50th anniversary of the best TV theme

Morton Stevens (1929-1991)

Morton Stevens (1929-1991)

Apapted and updated from a 2013 post.

Sept. 20 is the 50th anniversary of, arguably, the best television theme of all time: Hawaii Five-O by composer Morton Stevens.

The Five-O theme is one of the most famous pieces of music in the world. People who’ve never watched an episode recognize it when just a few notes are played.

Over the decades, it’s been used in commercials and been played by marching bands. Yet, the vast majority of those who’ve heard it probably couldn’t name the man who wrote it.

In the 1960s, the likes of Stevens, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Lalo Schifrin were busy doing scores for television. Of that quartet, three became big-time film composers. Stevens didn’t.

In the spring of 1965, CBS hired Stevens to supervise its West Coast music operation. It was in that capacity that Stevens scored the Hawaii Five-O pilot. But Stevens couldn’t do every job himself. Thus, he hired Williams to score 1969’s The Reivers, which CBS released under the Cinema Center Films label. The Steve McQueen movie helped Williams transition from TV to films.

Stevens died in 1991, at the age of 62, of cancer. His lasting music achievement was the original 1968-80 Five-O series. Not only did he write the theme, he created the music template for the series.

Stevens delivered episode scores for 11 of the 12 seasons. The Five-O theme was often used by Stevens and other composers in the background music. It showed up as an action riff. It would also be slowed way down for reflective moments in a story.

This decade, Stevens got attention for his other work. The DVD set for the 1960-62 Thriller anthology series with Boris Karloff featured a number of episodes where viewers can isolate the scores of Stevens and Jerry Goldsmith.

A Morton Stevens title card (for music supervision, not for his theme) for a first-season episode of Hawaii Five-O

Jon Burlingame, who has written extensively about film and television music, did a commentary track about each composer. He discussed Stevens’ work in detail.

In 2016, the blog did a post about Stevens as part of its “unsung figures of television” series.

Stevens’ work on Hawaii Five-O represents a paradox. It’s a famous TV theme. Million of people know it. Yet he’s relatively obscure. Stevens had a successful career. Yet his contemporaries — such as Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams — achieved more fame than he did.

Regardless, the Five-O theme is a crowning achievement for Stevens. Watching a Hawaii Five-O theme is akin to viewing a James Bond film scored by John Barry. In both cases, the composers established a music template that thrills viewers decades later.

U.N.C.L.E. music tracks surface (?)

Gerald Fred’s title card for a second season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Some never-used music tracks from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. may have surfaced on YouTube.

A YouTube video, posted on April 2, 2017, says it is “Man From UNCLE 8467, four cues.”

The Deadly Quest Affair, the first U.N.C.L.E. episode produced in its fourth season (and the eighth broadcast by NBC) had a production number of 8467, according to Jon Heitland’s 1980s book, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. book.

The first cue in the video was Gerald Fried’s arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s U.N.C.L.E. theme that Fried submitted for the fourth season. It was rejected and a different arrangement by Robert Armbruster was used instead. The Fried fourth-season arrangement was included in an U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack release in the 2000s.

Gerald Fried

Fried also composed a score for The Deadly Quest Affair but that, also, was rejected, according to the U.N.C.L.E. soundtracks produced by Jon Burlingame. The soundtracks didn’t have any selections from the unused Fried score. For the final version of The Deadly Quest Affair, the production team re-recorded Jerry Goldsmith music from the show’s first season.

Fried, who was the show’s go-to composer in seasons two and three, ended up scoring one fourth-season episode, The Test Tube Killer Affair.

There are no titles (and thus no clues) for the other three tracks on the video. The video surfaced on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. — Inner Circle page on Facebook. You can listen below:

 

The man who hired Goldsmith, Williams and others

Stanley Wilson’s title card (along with others) on a first-season episode of Universal’s The Name of the Game

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

The blog’s post this week about the television factory run by MCA Corp.’s Revue Studios (later Universal Television) didn’t have room to get into some details. This post is aimed at remedying that.

One of Revue-Universal’s stalwarts was Stanley Wilson, who ran the music department.

In that capacity, he hired composers who had to work under tight deadlines. Wilson hired some of the best, some of whom would become major film composers.

One of Wilson’s hires was Jerry Goldsmith (1929-2004). Goldsmith already had credits at CBS. But the network let him go.

Stanley Wilson’s title card (along with others) on an episode of Thriller, whose composers included Jerry Goldsmith.

Wilson wisely assigned him jobs at Revue-Universal. Some of Goldsmith’s best television work was on the studio’s 1960-62 anthology series Thriller hosted by Boris Karloff. For a 2010 home video release, extras included permitting viewers to listen to Goldsmith’s music only for episodes he scored.

Wilson (whose title was either “musical supervisor” or “music supervisor”) also brought on John Williams to work on the 1960-62 series Checkmate, a detective series created by Eric Ambler. It was one of the earliest credits for Williams. Williams was also hired by Wilson to work on the anthology show Kraft Suspense Theater.

