An Interview with Miklos Rozsa by James Pavelek and Michael Thompson
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.17/No.67/1998 @ Vol. 17/No. 68 /1999
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven
Your score for the Korda film JUNGLE BOOK, done in 1942, became the first movie score to be commercially recorded on 78 RPM records. In the suite you wrote individual themes played by solo instruments to represent the various animals in the story. I like the theme you wrote for Bakeera, the black panther. Every time I hear it, it seems to give the feeling of a big cat purring.
I like the little lullaby that’s played when little Mowgli falls asleep in the wolves’ den. That’s beautiful.
Yes, well, that was actually left over from THE THIEF OF BAGDAD. That was supposed to be a song in THE THIEF OF BAGDAD which never was written, but I used the theme again.
There was a vinyl shortage during the early forties because of the outbreak of the war and not many film scores, well, certainly only musicals, had been recorded at that time.
There were no film scores. You see, Mr. Selznick offered them GONE WITH THE WIND and they turned him down, saying that nobody wants film music. This was the most publicized film, the biggest success in cinema history, at least until then, and they didn’t want it!
That was a monumental blunder! It’s a beautiful score.
Miklos Rozsa won his first Academy Award in 1946, for SPELLBOUND. Dr. Rozsa, before you came to be involved in writing music for films, you had already enjoyed success as a composer of chamber and orchestral works. Your concert works were performed both here and abroad. How did you come to be involved in writing music for films?
Well, that was purely accidental. In 1936, I would say, I was touring in the British Isles with my ballet for the Markova-Dolen Company. I was staying in London when I read in the papers that a famous French film director, Jacques Feyder, whom I knew personally, was in town. So I called him up and he said he was in great trouble and could I come over to his hotel right away. So I jumped in a taxi and went over and said, “What’s the matter?” He said, “I’ve been trying to give out my laundry and they don’t understand because I don’t speak a word of English!” Well, this matter was settled and he invited me to go out for dinner. I said I’m sorry but I have to go to my ballet. He said could he come. So he came to my ballet and liked my music and declared it was the best he ever heard and would I write the music for his film? I said quite frankly I wouldn’t know how.
He said that this didn’t matter and that tomorrow we would go to lunch and he would introduce me to some people. So we went to lunch and were waiting an hour or two and he said, “Well, she is coming but she is not here yet.” Well, suddenly a very elegant lady and gentleman appeared and they both had pronounced German accents and they were introduced as Mr. & Mrs. Sieber. The lady sat at my right and Jacques Feyder was seated to my left, when suddenly the lady turned to me and said, “Is my song ready?” Well, I turned to Mr. Feyder and said, “What is she talking about? “when I felt that Mr. Feyder was digging into my ribs. So I said to the lady; “Well, the song is not ready yet, but I’m working on it.” I turned again to Feyder and said, “Who is she?” And back came a whisper, “You idiot! This is Marlene Dietrich!” And I looked at the lady and indeed she was Marlene Dietrich, but of course in private life she was Mrs. Sieber and I wouldn’t have known. Then Feyder said, “Tomorrow you wii go with me to Denham Studios where we wii talk to Mr Korda.” I replied, “Who is Mr Korda?” He said, “Well, you don’t know anything about this business so just shut up and let me do the talking.”
In the score for SPELLBOUND and also in THE LOST WEEKEND which was written in the same year, you introduced a new instrument, the theremin, to underline the hero’s feeling of paranoia in the former and the hero’s alcoholic craving in the latter How was this instrument played and was Dr Samuel Hoffmann the only man in Hollywood who knew how to play it?
Yes, the instrument was invented by a Russian physicist, Alexander (sic) Theremin. He played it everywhere and I met the instrument, so to speak, in Paris when I lived there, in a somewhat improved form called the Ondes Martenot. I wanted to use it earlier in THE THIEF OF BAGDAD for the genie who comes out from the bottle. Nobody wanted it, so when Hitchcock asked for a new sound, I said Theremin. It was an electronic instrument – actually it was the first electronic instrument — and it looks like a radio which has an electric rod. The person who plays it plays it in the air…
It’s never actually touched then.
