A Conversation with Miklós Rózsa by David and Richard Kraft
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.1/No.3 @ No.4, 1982
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven and Richard Kraft
DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID is a comedy and you are not really known for scoring comedies. How did you first become involved with Carl Reiner and DEAD MEN?
Well, very simply, they asked for me. I don’t know what the reason was, but they said they had been wanting me all the time. But the truth is: there are film clips from old movies in it, movies that I originally scored, so they had seen my name several times.
They called you up and director Carl Reiner said, “I have a new Steve Martin movie, would you score it?” He told me last week that you laughed at scoring a comedy. How did he convince you?
They called my agent, who then told me about the premise. I went down to David Picker’s office, who was the producer, and Mr. Reiner told me the story in his inimitable way. It was actually more fun than the film is. I found it fascinating and then he showed me the first scene with Alan Ladd, that’s all that was cut at the moment, but it was very good. I never saw a script, but he described everything so visually, so interestingly, that I thought I might try it. And that’s how it happened.
How much did you see the first time and when did you spot it?
It was more or less what you see now, with the exception of a few minor scenes which have been cut. The first thing I told Carl Reiner when he asked me, “Are you a fast writer?” was that I’m not. I’m a slow writer, I take my time. I do one minute per day. He said O.K.
In Detroit, where I was doing a concert, my agent called me and said they wanted me very much for a television film. I told him that I don’t do TV. “This is different”, he said, “this is a big picture which will be released commercially”. So I said all right. I came back to Los Angeles and he asked me if I would like to see the film. I said, “No, I first want to know how much music there is in the movie, and how much time do I get?” It was a three-hour telefilm, called THE WALL, and I’d get 3 weeks. I said nuts. “To hell with the network”, I said. “I can’t write an hour of music in three weeks! That would kill me!” Then they said 10 weeks – actually it was 12 weeks – to make it seem more attractive.
Do TV-people tend to offer (we’re not going to talk about actual figures) as much for big movies like that?
I did not even ask. That’s a secondary thing. I don’t think they would and that would be another point for me to say, “No, thanks”. But can you compose that much music in three weeks? It’s nonsense. Then you have to write down everything that comes not into your head but in your pen…
When you first sat down with Carl Reiner and spotted the film, Else Blangsted, the music editor, was there. How much did Reiner tell you specifically, e. g. did he want a love theme. How did he tell you to approach scoring the picture?
Actually he wanted a love theme, it was quite obvious, a love scene needed a love theme.
But he didn’t tell you anything, such as “I want a Theremin”, or “I want LOST WEEKEND music”?
No, only things which were quite obvious, which I don’t mind at all. The producer, or rather the director, tells me his ideas, because he knows what he wants to do. The composer should help him, and not go against him. For instance, I made a picture in France which got the French Cesar award for best score. It was PROVIDENCE, directed by Alain Resnais. When I was in Italy they called me to go to Paris to see the movie, and Resnais told me there would be 42 minutes of music in it. He knew exactly. He said, “Here I want to express this…” and I quickly wrote it down. He came to my place every week and actually he didn’t object to anything, he liked it. I followed not his instructions, but his ideas, which were very sound. He is a very musical person to start with, a lovely man.
A lot of directors seem to have been fans of your music for many years. I’m thinking of Nicholas Meyer, Jonathan Demme. Do they tend to give you instructions?
Nicholas Meyer was a great joy to work with, because he is very musical. He comes from a musical family: his mother was a pianist, he is a pianist as well and he knows music. I remember he came up and I played him the score and he was all attention. He was terribly excited and went up and down the room and said, “This gives a new dimension, I have never thought about this dimension. Now you explain to me musically what I thought, but what I couldn’t express.” We have become very close friends since.
Getting back to DEAD MEN, when you first played the score for Carl Reiner, did you just play the basic themes on the piano?
I played them the score when it was nearly finished. I think out of 12 reels, 10 were finished. Reiner came with Mr. Picker and his cutter to my piano room. They were in ecstasy when they heard the music and they still are, because Carl always calls me and thanks me. What did he expect?
