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Wildcelt is and always will be a film buff. My mailman even regards me as the Queen of Netflix. Well, no apologies. And for me my love affair with movies only heated up during a vacation to Disneyland five years ago on a balmy spring evening under the enormous arches in California Adventure. Suddenly from hidden speakers somewhere above me I heard wafting over the whole scene the love theme from the epic Ben Hur. I was transfixed, instantly taken back to when I saw the movie as a little girl and left the theater humming this beautiful music over and over. The memory resonated so powerfully that I began to think about the music of the movies, something I’d taken for granted, I suppose, but now began to remember and listen to and pay attention to as never before. You’ve all probably had an experience similar to mine at Disneyland—so Wildcelt invites you to look back with me and listen again to the movies.

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How did it all come about—all this music on soundtracks to support the drama we are watching on a screen? It’s almost as if the old line we use should go something like “Lights! Camera! Action!—Music!”. How essential is music to our experience of the movies? Even in the silent film era there was music. The famous French composer Saint-Saëns, to cite one influential example, wrote a score to accompany an otherwise soundless movie in 1908! Movie audiences (and the word “audience” does come from the Latin word for “hear”) needed music then, just as it had been needed in staged productions before that in order to enhance dramatic effect. Some of the music scored for silent films was as carefully adapted to images on screen as anything in our times, though not all of it would get to be heard in a mass market. ( And there are scores only now being heard the way they were intended when the films are shown at revivals.) A lot of this old music is worth a re-hearing.

Theaters in those olden days sometimes attempted primitive phonographic accompaniments for musical backgrounding of movies, not with much success. So, as in live shows, they utilized pianists and organists and other instrumentalists by the thousands to sometimes play from scores (whether or not written for the films) or improvise music to more or less go along with the action—there were “how to” manuals for such players! But then came the big break-through of synchronized sound on film in parts of the movie The Jazz Singer in 1927—it helped that it had a hugely popular star, Al Jolson-and the floodgates opened.

“Talkies” had arrived, and very quickly so did films with songs and music in them performed by the actors. But music to accompany the imagery and the drama off-screen, whether it was originally scored or borrowed from existing work, posed technical problems of reproduction that took a while to solve. These early movies with sound were a disaster for some actors who sounded “wrong”, of course. For others it completed their appeal, and now audiences could watch their favorite larger-than-life stars whose image, and maybe even acting, could be reinforced by at least a little music while they talked or said nothing at all. A director could do a scene and perhaps hear in his own ear how some musical effect could complement (or even save) what he was directing.

Scene from The Grand Hotel

Scene from
The Grand Hotel

In any discussion of the early history of movie music, one film that looms above the others of its time—the 900 pound gorilla in the room, so to speak—is King Kong, the 1933 monster movie that never goes away. The score by Max Steiner underlined the action, highlighted big moments, moved the drama along more than anything on a soundtrack ever had before. Music served the drama as only it could—such as when it conveyed the feelings of the lovesick eponymous hero. Dated as it may seem now (though it continues to be “aped”), it was ahead of its time—and it did boffo business at the box office. Movie music would never be the same because of it.

Max Steiner came to Hollywood after having made his reputation on Broadway. He grew up in a highly musical family in Vienna before emigrating to America to make his own way, and he was not the only composer with such a background who would wind up at a movie studio in Hollywood in the 1930s. It was almost the model. Steiner, in years soon to follow, would go on to write the music for some of the most famous films in history, including The Informer, Gone With the Wind
and Casabanca.

America has produced no greater composer than a child of non-musical immigrants, George Gershwin, a true Golden Boy whose touch was the same—gold—in everything musical that he tried. At the height of his success as a composer of songs and musicals and concert music, Hollywood called. He came and did, though not without setbacks, conquer. We don’t think of him as a composer of movie music per se—music that moves the drama along, that is—but he knew the importance of such music, and when he found out that another composer was going to write the “background” music for the musical Shall We Dance? (the studio thought it would be beneath his interest), Gershwin insisted on doing that, as well as the songs, himself. It backs up one of Fred Astaire’s most charming and memorable film moments—and he’s not dancing!