No, it’s never touched. As his hand moves closer (or further away) from this rod, the pitch changes. So when you tell him “F sharp” (makes gesture as if to play) it’s somewhere here. He doesn’t know where it is; he usually slides into it … (vocalizes the sound of the theremin performing the famous paranoia theme from SPELLBOUND) …that’s more or less the sound.
So I got the Union book and looked up “theremin” and there was Dr. Samuel Hoffmann. I called him up and he came to the studio with his machine and he played it for Mr. Hitchcock and Mr. Selznick said he liked it. It was recorded and I used it in THE LOST WEEKEND and then again in the THE RED HOUSE and I never used it again.
It was also used by composer Roy Webb for his music for THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE.
Well, yes, it was also used by many other composers, you know. I couldn’t take out a copyright on the instrument — once I introduced it, it was used by many others too.
Is it true that William Wyler wanted you to use it for the Christ Theme in BEN-HUR?
I don’t think so. Well, maybe, William Wyler is very stupid concerning matters musical. Now, Mr. Jarre used it in JESUS OF NAZARETH, which was very superb. I saw it in London. And at the end, Jesus comes in and we hear that … amitates wall of Ondes Martenot as penned by Jarre) …and it’s so wrong!
I found it was like someone whistling. It was not supernatural. When I used it first, it was something new but now it’s not new. It’s just an electronic sound and I don’t want to hear an electronic sound for Jesus Christ. It’s silly. But this was not the only trouble with that score.
Is that the one by Zeffirelli for TV that runs 6 hours long?
Yes, I saw it in London…
Did you enjoy it?
No. The film wasn’t bad but the music was very bad. It didn’t add anything to it.
I saw part of the first and part of the second because I fell asleep. In sharp contrast to your exotic and oriental style in your scores for Alexander Korda, your later association was with crime melodramas like THE KILLERS. You displayed a musical ability to portray menace, violence, the grimness of underworld life. Certainly the best of these films were the trilogy done for Mark Hellinger — THE KILLERS, BRUTE FORCE and THE NAKED CITY. Mr Hellinger was a noted journalist and crime reporter who brought an unusual sense of reality to these film noir movies. How did your association come about?
About that time — around 1946 I would say — I was under contract to Universal Studios. I suppose he asked for me. I got to know him very well. I respected him very much. He was one of the few producers in Hollywood who was not only a genuine “film” man, but a very erudite writer and gentleman. We did two pictures together, THE KILLERS, then BRUTE FORCE. Then came THE NAKED CITY and he said he had great trouble with the director Jules Dassin, who wanted to use his own composer. I said “That’s all right.”
Then during the shooting Mr. Hellinger suffered a heart attack. Instead of lying in a hospital bed to get well, he said he had to finish the picture. He came to the studio and everyone noticed that he had lost a lot of weight. He was snow white, he looked terrible. After a preview of the film, he nearly had a heart attack there and said, “This music is not going to be in my film!”
That night he called me up and I said, “Hello, Mark.”There was a long, inexplicable silence when he finally said, “Would you?” I said, “You know that I would”. He said, “Bless you.” Those were the last words he ever spoke as he died during the night. So the next day I had to go to the studio and help finish up the picture.
Prior to the making of this film, most of the crime dramas were shot in the studios themselves. They were very much influenced by the German films and, indeed, many notable American directors such as Billy Wilder — Fritz Lang — came from the German school These films were unique in that they brought the action out onto the streets and were shot on location.
Oh yes, New York was part of it and if you see the film, there is a narration by Mark Hellinger where he says: this is one of those dramas that takes place every day among eight million people.