He told me if he could he would use you for every movie he does now. Now, he had a basic idea of what the score was going to be like. He went to the scoring sessions and I hear you had a large orchestra at Burbank Studios.
Yes, but I couldn’t conduct. The problem was that I had had back trouble before, but not serious. But now inasmuch as I was working for 10 weeks every day and sitting at my desk, apparently this came back, and the day after. I had finished the score; I couldn’t get out of bed. I went to a doctor and I said, “In two weeks I have to conduct”, so he gave me traction and some shots but nothing helped. We had to ask Lee Holdridge to conduct and he did it very well.
Was it your decision to use Lee Holdridge?
No, it was suggested by my agent, who also represents Lee. All the musicians told me that it was extremely wonderful to work with Lee. He did it well. I was in my bed, I couldn’t get up at all, so I had to stay at home and listen by telephone to the ‘takes’.
Except for DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID; the mixing has not been in favor of some of your scores. I’m thinking of EYE OF THE NEEDLE and THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD.
I did not hear the finished version. I never do, since I don’t want to watch it and aggravate myself. EYE OF THE NEEDLE was done in the U.K., it was an English-made film, and the recording was done there too. I was getting living expenses as everybody does abroad, and on the day I finished recording, they gave me a check. Now the next day, I could jump into the lake! And I was waiting until they would call me to the dubbing 2 days later, but nobody called. So I was still in London for about a week and then I left. Nobody asked for my opinion. After all, I had been writing music for 40 years and my opinion might have been wrong and less good than a director’s and a cutter’s that had only done television. Many of my fans are writing me outraged letters: “What happened with the Main Title?” I know what happened. They previewed the film and the audience didn’t know which war the movie was about. Was it the Korean War? What kind of war was that? So they wanted to establish martial things in it. So apparently they played down the title music, using just drums and things like that.
A similar thing happened on the mix of THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD.
Again the same thing happened. It was done in England, I recorded it in Rome. The producer was a wonderful businessman, but his judgment about films I do not appreciate very much. An artist I wouldn’t call him. However there was Ray Harryhausen, who certainly should have known better. I thought they were going to call me to the dubbing, but nobody did. They dubbed in a small room: what can you hear then? And the main things were the sound effects. Why did I have to write a score then? I remember that at the end of the picture a mythical animal – a centaur – came in and I needed two tubas, because one wasn’t enough for me. It was very difficult to get them in August because of the holidays, so we got one from Naples. It was a tremendous sound, but you don’t hear it at all in the film. All you hear is the howling of the creature: that was what counted, you see. To the producer the fantasy was much more important than the music.
I did a fantasy once, somewhat better than SINBAD was, THE THIEF OF BAGDAD. In those days I could do anything I wanted. I dubbed the picture in the United States. It was the first movie I did when I came to America in 1940. And it’s still playing, it is a classic. Today I got a letter asking why I didn’t get an Oscar for THE THIEF OF BAGDAD back in 1940. How can I explain that, 42 years later? (PINOCCHIO won the award – DM)
Is it true that when they’re actually shooting a film everything is great, they have the people they want, but that in the last few weeks, it is desperation time: they wonder how they are going to save the picture? It seems the one thing they can play with at this point is the music, which is usually sacrificed. It’s too late to re-shoot, but they can save the film by playing with the score.
Unfortunately, it is true in many respects. I didn’t have this trouble on DEAD MEN, but usually there is no more money left. When the director goes over 2 weeks on the budget, which costs $100,000 that is perfectly all right. He can say, “In this scene I don’t want 50 extras; I want 100 extras” (of which you probably don’t see 20 people). But then when I say that I need an extra violin, oh no! That’s another $150, we can’t afford that. The money is gone. In a new life, if I ever enter the film business again, I want to be an art director. They are at the beginning of a film’s production cycle and they get all the money.
With DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID there were some technical difficulties in re-scoring scenes, since they were old film clips that had already been scored.
