An Interview with Vic Mizzy by Randall D. Larson
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.11/No.41/1992
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven and Randall D. Larson
Vic Mizzy’s work has spanned 25 years of motion picture and television history, although he is best known for his work on 2 TV series from the early 1960’s – GREEN ACRES and THE ADDAMS FAMILY. His themes for those 2 TV shows have become standards for a generation weaned on Eddie and Eva, Gomez and Morticia. With the release of a brand-new ADDAMS FAMILY feature film, Mizzy’s work is once again remembered, even though he wasn’t actually involved in the current film. Interviewed in May, 1991, as the new movie was in post-production, Mizzy recalled his work on the original series and described his current activities in Hollywood film and TV music.
How did you get involved with the original ADDAMS FAMILY television show?
The producer, David Levy, was a very close friend of mine who I knew from New York. When he came out here, he did the ADDAMS FAMILY pilot for Filmways. At that time, Filmways had wanted to use canned music. But David Levy respected me as a composer, because I had a lot of big song hits – that’s the way I started, writing popular songs. So I got the presentation pilot, and I did it for nothing, just because he was a dear friend. But after the thing sold, I was signed to do the whole score.
I also created the visual part of the ADDAMS FAMILY (titles), as I did with a lot of my TV stuff. When I scored GREEN ACRES I also directed the main title on the camera, because the director couldn’t work with a click track! I had the whole idea of the visuals for the main titles. I usually do that when I do a picture, I try to get all the camera work synchronized with my music.
Do you remember how you came up with the finger snapping theme for THE ADDAMS FAMILY?
Well, I’m a song-writer… I just came up with this great idea with the melody and snapping the fingers but, more importantly, have the cast do it. That was the whole secret.
How much music did each episode generally use?
The music never stopped. I would write as much as 20 minutes an episode. The cues never stop.
Did you write original music for each episode?
Yeah, everything’s original.
They didn’t use any tracking of re-use material?
No. All original.
Was GREEN ACRES pretty much the same thing?
It was the same thing with GREEN ACRES. The producer didn’t want an open spot! You couldn’t walk across a room unless there was music!
How much lime did they give you to score an episode?
I used to do one a week, sometimes two a week if we were rushed. I composed at the moviola. I would sit there with a lead sheet and my music editor, and, while I was looking at it, I was copying down the notes because I had themes for each character, so I knew exactly when to write the variations on each theme.
What kind of orchestra did you use?
We only had 4 musicians playing. I was one of the four – I played harpsichord. It might also interest you to know that I sang the main title. I over-dubbed myself 4 times, but I’m the guy who sings it!
What other instruments were there besides the harpsichord?
I had harpsichord, bass clarinet, drum and a bass violin. Four instruments. For GREEN ACRES I created what we called the “Green Acres Sound” and I had only 8 pieces doing it. Organ, brass, two guitars, a side drum, a mallet man who played vibes, xylophone and bells, and a bass clarinet. I started getting ahead of a lot of people. I was the first guy to use bass harmonica, played by the best harmonica player, Tommy Morgan. And I had Billy Calkins, who was my bass clarinet player; he used the first Electronic Maestro which could change the color and everything. I’d take chances. If you don’t take chances, then everything sounds banal.
You don’t always find that opportunity in a lot of modern television.
The trouble is that there are very few good composers in the business today, because everybody copies from each other. In order to write a successful score, you must have a sound. Most of the scores written by most of the boys in the business, they just write wall-to-wall. There’s nothing thematic. There are very few themes that you can really sing. Can you hum the theme to L.A. LAW? You just can’t! There are few themes that really have great melodies to them. BONANZA got one, that was written by Evans & Livingston…
A lot of the ones that do are older shows. Modern shows don’t seem to have…
Yes, because they can’t write! You know who’s writing themes? The producer! The producers write it, or they have their 14-year-old kid write it. I’m serious about this. But we have some talented people in the business, the real pros who’ve been around. They’re the ones who really know what the hell they’re doing. And that’s why their themes stand out.
Where there particular challenges that THE ADDAMS FAMILY gave you throughout its run?