This technique was later picked up by Walter Winchell for the television series THE UNTOUCHABLES. In 1947, you won your second Oscar for A DOUBLE LIFE. Ronald Coleman won best actor in the role of a thespian on the brink of madness who becomes so absorbed in the role of Othello that his stage character begins to take possession of his off-stage personality. In the theater overture which introduces the play sequences, you researched the music of the old Venetian composers — in particular Giovanni Gabrielli. Was this the first instance of your seeking inspiration in authentic period music?
Now I come to think of it, you might be right. You see, I thought in a Shakespearean drama we can have two kinds of music. It could be either Shakespearean, that is, Elizabethan or actually of the period. And the moor of Venice was during the Renaissance and that is the kind of music which should be played there. So I studied the period and Giovanni Gabrielli, a very famous composer in Venice during the Renaissance, was the closest I could get. I did not copy his music, but I adapted his style to fit the picture. Whether this was my first time, probably it was.
Later in films like MADAME B0VARY, you researched the music in which the story takes place to lend an air of authenticity to the film.
Yes, but this was the 19th Century, which was much easier. My main research in MADAME BOVARY was Flaubert, the writer himself. And I read the book as much as I looked at the picture and tried to give the atmosphere of not only what was done in the film, but what Flaubert himself created about
In 1950, you approached the music for QUO VADIS in a unique manner not only as composer but as musicologist as well. In this film, the story of the conflict of the First Century Romans and the early Christians during the reign of Nero, you made a serious attempt to simulate the music of antiquity. Besides supervising the construction of actual Roman instruments that are known to have existed in the First Century A.D., such diverse and unusual instruments as the Scottish harp were employed to approximate the tones of the ancient lyre. Even bagpipes were used! Was a primitive form of the bagpipes actually known to musicians at that time?
Oh yes, it was a Roman instrument which you can see in sculptures and so on and it was introduced during the Roman occupation of England and Scotland, which very few people know. England and Scotland were occupied by the Romans, that’s why the bagpipes (which are considered a Scottish instrument all around the world) actually came from the Romans.
Of course, not only the instruments had to be researched, but the actual music that we hear performed in the film. In Hollywood, when they made similar films, they didn’t care too much about authenticity and so it was the same kind of “semi-Rachmaninoff” in every film, whether it was the First Century or the Twentieth Century.
Well, inasmuch as I had a musicological background and studied the music of antiquity at the Leipzig University I decided this time it would be different. I tried to re-create the music partly of the Romans, partly of the early Christians and partly of the Roman Empire (such as the Assyrians, the Babylonians and so on). It was fascinating work because I found that there is absolutely no Roman music in existence.
We know everything about architecture, about literature, about sculpture, in fact, the whole culture of the Romans, but no music has survived. We know their instruments from sculptures and friezes, but not the music However, we know that the music of the Romans and the whole culture of the Roman was influenced by the Greeks
So we have, fortunately, fourteen — now 14, at the time that I did it, it was only 11 — Greek fragments of music with actual melodies:
hymns to Mars, hymns to Apollo and so forth, and I used them all. I used a fragment of just two bars and developed a whole theme out of it. So the music was more or less authentic for QUO VADIS. The record has been out of print now for many years but I am happy to say that this September I will record a new album in London called QUO VADIS.
While much of the music for QUO VADIS was based on fragments which are known to have existed in the Second Century A.D., your theme for the young Christian girl played by Deborah Kerr — that is, Lygia — that was a melody of your own invention, was it not?
Oh yes, that was my own invention but it is archaic in a sense and I think that when you hear this melody, you can hear that we are not only in another century, but two millenniums before!
What were those instruments that were carried and had the large curve that came all the way around?
I remember the music for the burning of Rome…
Yes, but unfortunately you don’t hear much of the music in the film because there is all kinds of noise going on. It is submerged.