They didn’t tell me this. I asked, “What will happen with the music which is already in the picture?” Carl replied, “You put in a couple of trombones and that will wash it out.” This is not the case. When I started to write music for these spots, you have to be on the same tonality, preferably the same notes, otherwise the whole thing will clash, because something of the original score will come through. I thought they had the dialogue track separately, but they didn’t and they couldn’t get it. The studios don’t have that anymore. So sometimes it was like a crossword puzzle. It was very difficult. You start out writing, let’s say 10 seconds of music, and the 11th second you hear these sounds, and then again nothing, then a low A flat.
Did you have the original music to help you?
No. It had to be written down and then added on top of it. Then they dubbed it and I listened to it. I couldn’t hear the music underneath at all; the same tonality had washed out the score underneath.
I think this is the first time this situation has come up?
Such a situation has to be avoided naturally. Another difficulty was the vocal sung by Ava Gardner. It originally was my composition, but in this film it had to be different music. You see a flute-player, so I had to write music for a flute-player, then the music begins and then she sings. Did you have the impression that she didn’t sing?
I had the impression that she was singing, it looked natural to me.
We don’t see her mouth showing. She originally sang, but not that, something entirely different.
Did you at any point say, “I’m writing for a comedy, so I want to write something ‘funny’?”
No. I had discussed that with Carl Reiner right from the beginning; we didn’t want comedy music. It’s all ‘straight’.
The only thing I noticed was when he says “cleaning-woman”; that seemed to me like funny music, it was good, yet it was subtle.
I have done this trick before in a picture called THE STORY OF THREE LOVES. Somebody said a word, and that meant something. I picked up the rhythm of the word and used it in the orchestra, which means that everybody understood that that word goes on musically. In the film they say, “cleaning-woman, cleaning-woman”, and the orchestra plays ‘cleaning-woman’, di di di dum; later they just talk about this again, the violas play di di di dum, so you understand it is cleaning-woman.
You’re still orchestrating all your scores? You don’t get any assistance on that now?
Yes, I do. Christopher Palmer sometimes.
Did he work on DEAD MEN?
Yes. It is too much to do. You see, with my older pictures, such as THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, I had one year to write. I started in England and then I came to America. But now you don’t get that much time, 6 to 10 weeks at the maximum. But what they like is actually a complete orchestration, which only has to be laid out: 1 line for the woodwind, 1 line for the brass, another line for the percussion, 2 lines for the strings. The only thing you have to do is write it out.
About Christopher Palmer… Has he decided to compose himself?
He doesn’t have a credit in this film, which seems unusual, he usually does. Is that intentional?
Not really. It’s not an orchestration what he really does: it’s saving time by taking a short score and writing it out for a large score.
He usually gets credit as an assistant instead of an orchestrator.
Well, actually he is a musicologist, a Cambridge student. He wrote an article about me, about ten years ago, and he also wrote a book about me. Since then he’s been helping me. Christopher is very good. He was here during the recording sessions with Lee Holdridge. Lee conducted the orchestra and Christopher was in the booth and helped him, with balance, etc.
You usually conduct; do you always go back and listen to everything in the booth?
It was the first time that I couldn’t.
You’re the last of the golden age composers and you have seen all the changes in film music. How do you feel about the state of your profession right now in 1982?
Well, if you would have asked this question about 5 years ago, I would have said, “Disastrous, it has sunk to the lowest level you can imagine.” Since then, miracles have happened and again it’s picking up. The man who did it single-handedly, we must admit, was John Williams. He wrote not only a splendid score (STAR WARS), but especially one which started a trend; a film with a very good symphonic score, that was a big success. Because up to then they asked for years one guitar player and one with a bongo drum, and that was enough. So it is much, much better. There are very good young composers working now. The level is not the same as in the so-called ‘golden years’, with composers like Herrmann, Waxman, Newman… Now we haven’t got those. But two composers I can mention, who are really excellent: John Williams and my pupil Jerry Goldsmith.
Do you see Williams as your successor, as a new Rozsa? In those days, if you had a big picture, you asked for Rozsa, and now they get John Williams. Do you see that connection?