George Gershwin

What would that scene be like without Gershwin, just Astaire, in it?! Gershwin’s tragically early death in 1937 robbed the movies of an innovative genius who might have worked new wonders in time—but his melodies have lingered on and made their way into Hollywood musicals long after his passing.

Another child of immigrants began to compose in Hollywood about the same time as Steiner and would go on to just as long and productive a career (and win more Oscars than any other composer)—Alfred Newman. And he wasn’t the only Newman to labor in the studios scoring films. There were his brothers Lionel and Emil. Then their children and grandchildren. A virtual spreading tree of Newmans writing music. (My friend and associate Marleen M. Quint has a complete rundown of this remarkable musical dynasty in the piece that follows.) Here I would like to draw attention to a short bit of music by Alfred Newman that is as familiar as anything we’ve ever heard in the movies. It is an instant evocation of Hollywood, or even of a kind of abstract power and glory, whenever we hear it. It’s something you might be amazed to know was written as long ago as 1933.

Yes, it’s the trademark fanfare for 20th Century Fox, and, though they may change the century in their name one of these days, we can hope they won’t change that sound of their identity.

It’s conventional to speak of a Golden Age of film music, and, like most Golden Ages, it’s located in a distant and perhaps irretrievable past. Hollywood in the 1930s and 40s usually gets that golden nod, and it is a recognition of several things: the kind of Romantic music that was written, its effect on the movies in which it was heard, the way the music remained in the memory of audiences, the quality of the scores even apart from their filmic function, the caliber of musicianship on the part of its creators.

Steiner and the first Newmans were early important figures of this age, and as the thirties went on new luminaries, refugees from Nazi tyranny, joined their ranks. Indeed, Hollywood during this time became an amazing gathering place for some of the best musicians in the world—for composers such as Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Schoenberg but also performing musicians of the highest quality who even filled studio orchestras. One of the greatest string quartets in history would form in their midst and take the name Hollywood.

So it was, in a remarkable historical irony, that a generation of musicians who had been at the core of upholding the high musical culture of Europe would now play an important role in shaping the popular culture of their new home America through their work in movies. Perhaps the most emblematic figure of this period was Erich Wolfgang Korngold, composer of opera and orchestral works at the center of the musical life of Vienna, who’d earlier come to Hollywood and done well, then in January 1938 escaped Austria just ahead of the Nazis, crossed the ocean and then took a train to California where, immediately on arrival, he set to work on one of the most popular and influential scores of all time. It was The Adventures of Robin Hood!

Erich Wolfgang Korngold

It’s a little strange that Korngold, least swashbuckling of men, was, as in his Errol Flynn movies, a master of scoring for the romantic adventure film. What made him a success was both his richly symphonic style—he showed how it could be done in the movies—and his integrity and authority as a musician. He was liked and respected by everyone in the studios, but he chose to cut short his career in Hollywood and was hardly as prolific as the other important composers of his time there. Another composer of operas and concert music arrived in Hollywood late in 1939, and he would prove to be as influential a writer of film scores as anyone who ever worked there. This was Bernard Herrmann—and the movie he started out with was also the first for its director, namely Orson Welles. The two had worked together in radio, including the famous “War of the Worlds” broadcast, so it was almost a given that Herrmann would compose the music for Citizen Kane. The opening of the movie and its music are famous.

Bernard Herrmann

Herrmann revealed new possibilities of sound for enhancing dramatic effect in movies and exploited the widest range of color and expression from traditional instruments. This served him well during his ten-year collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock—he became a master of scary effects, and Psycho, for better or worse, is his main claim to fame.

Herrmann’s relationship with Hitchcock ended unhappily, as did most of his professional associations. But for his notoriously unpleasant temperament, he might have become the great conductor he wanted to be. He was a complicated man—I’ll want to say more about him.