In 1945 Dr Max Krone, Dean of Music at the University of Southern California, invited Dr. Rozsa to teach a class in the highly specialized art of writing music for the cinema. He accepted and served for 20 years on the faculty. During these prolific two decades, he wrote a violin concerto for Jascha Heifetz, a Hungarian nocturne for Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Philharmonic, the Sinfonia Concertante for Gregor Piatigorsky and a piano concerto for Leonard Pennarlo. He also found time to serve as president of the Screen Composers Guild.
More recently, though, Rozsa has written for fewer films, giving more time to recording and conducting activities. Could it be that he is less inspired by the current movie fare?
Yes. I was, I think, spoiled in the heydays of Hollywood. I wrote music for excellent films — great films, that is — and I don’t find them anymore. There are a few which I like and those I do, but otherwise I would like to spend more time with my own music and conducting my own music.
Recently many composers have been actively recording their classic film scores on record. Bernard Herrmann, George Korngold (the son of Erich Wolfgang Korngold), the late William Walton…
He is not late!
He is very much alive.
Anyway, in what’s become known as the film music renaissance, in that more and more people are becoming interested in the great film scores of the past. Is this a trend that you could foresee? Did you think that you would be going back to, say, KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR and re-record it in the
No, absolutely not. The music at that time was written for a picture and immediately forgotten. My score for THE JUNGLE BOOK was the first commercially recorded American film music score. Even before — about two years — there was a great American picture, GONE WITH THE WIND, with the music of Max Steiner and David Selznick, who produced this film, offered it to many gramophone companies and they all turned him down, saying that nobody wants film music.
So nobody knew that this music would be later in demand. Once we wrote it for a film, that was it. It was forgotten and, unfortunately, most of the scores were eventually thrown out by the studios.
In 1959, Dr Rozsa won his third Academy Award for the film BEN-HUR, which many believe to be his finest score. In the longest score ever written, marches abound, individual characters receive their own themes and a passionate tapestry of human emotions is written around the time of the Christ. How long did you work on this epic film?
Off and on, I worked for a year and a half on this film. It was started in the summer of 1958 and, before actually it started, I was already working on it here in Hollywood. For instance, the love theme I wrote first as a song — that was my suggestion to Mr. Zimbalist, that there should be a song for the girl. Well, he liked the idea, but it never became a song. There were never lyrics written to it, so I used it just as a love theme.
Then I had to go to Rome during the filming in the summer of 1958. The filming went on for nine months, then, unfortunately, Mr. Zimbalist died and around Christmas I had to go back. They were just finishing the picture. I wrote all the marches that are in the film — they are numerous– in Rome. Then I came back and the cutting took about nine months. So this makes 18 months (or a year and a half). So it took a long time but I loved the film, I loved the subject matter and I do believe it is probably my best score!
Yes, one would be hard put to find a story of such moving subject matter as that which was achieved in BEN-HUR. I think the script, in particular was very poetic. It seems that Christopher Fry and Karl Tunberg, the writers, were the only principal people affiliated with the film who did not win the Oscar
Well, this was a technical thing because Mr. Christopher did not get screen credit even though he was there during the whole filming and he was changing the dialog all the time. But Mr. Tunberg had the right to have the credit, so there was a big blow-up about the whole thing! For that reason the Academy found that there should be no credit for the script when actually they both should have had the Oscar.
I have heard, for example, like in the scene where Judah Ben-Hur’s being entertained by Sheik Ilderim who’s providing the horses for the chariot race — the script originally had Hugh Griffith turning to Heston and saying “Do you like the food?” and Christopher Fry would come in and change it to “Was the food to your liking?”
He was there all the time and changing the dialog to his tastes. Tunberg insisted he wrote the whole thing. Well, he did the construction but the dialog actually was polished up by Fry.
On your first film KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR, you were introduced to the Korda brothers who were producing the London Films series. Did you find it easy to adapt you, basically Hungarian musical style to their oriental fantasy type pictures such as THE THIEF OF BAGLIAD and THE JUNGLE BOOK?