Yes, I think it’s fine.
Are you familiar with any of the European composers?
Well, not really. I know the French ones. I conducted a festival in France and all the major composers were there: Philippe Sarde, Georges Delerue… There is one thing I discussed with my French colleagues. When we had breakfast together I said, “Why do you work for nothing?” And they said, “That’s the system”. So I replied, “Revolt. Why don’t you organize, get together. One man cannot do it.” You think that they get paid a little, but they don’t get anything. They only get the so-called performing rights.
I did a picture about 5 years ago, THE SECRET FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER. It wasn’t a bad film at all, but they couldn’t get a release. That means I get nothing from the performing rights point of view. I get paid for my work, O.K. That happens in France too. In this case you’ve working for nothing: you don’t get paid, you don’t have performing rights, and you don’t even get credit! And that’s how it has been in France, for fifty years! The composer only works for the performing rights, and even half of that is taken by a so-called music publisher, who does nothing. In the U. S. you have a salary, then you can work with musicians; in France it’s all budgets, done very quickly; then you get wrong notes, but who notices it?
A lot of people who read our publication wonder if Ennio Morricone is a hack or a genius. What is your feeling?
Well, I don’t know him personally. I knew his uncle, who was my copyist in Rome. I know that Morricone is a good musician, who studied at the conservatory of Rome under Petrassi. He was under contract to RCA Italiana. The last time I was in Rome, a composer called Rustichelli, who writes a lot for lighter films, told me, “The trouble with Ennio is that he scores too many films.” I asked how many? He said, “He scores 30 movies a year. How can you do that? I write five, the maximum I work on is ten.” Who works on ten pictures a year in Hollywood? Nobody can physically. But apparently Morricone can. A Frenchman told me that he tried to interview Morricone during a recording session, but that he couldn’t talk to him, because there was a producer there for his next film, discussing with him a picture he started on the next day, after he had finished this recording. Well, this is an industry, not art.
Max Steiner did more than 300 scores, Morricone has now almost surpassed Steiner’s output: by the time he’s gone he will have written half the film music in Italy! Now, to change the subject, are you much of a moviegoer?
No, I’m not.
Were you a member of the Academy?
I was, but I resigned.
There is a story somebody tore up his membership card and sent it back?
That was Bernard Herrmann, I resigned at about the same time. There were ten of us who resigned, because one year they decided there was going to be only one music award. In other words: a musical and original music is the same thing. This is like apples and oranges! How can you compare these two things? People who were my friends, like Bronislaw Kaper and Andre Previn, about ten of us said, “In that case we leave the Academy. It is absolute nonsense. It was a decision of the Board of Governors. Well the Boa rd of Governors should have the Oscar and we don’t want it.” I think it is completely wrong that you have a so-called music department with composers, song-writers and lyricists. Why should the lyricists know what is a good score? Why should they say, “This score is better than that one, and those are the nominations.” That doesn’t make any sense. It would be the same if I were asked which the best lyrics were for a particular film. What do I know?
What about the politics for the nominations?
There are no politics. It’s just the whole bloody system as far as the music is concerned, I don’t know about the rest. But I know that when you are looking for the best art director, it’s the art directors who decide. They would know. In our case it’s the composers who should decide which is the best score, at least the nominations. I don’t believe in the fact that the whole Academy votes, because they don’t listen to music, they don’t look at the photography, they don’t evaluate which is the best art direction and so on. They see a picture, they like it, and then if you have a popular song in the film that becomes a hit, that’s it, no matter what you do.
Continuing discussion on film music and the Academy Awards. I like Henry Mancini very much. He’s a friend of mine. He’s a lovely man, very talented. When my EL CID score was nominated, he got the award for BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S. Can you compare these two scores? But there was a hit song in TIFFANY’S.
Just two or three years ago he was nominated for a film called 10, and I can’t even remember the music.
That’s why only the musicians should decide, the song writers should decide about their songs and the composers should decide what’s the best score for nomination and the Award. The general public is – as Toscanini once said – “In art there is no democracy, it’s only the aristocracy of those who know”.