Now for another look at Miklos Rózsá, whose love theme set me off on that wonderful reminiscence at Disneyland. No look at a Golden Age of film music would be complete without consideration of the long and varied career of this composer, another European expatriate by way of England to Hollywood in 1940. His career would last almost another forty years during which he displayed perhaps as wide a range of style and sound as any composer who ever wrote for the movies. At the start he took on film noir assignments and by his music helped to establish a genre—yet at the same time he could come up with a sound for exotic fantasy drama or historic period pieces. He gained a place in film history as the composer whose score saved a movie that without his music flopped in previews, but, after it was added, went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture-The Lost Weekend.

Miklos Rózsá

Rózsá’s success with this 1945 movie score raises old questions. Can music save bad cinematography? Bad dialogue? Bad acting? Can it carry a scene that otherwise would die of its dullness? These are questions that will be considered in future articles. One more note about Rózsá: he is best known, of course, for his work on epic movies like Ben Hur, Quo Vadis and El Cid. But in these movies that are so easy to dismiss as costume dramas with the actors speaking lines that are all wrong for their time and place, Rózsá always made a point of seeking out whatever historical and musical materials existed that would enable him to come up with a passable, authentic sound for the period. He had that sort of integrity, and it served him long and well.

This has by no means been an exhaustive look at Golden Agers of Hollywood film music. Wildcelt is only introducing a topic I want to come back to and mentioning some of the composers I want to consider later on. One additional composer I do want to say something about here is Elmer Bernstein, whose long career spanned the romanticism of old and a more varied, experimental, daring style suited to our own times. He was also a master of main title music,the overture that sums up the movie that is to come. Or can make the title sequence itself into a little movie.

I look forward to listening to the movies with you. Marleen Quint will tell us a lot more about the Newman Dynasty next.

But let me sign off with a tribute to the 20th Century of a different kind…

Thank you, Richard Strauss, you were a great movie composer!

Lights! Camera! Music!
The Newman Film Scoring Dynasty
By Marleen M. Quint

If I mention “filmmaking” and “Newman” in the same sentence, the first thing that comes to mind is the iconic film actor Paul Newman. Not to take anything away from Mr. Newman, but there’s another entire family of Newmans which has significantly shaped the Hollywood film industry for three generations. The family has been composing music for films (film scoring) since 1931. This family is now known as the Newman Dynasty.

It all began with a fruit peddler and his wife from New Haven, Connecticut. Michael and Luba Newman were Russian Jewish immigrants. They had ten Children. The first of seven boys was named Alfred.

Alfred Newman
Alfred Newman, born New Haven, CT, 1901 (d.1970)

Alfred showed musical talent very early in life. His first piano recital was at the age of 8. By the time he was 12, he was supporting his entire family, now living in New York. At the age of 17, Alfred became the youngest music director in the history of Broadway. He worked with several famous songwriters of that time including George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers.

Songwriter Irving Berlin invited Alfred to Hollywood, California in 1930 to be the musical director on the United Artists film Reaching for the Moon. The film introduced Alfred to Samuel Goldwyn. Alfred served as United Artist’s musical director for eight years. He planned on staying in California for only 3 months but never left once he arrived.

While working at United Artists, Alfred met Darryl F. Zanuck, producer of what was then 20th Century Pictures, which later became 20th Century Fox in 1935. In the same year Alfred wrote the now famous “20th Century Fox Fanfare” which plays over the studio logo at the beginning of each film.

He was musical director for 20th Century Fox from 1939 until 1942. All of Alfred’s musical scores would be for 20th Century Fox from then until his resignation in 1960.

