The composer of that unforgettable violin melody at the heart of Young Frankenstein, and so many more great scores for Mel Brooks movies, died on Thursday in New York. John Morris, twice Oscar-nominated (for co-writing the hilarious Blazing Saddles song and for his heartfelt dramatic score for The Elephant Man), had long ago retired from the business. But his themes for the movies of Brooks, Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman and others — plus a handful of major television scores including The Adams Chronicles and Scarlett — are among the most indelible of the last 50 years. His passing has brought a surprising outpouring of grief and appreciation from the Hollywood music community. Here is the obituary I wrote for Variety; we first met in the early 1990s and I last talked to him in 2006 when I was writing the program notes for a Chicago Symphony performance of Young Frankenstein and other Morris scores.
John Morris was always one of my favorite composers — he was the genius behind the music of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, High Anxiety and others, and created the original arrangements for “Springtime for Hitler” that adorn Brooks’ classic The Producers. His death in early 2018 reminded me that I was interviewed for the Morris profile “Transylvanian Lullaby” for the 2008 release of Young Frankenstein on Blu-Ray. It’s a great 10-minute piece produced by my old friend Steven Smith; I also supplied the original Morris sketch for the main theme that appears in the featurette.