Well put. Now, are there any pictures you have seen and thought, “I could have written a great score for that. I wish I had had the opportunity to score that picture”?
Yes. EXCALIBUR. We got Wagner, Mahler, Orff, but most of it had nothing to do with the action; I could have written a much better score. So could have many others.
Do you feel that (I don’t know if you take it as a compliment) a lot of people would describe your music as old-fashioned, symphonic? I don’t see anything wrong with that myself, but a lot of people wouldn’t consider that as good for a contemporary movie…
If you mean a contemporary picture should have jazz, I would say I’m old-fashioned and symphonic, very much so, and I’m very proud of it. Jazz has its own place, but there was a time when everything had to be jazz, very bad jazz at that. Of course I’m a symphonic composer, that’s why my book is called ‘A Double Life’ because I had a double life.
There is a wide range of good, dramatic films that are being made and I’m sure you could write excellent scores for them. It seems the projects you get are mainly period films, GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD and so on. All the things you’ve done in the past ten years are period related, but I’m sure you could have written an excellent score for something contemporary like ORDINARY PEOPLE.
Well, they probably didn’t think of me.
Have there been recent films that you have been offered, but that you have declined?
Yes, there were quite a lot. I was offered BODY HEAT. I read the script and I found it disgusting. It was an imitation – I don’t want to use the word “steal”, I’m not a judge – of DOUBLE INDEMNITY. That I’ve done once, I can’t do it twice. There was the whole aspect of exaggerated sex scenes. I didn’t want to have my name on it. I would have betrayed my trade, actually. I hear the picture is very good, though.
The score was done by John Barry. They definitely would have wanted you to recreate your DOUBLE INDEMNITY score.
I didn’t do the Joan Crawford picture, MOMMIE DEAREST. I knew the lady. She was a lovely woman in life. I cannot force myself to make her more vicious and horrible with my music. Then they asked me to score AIRPLANE. They sent me the script. Is it funny that 140 people are going to die or not? They didn’t tell me this was going to be a comedy. From the script it didn’t come off. It was straightforward, everybody is crazy and the man who’s taking over doesn’t know how to fly. So the question is: Are you going to die or not? I saw the film later on. Elmer Bernstein did it very well.
I’m still waiting for another BEN-HUR, EL CID, KING OF KINGS, KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE, IVANHOE, JULIUS CAESAR, but they are not coming anymore.
If they asked you to score the new STAR WARS movie – obviously, though, John Williams will probably do it – would that appeal to you?
Not really. I’m not interested in outer space. I’m a terrestrial being. Maybe I could, but I’m not terribly interested in this kind of fantasy. At first maybe, yes, but now it has become a pattern. Everything should sound like John Williams.
Two of the films you mentioned, THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER and FEDORA, disappeared without a trace. How do you feel about that?
FEDORA was the fifth picture I’ve done with Billy Wilder. The first was FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO in 1943. He was a good director and a brilliant writer. I met him at a Christmas party and he said, “I’ve again a picture and you’ve got to write the music. This is the best script we’ve ever done.” The story sounded good. They said they would send the script to me, but they didn’t do it. When I was back in Italy, I received a telegram: “Come immediately to Munich, because we need you for the film.” The movie was being done there and they needed a score. I asked to read the script. When it finally arrived, I read it and was petrified. What could I tell Mr. Wilder? To use an actor like William Holden half of the picture just standing there and saying yes or no. It just didn’t come off. The idea about a daughter taking over was very good. And the cast wasn’t very good either: Marthe Keller was supposed to portray the most beautiful woman that ever existed in Hollywood. That’s a, slight exaggeration, you know. How about Greta Garbo? And the ‘old’ Fedora, portrayed by Hildegarde Knef… She’s a very good actress but in the film she was shouting and carrying on, because Mr. Wilder had instructed her to. So the whole thing didn’t come off.
Did you go to Cannes?