During his prolific career Alfred Newman was nominated for an Oscar 45 times. He won 9 of those golden statues. (See the IMBD movie database for a complete list of Alfred Newman’s nominations)

Academy Awards

1939 – Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Best Music, Scoring
1941 – Tin Pan Alley, Best music, Score
1944 – The Song of Bernadette, Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture
1948 – Mother Wore Tights, Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture
1953 – With a Song in My Heart, Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture
1954 – Call Me Madame, Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture
1956 – Love is a Many Splendored Thing, Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture
1957 – The King and I, Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture
1968 – Camelot, Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment

Lionel Newman
Lionel Newman, born New Haven, CT, 1916 (d.1989)

Alfred’s youngest brother Lionel was next in line to carry on the family film-scoring legacy. Lionel also was an accomplished pianist who at the tender age of 15 went on tour with Mae West.

In the early 1930s, Lionel joined 20th Century Fox as a rehearsal pianist where he worked with his brother Alfred and would nearly always work with him thereafter.

“Again” was a song Lionel wrote for the 1948 Movie Roadhouse, which was on the popular song chart Hit Parade for months. By 1959 he had been promoted to musical director for television at 20th Century Fox which opened the doors to feature films. He soon became vice-president in charge of music for both television and features.

After Alfred’s death in 1970 Lionel was made general music director at Fox. He later worked as a senior VP for MGM/UA from 1988 until his death in 1989.

Lionel’s work at 20th Century Fox earned him 200 film credits spanning 46 years. These films include Road House (1948), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954), River of No Return (1954), Love Me Tender (1956) (Elvis Presley’s first picture), North to Alaska (1960), and Let’s Make Love (1960).

Lionel Newman was nominated for 11 academy awards. He was awarded one Oscar for Hello Dolly in 1970.

Click here  for list of all of Lionel Newman’s nominations  

Academy Awards

1970 – Hello Dolly, Best Music, Score of a Musical Picture (Original or Adaptation)

Chattanooga Choo Choo

“Chattanooga Choo Choo” from, Sun Valley Serenade, Musical Director, Emil Newman

Emil Newman, born New Haven, CT, 1911 (d.1984)

Emil was one of the middle brothers. He made his film debut as the musical director in 1940 and was credited with 13 films, then with 25 films in 1941 and 28 films in 1942. Whispering Ghosts (1942) was his first contribution as a composer, although uncredited. His subsequent musical direction in films included the famous all-black musical, Stormy Weather (1943) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), which he also conducted. He composed music for 23 films between 1950 and 1965 and numerous TV shows of the 1950s. He earned an Academy Award nomination for the 1941 film, Sun Valley Serenade, Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

Emil’s nephew, Randy Newman, remembered his uncle as a true eccentric. “Once Emil was supposed to be conducting a picture at Fox, but he wasn’t there,” recalled Randy. “The orchestra is sitting there waiting. So they send a guy out to Emil’s house in Malibu who finds him, in his bathrobe, smoking a cigarette and sitting on his chimney. His house had burned down.” Emil had lost all his clothes in the fire, so he came to the sound stage and conducted in his bathrobe.

Randy Newman went on to say that the Newman brothers “all had massive, Greek, tragic flaws, whether alcohol or women or gambling. Emil had all of them.”

Thomas Montgomery Newman
Thomas Montgomery Newman, born Los Angeles, CA, 1955

Thomas is the son of the very prolific Alfred Newman; his mother, Mississippi born, Martha Louise Montgomery. He attended the University of Southern California and then went on to receive a master’s degree in music at Yale University.

His film scoring career began in 1984 with the score for the film Reckless. His breakthrough came in 1995 when he earned 2 Academy Award nominations in film scoring, Little Women (1994) and The Shawshank Redemption (1994). He was the only double nominee that year. Some of his notable film scoring includes, American Beauty (1999), Road to Perdition (2002), Finding Nemo (2003), Pay it Forward (2000), Erin Brockovich (2000), and WALL-E (2008).

As of 2009, Thomas Newman has received 10 Academy Award nominations but has yet to receive an Oscar. He is the most nominated living composer never to have won an Academy Award (The late Composer Alex North had 14 nominations without a win) however; Thomas has won 3 Grammy Awards.