Actually it was easier for me, coming from an East European musical style to go to the Eastern style of music than it would have been for an Englishman or an American, coming from a completely Western civilization. The step was not quite so big. Of course I did many other pictures for them which were in the European oeuvre and I learned the business there doing these films. KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR was a Russian subject, you know, so I studied the music of the Revolution.
Doing KING OF KINGS right after BEN-HUR, that must have been very difficult.
Yes, it was very difficult.
Did you hesitate before accepting the commission?
Well, yes and no. Because we were just leaving for Europe and they said we could just go to Spain. We had never been to Spain. So that was an enticement — to go to Spain.
It’s a very different score but the subject matter must have been…
…the same. It was like asking Wagner to write a second Parsifal.
You say that before KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR, you were totally unfamiliar with the techniques of film scoring as you pointed out to Jaques Feyder, the director, who liked your ballet Hungaria. Did you, at this time meet Muir Mathieson? Was he the musical director of London-Korda films?
Yes, Muir Mathieson was the musical director. Well, he didn’t teach me. I made my own mistakes and learned myself. Actually I bought two books on film music writing — one was a Russian book translated into English and the other was a German book — and I would say that I studied them very carefully and I found out later that everything I read in them was absolutely wrong!
For instance, one of my first films was THUNDER IN THE CITY with Edward G. Robinson for the American director Marion Göhring. There was a witty scene with Englishmen sitting on a lawn — Nigel Bruce, Constance Collier — and they were making very Noel Coward-ish conversation and I wrote a very fast, very brilliant scherzo. When I played it for him at the piano, he said, “When is the next performance at Albert Hall?” I said, “What’s the matter? Isn’t that good for the scene?” He said, “Well, it’s very good for the scene if they wouldn’t talk but unfortunately they do and you will either hear that or your very fast scherzo!”
So I learned what you can — and cannot do — for dialog. These things happened and slowly I learned how to write music for films.
Did you actually appear in KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR?
Well, I am ashamed to say that — yes! There was a scene with Russian officers singing and one of them sitting at the piano when Marlene Dietrich enters. I had to be there because of the singing and we found that the pianist gentleman did not appear. So Feyder said, “Okay, a Russian uniform on him and he sits at the piano!” I said, “But I am not an actor!” He said, “But you play the piano. Get him a uniform!” So they put a Russian uniform on me, I sat at the piano and accompanied the singers when, suddenly the Princess Alexandra (Marlene Dietrich) appeared. We had to all get up and stand at attention. That was a great scene for me and I think I played it beautifully!
I wish I could see it again so I could watch out for you.
Yes, well probably they cut it!
(laughs) I saw THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES recently. I saw it in Berkeley and I thought you photographed very well in that.
It wasn’t a very long sequence. That was a super movie. I was surprised at how good it was. I think the title is misleading. It seems like a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes.
Well, originally it was in four episodes That is why the film is not as good as it should be because it was very good when they finished it but it was about three hours long — four episodes. So they cut two episodes completely out — never there, you know. I saw them and I wrote music for them which was cut out. And then they pulled it all together into one episode, but it was not written and shot that way.
Mmmmm. You mean…lack of continuity maybe?
Yes, but there were four acts, you know, like the classic Sherlock Holmes. Then the whole thing was put together and they said it’s too long. People don’t want to see a long film.
I thought it was an excellent film.
Well, of course, Billy Wilder does excellent film work.
Was it your decision to use the Violin Concerto?
No, it was his.
It worked very well in the sequence where they were on the bicycles.
Yes, well that was the third version actually. The first time he said he wants to have Scottish music because it’s Scotland. So I made a Scottish fantasy and they recorded it. Then he said, “Well, it’s too Scottish!” Well, you’re either Scottish, like, like …being too pregnant!
You can’t be a little Scottish, you know. He said, “That’s too Scottish, that’s not what I thought. It should be bicycles built for three. There should be a waltz.” I said, “Why a waltz?” He said, “Because bicycles built for two is a waltz and this is a bicycle!”So I said, “A waltz doesn’t go with it.”