Other notable Wilson hires included Morton Stevens, beginning with an episode of The General Electric Theater. The episode starred Sammy Davis Jr. Stevens worked for Davis as his arranger.

Wilson hired Stevens for the Davis episode of The GE Theater. That began a career switch for Stevens of scoring television shows. That included scoring the pilot for Hawaii Five-O and devising its iconic theme. Stevens also was a major composer on Thriller.

Other Wilson hires included Quincy Jones for the pilot of Ironside (resulting in the creation of another well-known theme) and Dave Grusin on a number of Universal projects. They included the 1968 television movie Prescription: Murder that introduced Lt. Columbo to television audiences.

Jon Burlingame, a journalist who has written extensively about television and film music, had a 2012 article in Variety when Universal named a street on its Southern California lot in honor of Wilson.

“Stanley Wilson Avenue connects Main Street with James Stewart Avenue on the Universal lot, not far from the now-demolished Stage 10 where its namesake conducted literally thousands of hours of music by young composers who would go on to become the biggest names in Hollywood film music,” Burlingame wrote.

On his blog, Burlingame wrote an additional tribute. “Wilson is an unsung hero in the film/TV music business.”

Wilson died in 1970 at the age of 54.

UPDATED: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse

The cast of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

The cast of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

Almost five years ago we published a post about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse.

Since the end of the 1964-68 series, a lot of things just seemed to go wrong. Well, after taking a look at the original, we decided to dress it up with events of the past few years. The more things change, the more, etc.

So you be the judge whether there’s a curse.

1970s: Veteran James Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum is hired to develop a new version of U.N.C.L.E. Nothing comes of it, despite Maibaum’s track record.

1976-77: Writer-producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts hire Sam Rolfe, the original developer of the show, to do a script for a made-for-televison movie that could be the springboard for a new show. “The Malthusian Affair” has some interesting concepts (including having a dwarf occupy an armored exo-skeleton) but it doesn’t get past the script stage. Had it become reality, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum would have reprised their roles as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin.

Early 1980s: Would-be producers Danny Biederman and Robert Short cobble together a theatrical movie project. Their script had Thrush, the villainous organization of the original series, take over the world without anyone realizing it. Vaughn and McCallum had expressed interest, as had former 007 production designer Ken Adam. Alas, nothing happened.

1983: The made-for-television series movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. airs on CBS. No series, or even a sequel made-for-TV movie, develops.

Early 1990s: Sam Rolfe attempts to do a made-for-cable-television movie that would have been an U.N.C.L.E. “next generation” story. Rolfe drops dead of a heart attack in 1993, ending any such prospect.

Circa 2004-2005: Norman Felton, executive producer of the orignal show, cuts a deal with a small production company for some sort of cable-televison project. Nothing concrete occurs.

2010-2011: Warner Bros. entices director Steven Soderbergh to direct an U.N.C.L.E. movie after a number of false starts. However, the director and studio can’t agree on budget and casting. Ironically, one of Soderbergh’s choices, Michael Fassbender as Napoleon Solo, later emerges as a star. Soderbergh gives up in late 2011.

Spring 2013: Guy Ritchie is now the director on the project. For a time, there are negotiations with Tom Cruise to play Solo. He’d be paired with Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin. In May, Cruise breaks off talks to concentrate on a new Mission Impossible movie.

June 2013: The Solo slot doesn’t stay vacant long. Henry Cavill, currently doing publicity for Warner Bros.’s Man of Steel emerges as the new choice.

September 2013: Filming actually starts on an U.N.C.L.E. movie. Is the curse abut to lift?

August 2015: The answer turns out to be no. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is trounced at the box office. One of the movies doing the trouncing: Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation starring none other than Tom Cruise. Meanwhile, some fans of the original show complain Rolfe was denied a credit and Jerry Goldsmith’s theme went almost entirely unused.

August 2016: A year after the flop, some salt gets rubbed in the wound. Matthew Bradford, in a post on the Facebook group The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Inner Circle notes the following: A commentary track for a Blu Ray release for Modesty Blaise dismisses U.N.C.L.E. as “unwatchable” today.

It turns out the commenter, film historian David Del Valle, based his comment on an episode of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., where Robert Vaughn appeared as Solo. That episode was titled The Mother Muffin Affair and features Boris Karloff as an elderly woman.

U.N.C.L.E. movie, we hardly knew ye

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

This month marks the year anniversary of the release of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie.

For a film that seemed to disappear from theaters almost without a trace, it occasionally showed up on lists of underrated movies.

Also, we heard anecdotes from people who convinced friends to see it in the theater (while they could). These friends, the way these anecdotes were told, would then say they were surprised (pleasantly) by the movie.