No. In fact, I used to give the producer a lot of ideas. For instance, before we started shooting, I told John Astin, who played Gomez, to walk a certain way, so that when his theme came on, he would always – he didn’t realize it, but I was always playing this theme that he walked to. Then Caroline Jones, who was Morticia, had her own theme and I told her how to walk across the floor, so the melody would match what she was doing.
You seem to have gotten more involved in the overall production than a lot of composers have a chance to.
I get involved in everything that I do, because the producers want me to. For instance, I’ve done a lot of pictures with Ed Montagne, and he always loved to have me come up with ideas. He was a great producer; he had a lot of big hits. I would always called TERROR ON THE 40TH FLOOR (1974). They had one I more day of shooting and I suggested, “Why don’t we open up the I picture with Santa Claus in front of this big building that’s going to be on fire?” It was going to be this TOWERING INFERNO type of thing. So Ed Montagne shot another day – it cost him around $7500, and that’s what started the picture off.
You did a horror film, around the same time as THE ADDAMS FAMILY, called THE NIGHT WALKER…
Yes, that was my first feature. I went swimming at the Beverly Hills Hotel on a Sunday, I’m floating in the water and my head bumps into another guy. He turned out to be Stanley Shapiro, the biggest producer at Universal. So I have lunch with him the next day, and he says, “I’ve already arranged an appointment with Joe Gershenson, who’s head of the music department.” So, the next day I come in with 10 tapes. I play 2 of them for Joe Gershenson you know, 1O-minute cues – and he says, “I’ve heard enough!” and my heart just sank. I said, “No, I’ve gotta explain.” He said, “No, I’ve heard enough. C’mere and sit down. How would you like to score a movie?” I said – in the meantime I was very busy scoring televisions – “I’d love it!” He said, “Good. I want you to go over to stage number (whatever), and I want you to meet Bill Castle. He’s shooting a picture called THE NIGHT WALKER. I’ll have the contract for you and everything… That’s how I got my start! After I did the picture, when Lew Wasserman saw it, he loved the music so much that he told Joe Gershenson, “I want you to use Vic Mizzy as much as possible. I love his music!”
That was a nice score.
You want to know something? I got a lot of work because of that score. You see, I’ve never had an agent. I’m the only composer today who’s never had an agent. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to get one, but I’ve never had one. I made my own deals, and I made much better deals than some of the agents got, because most of the agents don’t know much about publishing or anything like that. Very few people get publishing rights – there are around four or five guys: Earle Hagen, Mancini, David Rose got them, and I do. So I knew a lot about making deals, and I upgraded all the salaries for TV (composers) in this town, because I came from the East Coast and I just asked what I thought I deserved, and they gave it to me.
Are you at all involved with the new ADDAMS FAMILY movie?
I don’t know the producer, Scott Ruden, and I can’t I get to him. He wants a rock and roll score, but apparently there’s been tremendous pressure from Paramount – they want to use my music. Certainly the theme!
I can’t imagine THE ADDAMS FAMILY without that theme music!
That’s the whole thing. The picture will die if it goes on without it. THE ADDAMS FAMILY is a very unusual, delicate type of thing. They finally bought the rights to use my title theme. But there are more themes than just that one, because everybody knows them! Morticia’s theme, Gomez… they all know it. I really wanted to score the movie, because I could have done a great job. I have an ectronicc studio, I could really update everything. The music had a lot to do with its success – not everything, but a lot. It had great scripts, great actors, and I think the music really gave it style. If it hadn’t been for THE ADDAMS FAMILY, there would have been no MUNSTERS. THE MUNSTERS doesn’t really compare to THE ADDAMS FAMILY – they just copy everything.
You mentioned a TV movie you scored called TERROR ON THE 40th FLOOR. What kind of music did you write for that film?
I wrote smoke music. I used a very big orchestra for that, and the score was full of suspense. All along I’ve been using electronic instruments. You can’t overload an orchestra – an electronic score always sounds the same – but if you mix up live musicians and you put in a couple of electronic keyboard, that helps. I’ve done it right from the beginning – before any composer was fooling around with it.