I didn’t, but Mr. Wilder went to Cannes with the film. A friend of mine, a Canadian film writer, told me he saw it there. He went to Wilder, congratulated him and said the music was wonderful. Wilder replied, “Well, we have to take out a lot of it.” Why? He went back to Munich, and without asking he took out a lot of music. The score tried to make this woman more human. He didn’t want to make Fedora more human, apparently, and other scenes were dubbed in a most horrible way. It’s amusing how great Wilder’s films used to be, but with this picture you just don’t know if it’s the same person, the same director. His films used to have a humorous tone: DOUBLE INDEMNITY, FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO…
Concerning SHERLOCK HOLMES, I’ve only seen the cut version. They cut out half an hour.
More, an hour! I had lunch with Mr. Wilder one day and he told me there were to be four episodes. They were hilariously funny and extremely interesting. The picture was shot that way. Actually it was to be 2 episodes, an intermission and two more episodes. It started with a brilliant scene, a characterization of the relationship between Holmes and Watson. I won’t describe the scene because it isn’t in the picture anymore. That was the first cut. Then there was a great episode, I would say it lasted about 10 or 15 minutes… They’re on a cruise and Watson wants to take over. The captain of the ship comes and says gravely, “Mr. Holmes, there’s been a murder on board.” And Holmes says, “Watson, this is yours.” They go to the cabin and there’s a man and a woman in bed. Watson builds up a theory that it was the ship’s cook who put arsenic in the liquor and champagne, because he was jealous. He says rigor mortis has already set in: “I’ll show it to you.” He takes off the collar of the young woman and suddenly she jumps up and exclaims, “What is this?” and the man says, “Who are you?” It’s the wrong deck, the wrong cabin! It’s a very amusing scene. There was no music in it whatsoever, but the whole sequence was left out.
Wasn’t there an episode in an upside down room?
Yes, there was. Holmes is bored, he’s taking cocaine, the famous seven-per-cent solution. Watson knows that and there’s nothing to do, so he invents this upside down room. A sequence of maybe 15 minutes, with music, but Mr. Wilder said you don’t need it. Of course you don’t need it, if you don’t want it. The most boring episode was the last one, with the monster.
After all that effort the film still didn’t do too well…
From 4 episodes they made one episode. You can’t do that. It wasn’t written that way. But United Artists decided they needed only one big picture. If I would have been Billy Wilder I would have said, “To hell with you!” I’d take off my name, but he did the whole thing as United Artists wanted it. So out came a very mediocre picture. And the actor, who played Holmes, Robert Stephens, wasn’t the best man for that part. He was a good actor but not for that part. They had a lot of trouble with him, he had a nervous breakdown and they had to stop shooting for three weeks. It could have been brilliant and witty as Wilder is usually, and the writing was witty, but it just didn’t come out. The film was made in West Germany with tremendous publicity, a big press reception; all the Munich papers were there. They were expecting a Billy Wilder film. It hardly was and the public didn’t come to see it. In America it was no better.
Tell us about LAST EMBRACE.
I loved the picture. It was a good film, but again another flop. In England it’s a cult movie, it’s playing all the time. Now you explain me this why.
(Laughs) Tell us about your involvement with LAST EMBRACE.
Jonathan Demme had seen PROVIDENCE and was very much impressed and he wanted me. I met him in New York. I liked the film, it’s very interesting. Demme was accused of Hitchcock imitation. In a way it was. But do you think the public cares if it is a Hitchcock imitation or not, as long as it is good?
You had one association with Alfred Hitchcock: SPELLBOUND. Subsequently I read the director wasn’t there during the recording sessions.
Later I heard he wasn’t happy with your score.
No, he didn’t like it. But I only heard that many years later. I had two meeting with him. At the first meeting Hitchcock and Selznick told me they wanted a big love theme and a strange sound for the paranoia. So I wrote a love theme and I said I wanted to use the theremin. “What’s that? You eat that?” No, you play it. “And how is the sound?” They were not impressed. Selznick, who was a very generous man, said “O.K., why don’t you write one scene and record it and we’ll listen to it. If we like it, fine; if we don’t, change it.” So I got a big orchestra, one scene of about three and a half minutes (it was the scene with the razor) and the next thing I knew, they wanted to have the theremin everywhere: in the main title, in the next sequence…
You use the theremin in DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID.
