Bernard Herrmann — the composer of such classics as Citizen Kane, Vertigo, Psycho and North by Northwest — is today more revered and influential than even during his lifetime. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and The Film Music Foundation deemed his legacy important enough to launch an oral-history project focusing on this key American composer. So far we have done nearly four hours of interviews with biographer Steven Smith, director Larry Cohen, editor Paul Hirsch, conductor Richard Kaufman, the composer’s daughter Dorothy Herrmann, and Foundation executive Les Zador. They are all available here, at the Foundation’s website. More interviews are expected to be done in December.
Randy Newman — undoubtedly one of America’s greatest songwriters who also happens to be one of our finest film composers — sat down with me last year for a 90-minute interview about his music for movies. It was, as always with Randy, great fun, and I was delighted to be asked by the Film Music Foundation and the Academy’s Oral History program to formulate and ask the questions. He talks about the history of the legendary Newman family, about his major scores (including Ragtime, The Natural, Toy Story and the other Pixar films) and his classic movie songs from “I Love to See You Smile” to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.”
The extraordinary composer David Amram was in town this week, so the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Film Music Foundation took advantage of his presence to add him to their Visual History archives. I was asked to conduct the interview, which meant an intense research weekend immersing myself in his films (among them The Manchurian Candidate, Splendor in the Grass and The Young Savages), re-reading his autobiography, and listening to as much of his music as possible. It may be a while before the interview is available for viewing, but rest assured he talks about Elia Kazan, John Frankenheimer, Jack Kerouac, Leonard Bernstein, Charlie Parker, and many of the other amazing people with whom he has crossed paths over his 87 years.
Last year, I was privileged to spend an afternoon interviewing Marni Nixon, the now well-known “ghost singer” whose Hollywood career included being the behind-the-scenes vocalist for Deborah Kerr in The King and I, Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady and Natalie Wood in West Side Story. We covered those, and much more of her life and career, over nearly two hours. That interview has now been posted on the Film Music Foundation website. She was delightful. She passed away just four months later (here is my obituary for Variety). Also on the site: a new interview with composer Rachel Portman, not done by me but based on several pages of questions I prepared for that interview.
It was so sad to hear of the death of Marni Nixon, a wonderful lady with whom I’d just recently conducted a long, on-camera career history (for the Film Music Foundation, to be posted online soon). I wrote this obituary for Variety that talks a bit about her three famous “ghost singing” gigs: for Deborah Kerr in The King and I, Natalie Wood in West Side Story, and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. But she was much more than that, singing (from the late 1940s on) as part of the Roger Wagner Chorale, in many classical and opera performances, and even classic TV themes (she was in the choir for I Married Joan in 1954!).
John Scott — the great British composer of such memorable scores as Antony and Cleopatra; Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes; The Final Countdown, and many more — is the subject of a career-spanning interview posted by the Film Music Foundation. I was privileged to conduct it when Scott (who divides his time between London and Los Angeles) was here in L.A. recently. The Emmy-winning composer speaks thoughtfully and articulately about his time as a flutist/saxophonist on the London scene in the 1950s, becoming a composer in the 1960s, his many collaborations with film directors and TV producers (including Jacques Cousteau, doing many of the Cousteau documentaries of the 1980s) and much more. He is simply a delightful gentleman.
Over the past eight years, the Film Music Foundation has been interviewing composers and others active in the movie-music business — getting down their life stories, their career anecdotes, their thoughts about this curious profession. I have been privileged to conduct many of these, and the Foundation (as part of its educational initiative) has now made them available online. Visit the website here — but be ready to spend a lot of time there, because most of these interviews are between two and three hours long! So far, I’ve done songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman; and composers Bruce Broughton, Bill Conti, Danny Elfman, Dave Grusin, Maurice Jarre, Laurence Rosenthal and Lalo Schifrin. (Others feature such giants as Patrick Doyle, Johnny Mandel, Van Alexander and Richard Sherman.) Three more interviews are scheduled for the first quarter of 2016.
The Film Music Foundation has asked me to do a number of interviews for them, essentially long video “oral histories” of composers and lyricists active in film and TV music. The most recent is of Bruce Broughton, the Oscar-nominated, multi-Emmy-winning composer. This page will take you to excerpts of several, including Bruce as well as Bill Conti, Dave Grusin, Maurice Jarre, Laurence Rosenthal, Lalo Schifrin, and Marilyn and Alan Bergman.
We spent the day at Bill Conti’s gorgeous home, shooting an interview for the Film Music Foundation. We covered his entire life and career. I am guessing the entire interview was between three and four hours. Bill is great, funny and self-deprecating, with a million anecdotes about everything from Rocky to Dynasty. His wonderful wife Shelby served us lunch, and it was just the latest in a really great series of video “oral histories” that the Foundation is doing.
The latest in our series of video “oral histories” with film-music luminaries: a lengthy, genuinely in-depth interview with Oscar-winning lyricists Marilyn and Alan Bergman at their home in Beverly Hills. This was, like most of the others, for the Film Music Foundation. We delved not only into their lives and careers but into their philosophy about lyric writing, for films and otherwise. Stories about everything from In the Heat of the Night to “Windmills of Your Mind” to Yentl. A memorable afternoon.