think it’s all crap.  You think you’ve faked your way through it, and you’re still waiting for them to find out the real story.  Week after week on television, I’d expect to get my walking papers.  I didn’t know what I was doing, I had no talent for it, and I thought I should be threading pipe—be a plumber or something.  It’s those insecurities that don’t go away that make artists so nuts.  It’s a scary thing, when you wake up every morning and have to face a blank piece of paper, and it’s not like you’re an accountant with a bunch of numbers to add up.  It’s fear, and it’s very frightening, I used to tell my students, that it’s the scariest thing you’ve got to go through, the walk to the piano to sit down and wonder what’s going to happen.  Some smart ass student said, ‘Well I don’t have that problem, I’m just so excited to get to the piano and start working,’ and I felt like saying, ‘Your work shows it.’  It’s the scariest thing facing a blank piece of paper….”

 

“…Norman Felton helped Dad make the move from Climax to the more prestigious Playhouse 90.  When producer Martin Manulis left Climax, the new producer demanded Dad stay on, but Norman Felton finally arranged for Dad to meet with Herb Brodkin, the powerful producer who was doing his first West Coast production of Playhouse 90, “Child of our Time”, directed by George Roy Hill.

            “Brodkin called me in and told me that he was a, ‘straight shooter.’  If he liked what I did, I would do everything he did from then on.  If not, that was it.”

            Brodkin told Dad that he made changes on the air, and he expected music to be written, “fast and good.”

            “Brodkin told me about his last composer, Glenn Osser.  Herb said, ‘I could tell Glenn to write something, and he could write it in a phone booth.’ I didn’t say to Herb that the music sounded like it.” 

            Dad wrote the score for “Child of Our Time”, and Herb loved the music; the show was a huge success, like most of the program’s productions.

            “Playhouse 90 originally aired, ‘Judgment at Nuremberg,’ ‘Miracle Worker‘, ‘Days of Wine and Roses,’ and ‘Requiem for a Heavyweight,’” Dad said, “but people weren’t clamoring to watch.  They replaced Playhouse 90 with The Beverly Hillbillies, and the ratings went through the ceiling.  What kind of comment is that on the humor of the American people?   And it’s worst now, unbelievable, all these crap reality shows!  They’ll televise anything, and the idiots will watch it.”

            “The taste of the American people,” I said. “The death knell for anthologized drama on radio and television.”

            “Everything was the death knell for radio,” Dad said.  “Wrestling was the death knell for radio.  My father loved wrestling and knew the names of all the wrestlers.”

            “You’re kidding me.”

“I’d get a big kid out of watching my father watch wrestling,” Dad said.  “He’d get so excited…”

 

…In 1956, Playhouse 90 used all live orchestra.  Producer Herb Brodkin insisted: “I don’t want canned music.”

 Dad had a, “respectable orchestra…thirteen to eighteen musicians, which was gigantic.”  For the live broadcasts, Dad would show up at six in the morning and read through the music; rehearsal would start at ten, with two run-throughs and a dress rehearsal.

“It was a zoo.”

 The challenge lay in timing:  it was nearly impossible because actors would move through their lines at different tempos each time… 

            “…My biggest problem was actors forgetting lines or changing the pace.  Diane Varsi had a huge scene at the end of one of the acts in that show, very emotional, a minute long, building, building, and they get on the air, and I swear, it was over in 8 seconds.  What do you do?”

            Improvise, respond, change tempo to match the actor’s pace.  Dad wrote safety exits into the scores or marked places in the score where to return to if needed.  Last minute additions of music were not unusual, and he constantly had to be writing while he was rehearsing as things were happening between scenes.    

“After several run-throughs and prior to going on the air, there were always changes.  I remember once, a producer saying, ‘We must have some music in this section,’ and I said there was no need, and he said, ‘I don’t care, I want music there.’  I argued with him and kept asking why, and he finally said, ‘Look, I don’t care if it’s the “Star Spangled Banner”, I want music there because we have to cover up the cable noise.’”

“The pressure must have been intense,” I interjected.  “You had to come up with a finished product by the end of each week.”

“In live television, it was a group of people, trying to work together in a new and very difficult medium, and there was no post-production.  Pre-production was rehearsal. There was a discipline in live television that you don’t find in cinema today.  Today there’re twenty-five writers and forty-six different opinions, but they’re all dummies.  By the time you get to post-production, whatever team effort was there while shooting, it’s gone.  In post-production, the sound guys are off doing something, the editors are off doing something, and the composer is off doing something.  Nowadays, the writer hates the director and the producer, and that’s why they all want to become directors.  They didn’t have to in those days, because there was happiness between the writers, directors and producers; everyone was working together in spite of the fact that none of us knew what we were doing.  It was fraught with chaos, but the excitement…like, when we’d lose a camera.  It was always choreographed, there were detailed directions about when a camera came in, but we’d lose a camera and we’d have to ad-lib, and Frankenheimer would just shine; he was brilliant….”

 

            “…You were very successful in live television,” I said.  “What was there about you that made you so adept with this new, experimental medium?”

“I have no idea,” Dad said impatiently, but then reconsidered.  “I took a lot of shit, and I was able to adapt to all the different styles, drama or comedy or action.  And it was ambition.  Live television was just going to be the next step to film.  I didn’t plan to stay in radio my whole life, or in television my whole life.  I wanted to do moving pictures.  Every director in live television wanted to do pictures, every actor wanted to do pictures.  But live television was exciting because I was just learning how to write on demand, under pressure, in the confines of what’s dictated by the drama and the time constraints, and it was going to be my entree into the big time, which was movies.  The directors in live television were the ones I collaborated with later: Franklin Schaffner, Frankenheimer, Ralph Nelson...Good television directors were great to work with in movies because they were so organized, and so on schedule, and so on budget because of the restrictions on live television…”    

 

            “…I want to stress,” Dad said, after Carol left, “how live television was the greatest training ground around.  All those directors I worked with went on to become film directors making important films.  And those relationships I developed during live television days, I went on to work with many of those directors in film.  Schaffner, John Frankenheimer, Arthur Hiller, Ralph Nelson—and they liked these guys in the movies because they were fast, efficient, always on budget, and always on schedule.  That’s how Franklin Schaffner directed Nicolas and Alexander.  When I had dinner with Jean Schaffner while Frank was in Spain directing, I asked her how it was going.  Jean said that Frank said it was going great, but the producer, Mr. Spiegel, wasn’t very happy. Apparently, while shooting, Sam Spiegel ‘rented’ his yacht to the production company for Spiegel to live on.  Frank’s speedy work put production way ahead of schedule,” and significantly shortened Spiegel’s paid tenure on his own yacht. But the same thing kind of happened to me all the time.  When I was doing the Blue Max, the director, John Guillerman, was a total pain in the ass, making changes all the time, including during the recording.  I would have to change the cue, verbally instructing members of the orchestra when or when not to come in.  Five minutes later, they’re playing it, it’s done, the director is happy, and Arthur Morton says, ‘how in the hell did you do that?’  I’d just say, ‘live television.’”

            Dad grew quiet, and we heard Carol downstairs explaining something in Spanish to the housekeeper.

            “You know,” Dad mused quietly, “Franklin Schaffner is one of the few deceased people that I truly miss.  We had a real special relationship, not only working, but as friends.  We met on a Playhouse 90 in the ’50s, and we brought in two pianos for the show, and one pianist was John Williams….”

Carrie wishing her father luck as he left for the 1977 Oscar ceremony. The night he finally won!