And there was one more day for recording it and I said, “It just doesn’t work and this time will you just let me do it the way! want to do it?” So I quickly wrote this last sequence and that is what’s in the film.
For the Billy Wilder film, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, which tells the story of a crooked insurance investigator who schemes with another man’s wife to have him bumped off so they can collect the double indemnity money, you wrote a rather harsh, unromantic score which drew some flak from the studio. Could you tell us about that?
Well, DOUBLE INDEMNITY was a sore point in my Hollywood life. I discussed the music with Billy Wilder and played it for him on the piano and he liked it but there was a music director at the studio and he disliked it. He disliked it intensely. I asked why. He said, “These dissonances, these horrible dissonances! This is for Carnegie HalL!” (and this was the dirtiest word he could think of) “…and not for a motion picture. Why can’t you write some lovely melody?” I said, “For these characters, for this film?” He said that has nothing to do with it.
Anyway he said the head of the studio, Mr. Buddy daSilva, will hate it and they will throw the whole thing out and this will reflect on you and it will reflect on me. He was afraid because he engaged me. So we went to a preview and he wouldn’t speak a word to me, I was a doomed man. When the preview was over, he wanted to disappear! But Buddy daSilva called him over.
So he got up and walked very slowly — the same kind of steps that Louis XVI did when he went to the guillotine — he was sure his head was going to fall. DaSilva said, “I thank you for engaging Rozsa for this picture, this is a great score! Only one criticism, I want more music, the same dissonances in this scene, shoot more!” And he put his arm around Mr. daSilva and said, “I always get you the right man, don’t I?”
That is such a gloomy film, the way it opens up with the shadow of the victim. I heard that for the final scene Billy Wilder even had Fred MacMurray enter a gas chamber!
Well, I never saw it. I saw stills so apparently there was such a scene but when I saw it, it was cut.
Do you think that because people are becoming more and more interested in film music scores — and recording companies are realizing this and they’re getting people to record these scores — that this is sort of a long time coming? Do you think that some of the greatest music of this century was always written for films — not all of it — but certainly some of it. Do you think it was just a matter of time before people would…
Well, in England they play quite a lot of Vaughn-Williams, William Walton and Arthur Bliss in concerts — film music. This doesn’t happen in America yet. Copland is maybe the only exception, I don’t know. I was asked to go to the Berlin Festival and play a whole evening of film music which I couldn’t work in my schedule because I had to go to Canada. Now in Canada they work in half and half, first serious music and then film music. So it’s coming slowly. This would have been an absolute impossibility 25 years ago. Film music!
I think our whole culture would suffer for not having this music.
Well, this came out of nowhere. Suddenly it started! Maybe because the music in films today is so bad. There are good things too, but most of it is bad, people suddenly realize because of television they hear the old films and they are suddenly interested in that music. That might be one explanation. But the interest is here.
Here in Hollywood, I don’t go very far but in Europe on the Champs Elysées in Paris there in one large shop, Lido Musique, where they have a whole room of nothing but film music. Then in London, Chappell and EMI have very large shops with racks of film music from here to there. They are all film composers — I have my name there too.
I remember when I was becoming interested in film music in the late 50s and 60s, there was nothing. One of the first scores I think I bought was Elmer Bernstein’s THE TEN COMMANDMENTS which was a double disc set. And! looked for THIEF OF BAGDAD which is a favorite of mine and also Victor Young’s SAMSON AND DELILAH. I think it’s beautifuL I could never find anything. And now most of the record stores have a large section of film music.
The Polydor III album just came out and magnificently they gave me one record! There were about three people I had to give one to and I went into one shop, Chappell, a very large one, and they were sold out. I went to EMI and — all gone: ‘we’ll get it in again next week.’ Next week was too late for me. One shop on the Champs Elysees had only two copies and I bought them.
