An interview with Gerald Fried by Ford A. Thaxton
Originally published in Soundtrack! Vol 18/ No 70; 1999
Text reproduced by kind permission of the Editor Luc Van de Ven
Gerald Fried’s career as a composer for film and television spans five decades, in the 1950s and ‘60s he was well known for his inventive scores for a variety low to medium budget films such as MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, THE RETURN OF DRACULA, and TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN. In the ‘60s he become one of the most prolific composers for TV, scoring episodes of such classic programs as THE MAN FROM U.N.C.LE, STAR TREK, GILLIAN’S ISLAND, and others. In the 1970s and 8Os he would score such classic mini-series as ROOTS and THE MYSTIC WARRIOR. However, what is not as well known is that Gerald Fried’s career as a film scorer started at the behest of the late Stanley Kubrick. Recently Silva Screen Records commissioned Gerald to prepare a suite based on his scores for Kubrick’s first films for their tribute album, ‘Dr. Strangelove – Music from the Films of Stanley Kubrick,” which was in production nearly two years prior to the director’s untimely death in early 1999.
This interview, in May of this year, was the first one given by Mr Fried about his work with his late friend.
You’re a very young man living in New York in the 1950s, how the hell did you hook up with Kubrick?
I belonged to a ball club called the Barracudas. There weren’t gangs in those days – they were called clubs! And we played baseball and football and he wanted to join, he was a so-so athlete, but we become friends anyway.
How old were you at this point?
17 or 18.
So you just kind of bumped into each other and found you had some mutual interests?
Yeah. We’d go to screenings together, hung around the Greenwich Village crowd – which is an interesting crowd, a lot of names you’d know.
Well, he was then Irwin Mazursky, he’s now Paul Mazursky. And Howard Sachler, who won a Pulitzer Prize for writing The Great White Hope, he also established Caedmon records, the spoken word thing. And Alex Singer, the film director, and Steve Marcos, who wrote “The Other Victorians”.
How did you end up scoring Kubrick’s first film, did he just say “Hey, Gerry, can do you it?”
The first one, DAY OF THE FIGHT, the short; it was 1950. He knew that I was an oboe major at Juilliard and he figured therefore I knew all about composing and conducting.
And, of course, like any great professional trying to your first break, when he asked you, you said “of course l can do all that!”
“Easy man!” That’s exactly what happened. And Stanley, for all his sophistication, didn’t know at that time. He was just like a regular guy in those days – smarter, more talented than the rest of us – but he sort of had to hide it, because it was embarrassing. He was just another guy.
When you did DAY OF THE FIGHT, I would assume there was a very small ensemble for that film?
Not so small, 19 people. We even had some well known musicians, including the head of the New England Conservatory of Music, Gunther Schuller. He played first horn.
When you went in to record this, they wouldn’t let you into the studio?
Yeah (laughs)! That was funny, too. Stanley and I were both in our early twenties, and Bernie Adeistein, the great first trumpet player of the Cleveland Orchestra, looked even younger than his years, which was 20, and they wouldn’t let us in, they said “hey, there’s a professional recording going on here, you kids, get out of here!”
What was this first film about?
DAY OF THE FIGHT was a very good idea for a documentary – a day in the life of a fighter and at the age of 20 he did it better than all those old pros.
What was the next film after that?
FEAR AND DESIRE, which was written by Harold Sachler.
Did Kubrick have very specific ideas about the music, or did he just say “What do you think, Gerry? Fine.” He didn’t know then, he was beginning to learn, but we sort of agreed about things, we were young and thought we were so very profound! But there were some good things too…
What struck me about those early scores was just the brutality and the really kind of austere quality of them. Certainly things like KILLER’S KISS and THE KILLING show that off. So you did all these films in this period, and then it came to PATHS OF GLORY, which was in ‘57, which is arguably one “Stanley Kubrick was of the best war movies ever made, in my opinion, and that was the last time you two worked together; as far as I can tell…
What happened on that particular movie?
Nothing different happened. We were still the same guys, although he was a little more sure of himself, his fantasies of being smarter than anyone in Hollywood were beginning to bear fruit, but we worked together okay. And we both are drum-happy, so, except for the Strauss Waltz and the German song at the end, it was an all-percussion score.
You recorded that in Germany. That must have been an interesting experience for you at that point in your life.
Do you know the reason PATHS OF GLORY got made? Because of THE VIKINGS. This is interesting film history, and it’s also accurate. Kirk Douglas was impressed with Stanley, talked with him, and he said, “I’m doing THE VIKINGS. We have some time in-between, why don’t we just throw in PATHS OF GLORY on the off days of THE VIKINGS?” That’s how PATHS OF GLORY got made!
So they were filmed concurrently essentially?
Yeah. Anyway, the point about Stanley and myself, Jewish boys being in Germany 12 years after the Holocaust, was mitigated by Kirk Douglas on the first day of shooting on THE VIKINGS. You know what he looks like – blonde, lantern-jawed. He assembled everybody, the financiers, the accountants, the crew, the actors, and he said “I just wanted to let you know that I do not look Jewish but I am a Jew. Please remember that every minute you are on the set
That was last professional collaboration you had with him, was it just a case of he went one way and you went another; and it just never meshed up after that?
Logistically, he moved to England. But firstly, things like SPARTACIJS, were out of his control, LOLITA, I’m not sure… I just wasn’t the right guy far that picture. He needed a pop arranger, Nelson Riddle, to do that.
Since you saw the man’s entire evolution of his career… We’ve heard all these weird stories about the man, what would be your characterization of Stanley Kubrick as a person?
He was just like he rest of us. Bright, talented, neurotic – only more so! In all three!
During the intervening years, did you guys ever sit and talk about some of the issues that went on; certainly the North thing was the most notorious…
That never came up?
No, we exchanged letters, but we never talked. It was not that comfortable.
Did you get any feedback from him, because he did get your re-recorded suite before he passed away? Did you ever hear anything about that?
No. I didn’t know that.
Silva Screen sent him an advance copy he did hear it before he passed away.
Oh, damn. I wish I would have heard from him.
Well look at the bright side, he did hear it. The ultimate irony of that whole project is that in a way you totally did one of the nicest tributes anyone has done for him, which was to make sure that those early films which had started him live on, and the music you did for them is a fitting tribute to the man.
Talking about the scores specifically.. what was it like for you, when you were preparing the suite for Silva, to go back and revisit what Gerry Fried did nearly 40 years ago?
It was a trip, and I was kind of pleased with most of the things I did, but I mentioned something about power, that Kubrick and I were involved with power: the more we could shock people, the better it seemed. I wrote the most primal music I could think of, like the Overture to THE KILUNG, three against four, driving into your ears.
Are you working on anything particular at the moment?
I have another assignment, there’s another thing for the Skirball museum….
And you just recently put together a symphonic suite from ROOTS for concert performance…
Yeah, and I wrote an oboe concerto which I performed myself.
Any final thoughts about Stanley Kubrick?
Yeah. I think people should know that, when they’re growing up and they don’t feel comfortable with the world, there may be something in them that may actually contribute to the world like Kubrick did, even though it doesn’t feel that way at the time. You just never know who’s going to make it, certainly from the way Stanley came on, nobody would have figured out he was going to be Stanley Kubrick. Nevertheless, he was. So that might be a nice message to get out.