This is My Life . . . “Dead Already” scene from, American Beauty

Click here  for the list of Thomas Newman’s nominations

Grammy Awards

2001 – American Beauty, Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or other Visual Media
2003 – Six Feet Under, Best instrumental Composition for Title Theme, Best Instrumental Arrangement For Title Theme
2009 – WALL-E, Best Song Written for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media (with Peter Gabriel) for “Down to Earth

David Louis Newman
David Louis Newman, born Los Angeles, CA, 1954

David is Thomas’ older brother by one year. He played violin as a child with the Santa Monica Symphony. He studied performance and conducting at the University of Southern California, then worked as a studio musician and free lance conductor.

David was only fifteen when his father, Alfred, died. After college, David began listening to hours of his father’s compositions. He said, “It planted a seed in me that eventually came to fruition.”

David is a frequent collaborator with actor/director Danny DeVito. He has scored Throw Mama from the Train (1987), The War of the Roses (1989), Other People’s Money (1991), Hoffa (1992), Matilda (1996) and Death to Smoochy (2002). He has also scored the comedies, The Flintstones (1994), The Mighty Ducks (1992), The Nutty Professor (1996) and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989).

David has composed almost a hundred film scores, but he has received only one Academy Award nomination. In 1997 he was nominated for Best Original Music Score, for the animated feature film Anastasia.

“Once Upon a December” from Anastasia

Beginning In 1997 David was music director for the Sundance Institute for four years and he has conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra on several occasions. He also re-recorded the “Twentieth Century Fox” Fanfare composed by his father Alfred.

Says David, “My father was a huge influence on me in all aspects of music and in the whole idea that you could get everyone together to do something extraordinarily beautiful. The collaborative and the performance and the music all rolled into one.”

Randall Stuart Newman
Randall Stuart “Randy” Newman, born Los Angeles, CA, 1943

Randy is the son of Adele (nee Fox), a secretary, and Irving George Newman, an internist and brother of Alfred, Lionel and Emil. His cousins include Thomas and David Newman. Randy’s family moved to New Orleans when he was an infant, and he spent summers there as a small child until he was 11 years old. His family then returned to Los Angeles, and eventually Randy attended University of California, Los Angeles.

You might call Randy the irreverent satirist of the Newman clan. He began as a songwriter and recording Artist before he followed in his family’s film scoring footsteps. Some of his earliest songs were recorded in the 60s by artists such as Gene Pitney, Jerry Butler, The O’Jays, Irma Thomas and others. His work as a songwriter was particularly successful in the UK.

Randy’s first album of successful compositions was actually released by Harry Nilsson in 1970, called Nilsson Sings Newman. This paved the way for Randy’s release of his own album, 12 Songs. It met with little commercial success, but one of the songs off this album, “Mama Told Me Not to Come”, became a huge hit for the group Three Dog Night. Some of Randy’s other commercially successful songs recorded over the years are, “You Can Leave Your Hat On”, “Short People”, “I Love L.A., and “It’s Money That Matters”.

Norman Lear convinced Randy to try scoring for a film called Cold Turkey, in 1971. At first Randy found the task intimidating, but he continued on the path carved out by his ancestors and several more sound scores followed. These include, Ragtime (1981), The Natural (1984), Avalon (1990), and Toy Story (1995).

Randy was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002 and as a Disney Legend in 2007.

Randy Newman performs “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from Toy Story (with Lyle Lovett)

Click here for all of Randy Newman’s Academy Award Nominations (pdf file attached)

Academy Awards

2002 – “If I Didn’t Have You”, Monsters, Inc., Original Song
2011 - "We Belong Together", Toy Story 3, Original Song

Grammy Awards

2000 – A Bug’s Life, Instrumental Composition Written for Motion Picture or Television
2001 – Toy Story, “When She Loved Me”, Song written for Motion Picture or Television
2003 – Monsters, Inc. “If I Didn’t Have You”, Song Written for Motion Picture or Television
2007 – Cars, “Our Town”’ Song Written for Motion Picture or Television

Maria Newman
Maria Newman, born Los Angeles, CA, 1962

Maria is not only a gifted classical musician and composer, but has contributed her musical talents to film scoring alongside the many male members of her musically acclaimed family. She is the youngest of Alfred Newman’s children and sister to the well-known Thomas and David Newman. Maria plays violin, viola and piano and was educated at the Eastman School of Music and Yale University, graduating with honors. She has received much acclaim for her work as a composer of concert music.