Yes, but you don’t hear it very much.
By the way, did you hear John Morris’s score for HIGH ANXIETY? The style is between Rozsa and Herrmann. Morris doesn’t use the Theremin, but a synthesizer, but he makes it sound like a theremin. The picture is a tribute to Hitchcock.
Back to SPELLBOUND… Then came Academy Award time and I got the Oscar and Mr. Selznick sent me a very nice telegram, so did Mr. Hitchcock. And later I have heard that Hitchcock didn’t like the music at all, because it took away from his direction!
Prior to that point the scores for Hitchcock films were nothing special. Only later, when he used Bernard Herrmann, were the scores exceptional.
And he even quarrelled with Herrmann over TORN CURTAIN, he stopped the recording session. They parted on bad terms. The studio wanted the usual Hollywood score, Herrmann insisted and Hitchcock broke off the recording.
Were you under contract to MGM in that period?
Because that seems the period when composers were making money with their albums for the first time.
Well, the first American album was my JUNGLE BOOK in 1942. It did very well in that time: about 42,OOO albums were sold, which was a very large number at that time. And then I did THE RED HOUSE. BEN-HUR was the first big seller.
It was at that time you were starting a new income for film composers, because you had albums like BEN-HUR, KING OF KINGS, EL CID, and other composers about the mid fifties made that extra money from record sales.
Then the general interest in film music started.
I hear John Williams makes more from his records than his actual scoring.
I don’t know. About 2,000.000 copies of the STAR WARS album were sold.
Recently, you have been very well represented on record, e. g. the Polydor series. Are there any scores of yours you still want to see recorded?
Yes. I still want to have LAST EMBRACE. We are discussing it with Varese Sarabande. On the other side there may be THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER. I know nobody saw the picture, but it was quite a good score. We are trying to work it out.
I would be very glad to see these scores recorded. I was very pleased when Tony Thomas recorded THE POWER, which is one of my favourite scores. Where was LAST EMBRACE recorded?
Here in the States.
That might be a problem then?
It has to be re-recorded. The HOOVER score was recorded in England.
You might be able to use the original.
Yes, but they have to pay for it, like here. They have to pay for the English orchestra, for the HOOVER recording and the re-recording.
Do you think there’s going to be an album of DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID?
Carl Reiner told me that Universal Studios is interested in three things: they want a soundtrack album; they want an album with the voices of all the old actors, for sentimental reasons; and the love theme and the Gardner song on a single, sung by Steve Martin. It’s just a plan. They must find out first how much they have to pay for the 55-piece orchestra.
Are there any older scores you would like to record?
Yes, quite a lot. People always write to me, “Why don’t we have this or that score on record?” For instance a picture set in Egypt with Robert Taylor, VALLEY OF THE KINGS.
I was very happy to see released KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE. It’s a great score.
That score just happened. It had to be re-recorded in England. It was an English film and an English orchestra had to record it. The studio wanted to release the picture as soon as possible, because it was the second Cinemascope film, and there’s a lot of music. KNIGHTS had to be in the cinema by Christmas, and it was October when an executive at MGM called me. I said I just couldn’t write that much music in such a short period of time. The executive said, “You can do it. You are a genius”. I replied that even two geniuses couldn’t do it. “For me you’d do it,” he said. So I replied, “For you I do it.” At the same time I couldn’t record the music, because I still had to compose. So they brought in John Green, the head of the music department at MGM. He conducted the first half of the score and I listened to it through the telephone, and went on writing. Anyway the film was in the cinema by Christmas.
However, the orchestra was an American orchestra, the musicians had to be repaid, which is an enormous cost. Because it was an English picture, the actors had to be English, with few exceptions – the stars could be American – the composer had to be English, and if he wasn’t then the musicians had to be. They re-recorded the whole thing with Muir Mathieson conducting. Therefore Varese Sarabande didn’t have to repay for it when they decided to release the album.