It’s refreshing. In England I was having dinner with a date a couple of months ago and I was talking about John Williams who did JAWS. I was saying about how certain sequences are so good and so powerful. And she laughed at me and said ‘I always wondered what kind of idiot would buy a soundtrack recording’. You know, a girl in her twenties who likes David Bowie and Elton John, just sneering…
Well, you can’t please everybody. There are different tastes.
I think it’s very interesting though that the quality of music that came out of Hollywood was excellent… The industry became wealthy, it attracted the best musicians, the best arrangers, the best orchestrators. I heard that Aaron Copland, after working on a film, went back to New York where at that time a snobbish attitude was held by many..
Still, still.., nothing’s changed.
And Copland told them that if you really want to see what musicians are doing today, go west. Because of the elitist attitude that they had around New York…
Yes, well they still have the same attitude that anything that comes from here is no good.
That’s true. When I was attending art school in San Francisco 2 or 3 years ago, my design teacher was from an advertising agency in New York and he pooh-poohed all the work that was being done in the west. The only place to be was New York. Everything else was trash. Very narrow-minded.
No, that’s stupid.
Especially when you consider Richard Rogers, who wrote musicals for Broadway with Oscar Hammerstein, stated several times that he believed Alfred Newman was the best arranger of his music that he’s ever worked with.
He probably was.
Do you get the Elmer Bernstein magazine, Film Music Notes?
I got one where there was something about me in the beginning and then Green had something about his life story.
That was the one I was going to mention. He had some very nice things to say about you. He recounts the story concerning your work at MGM at that time. It was about where they wanted you to hurry your work for a movie and get it out for some tax purposes.
And Green as head of the music department said they can’t have it, that they’re not dealing with a hack musician here. I wanted to ask you what film score he was referring to.
I think it was KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE.
John Green is a funny fellow. He’s really got some neat stories here that he tells. Here’s what he’s saying to Elmer Bernstein: “I’ll never forget the first time that I became involved in that the people in the music department established this ridiculous schedule. So that the score had to be composed, they’d put 4 or 5 guys on it to finish the picture. I’ll never forget the first time I got involved in that it was one of Miklos Rozsa ‘s pictures and he couldn’t possibly finish writing by the tax date when the film had to be shipped out of state. I was in a meeting with Mannix and Kahn and I said, “it won’t be ready by the tax date. You just can’t have it.” l thought Eddie Mannix was going to have a stroke! He grew purple. “What do you mean we can’t have it?”
‘I said “You can’t have it because you can’t have it! You’re not dealing with a sausage machine, you’re dealing with a tremendously gifted artist, Mikios Rozsa.” “Well, give him some help. Put 4 or 5 guys on it!” I said, “This isn’t a hack, Eddie, it’s Miklos Rozsa’s score and he’s going to write every last 32nd note or you get yourself another boy at my desk!”
Well, that’s true. Twentieth Century-Fox brought out the first CinemaScope picture which was THE ROBE. Mr. Mannix and I were friends from Rome. He was there during the filming of QUO VADIS and I loved him. He was a very tough Irishman but he was the most honest man probably that I met in my life. There was a saying at the studio that if Eddie Mannix smiled at you, you didn’t need a contract. His smile or his handshake was worth twenty contracts! The picture was KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE which was the second CinemaScope picture.
So MGM was afraid that it would come out too late and they wanted to bring it out right away affer THE ROBE. So one day Eddie Mannix called me up and he had a very husky voice. He said’ “You know we are in great trouble with this picture.” I said, “Yes Mr. Mannix, I know”. He said, “You’ve got to finish the score.” I said, “But I haven’t got the time.” He said, “You find the time, you don’t have to sleep!” Well, that’s what happened. I liked him so much I said, “For you, I’ll do it!”
He doesn’t sound as pleasant in the Johnny Green interview as you remember him. I guess Johnny Green might have recalled him the wrong way.
Well, actually he started out as a bouncer. Then he became a bodyguard for one of the Schenk brothers.