Alongside her brother Thomas, Maria has worked on several film scores as concert mistress. She played viola for the film Conspiracy Theory (1997). She has been credited for contributing to the scoring of at least three small films including What the Daisy Said, in which she also played piano for this 1999 alternate version of the 1910 silent film.

What the Daisy Said by Maria Newman
Performed at Omaha Conservatory of Music Camp, 2009

Filmography (Composer/Scoring)
1997 – Bao
1999 – What the Daisy Said (1910)
2007 – Why Be Good? Sexuality & Censorship in Early Cinema

Joey Newman
Joey Newman, born Los Angeles, CA, 1976

Joey represents a third generation of Newman film composers. His father is Joe Frank, a musician, and his mother is Jenifer Newman, a ballerina, and the daughter of Lionel Newman.

At the young age of 3, Joey began his passion for drumming. He owned his first set of drums at the age of 8. He was a self taught drummer until the age of 15 when he began drumming under the instruction of veteran drummer, Michael Barismanto.

Joey’s scoring career began in 2000 working with composer W. G. “Snuffy” Walden. He co-composed the final seasons of ABC’s Once and Again and NBC’s Providence while orchestrating for NBC’s West Wing and a number of other prime-time dramas. In 2001, Joey composed the music to the world’s largest on-line role-playing game, “Lineage”. His first independent feature film score was in 2003 for Stealing Time which was self-released in theaters such as ArcLight Hollywood. That same year, Joey began a collaboration with his cousin, Randy Newman, with orchestrations for Universal Studio’s Seabiscuit (2003), and later, Disney/Pixar’s Cars (2006). Despite his musical diversity, Joey remains active in scoring for television.

Stealing Time Trailer (note drumming near end of trailer)

Film Scoring Credits

2003 – Stealing Time

Saying that 3 generations of Newman musicians have significantly molded the American film score industry is probably an understatement. Collectively, the Newman music family has been nominated for 70 Oscars. And to think that it all began with a Jewish immigrant and his wife, settling in New Haven, Connecticut, looking for a promising future for their 10, yet unborn, children. Could they have imagined?

It took 82 years for the American Film Academy to award a female for Best Director. I don’t know how many more years it will take before a woman will go home with an Oscar under her arm for her exceptional accomplishments in some area of film scoring. But, I bet there’s a good chance, somewhere in her family tree, the prodigious Newman line will be among one of its branches.


“The Newman Conquest” by Amy Wallace, Los Angeles Times, March 22, 1998

“Hollywood’s Historic Newman Scoring Stage” by John Burke

“Alfred Newman (1901 – 1970) – head of a musical dynasty”

“Alfred Newman Biography” by Lorraine LoBianco

Alfred Newman, Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Directory Composer Biographies

Alfred Newman Awards, Internet Movie Database

Lionel Newman, Wikipedia

Emil Newman, Wikipedia

Thomas Newman Biography, Yahoo! Movies

“The Top 10 Most Influential Scores of the Past Decade: #2” American Beauty (Thomas Newman) Oct. 6, 2009

Thomas Newman, Wikipedia

David Newman, Wikipedia

Randy Newman, Wikipedia

“Nilsson Sings Newman”

“OCO Welcomes renowned composer, Maria Newman!” Olympia Chamber Orchestra

Maria Newman, Internet Movie Database

“Maria Newman Spotlight” Garageband

Joey Newman, Wikipedia