Still, numbers are hard things. The 2015 Guy Ritchie-directed movie had a global box office of only $109.8 million, and only $45.4 million in the U.S. and Canada, according to Box Office Mojo.

To put that in perspective, this year’s remake of Ghostbusters, had worldwide box office as of Aug. 3 of $161.3 million, with $109.6 million coming from the U.S. and Canada. And it’s not even seen as a hit.

Last year, was, as this blog called it, “The Year of the Spy.” U.N.C.L.E., which last saw a new production with a TV movie in 1983, was the runt of that litter. About the only place the movie was a hit was Russia, presumably thanks to the presence of Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer).

Still, numbers aren’t everything. The U.N.C.L.E. movie was not a James Bond wannabe. Instead, it tried to be its own thing.

Some fans of the original 1964-68 series felt the movie tried too much to be its own thing, with no cameos by original stars Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, and the original Jerry Goldsmith theme barely being present.

Yet, it seems unlikely cameos or a longer version of the theme would have substantially boosted the box office. Some times, a movie simply fails to find an audience.

The movie’s biggest change was an edgier version of Illya Kuryakin. The film’s Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) was similar to that of the series, albeit with changes to the character’s back story, primarily a history of being a thief blackmailed into working for the CIA.

For the Spy Commander, this month is one of nostalgia for the movie. For a brief time, there was a new version of U.N.C.L.E. Even with debates among first-generation fans, at least there was *something new* to discuss after decades.

By contrast, 2016 has a new Bourne movie — and one not so much different than most Bourne films — and not much else. U.N.C.L.E. and “The Year of The Spy” isn’t happening again soon.

 

Morton Stevens: Obscure composer, famous tune

Morton Stevens (1929-1991)

Morton Stevens (1929-1991)

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

The name Morton Stevens is barely known by the general public. Yet his signature piece of work — the theme to Hawaii Five-O (or Five-0 as it’s spelled for the revival series that began in 2010) — is almost universally recognized.

In the 1950s, Stevens worked for Sammy Davis Jr. as his music arranger. Then, in 1960, Davis had the chance to perform a dramatic role in The Patsy, an episode of The General Electric Theater, an anthology series.

According to television and film music historian Jon Burlingame (in an audio commentary for the DVD set for the Thriller anthology show hosted by Boris Karloff), Davis wanted Stevens to score the episode. Stevens got the assignment and made a career switch.

Stevens quickly began scoring a variety of genres, including Westerns, crime dramas and horror (the aforementioned Thriller series). And then there were his espionage-show efforts.

Stevens was the first composer to follow Jerry Goldsmith with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. In fact, the very first piece of U.N.C.L.E. music — a few seconds accompanying the U.N.C.L.E. global logo at the start of The Vulcan Affair, first broadcast on Sept. 22, 1964 — was composed by Stevens.

When Goldsmith did the pilot, the show was to be titled Solo. When the show began production of series episodes, the name was changed to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. With that change, the globe logo was devised and it would be shown at the very start of each episode.

Stevens’ “insignia” U.N.C.L.E. music (as it’s known) led off the first 14 episodes of the show. Stevens also did the first new arrangement of Goldsmith’s theme, which first appeared with the 15th episode, The Deadly Decoy Affair. It would be used for almost all of the second half of the second season.

In all, Stevens did four original U.N.C.L.E. scores but his music was frequently re-used in first-season U.N.C.L.E. episodes without an original score. Often, these “stock scores” paired Goldsmith music (composed for three episodes) with that of Stevens. Their styles melded well.

In April of 1965, Stevens became the head of CBS’ West Coast music operation involved with the network’s in-house productions. As a result, he assigned other composers on CBS productions while taking on some jobs himself.

In that capacity, he scored the 1968 pilot for Hawaii Five-O. In that production, Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) locked horns with Chinese spy Wo Fat (Khigh Dheigh), giving the crime drama a spy twist from the start.

In the first season of the show, Stevens was only credited for an episode’s score (“Music by”) or, on some episodes for “music supervision.”

However, if another composer was credited for an episode, Stevens didn’t get a mention. That was consistent with CBS policy at the time, which denied theme credits for many series, including Gunsmoke, which ran on the the network for 20 years.

A Morton Stevens title card for a first-season episode of Hawaii Five-O

A Morton Stevens title card for a first-season episode of Hawaii Five-O

Early in the show’s second season, Stevens did get a “theme by” credit for episodes where he didn’t provide the score. (When Stevens did provide an original score, he still got a “music by” credit.).

Eventually, the theme had to be turned into a song. Appropriately, Sammy Davis Jr. performed it.

Still, despite how famous the theme became — decades later, it’s regularly performed by marching bands — fame eluded Stevens.

Stevens never moved in a major way into scoring movies unlike contemporaries of his such as John Williams (who, ironically, received the job of scoring the 1969 Steve McQueen film The Reivers from Stevens when CBS was releasing films, according to the Burlingame Thriller commentary track) and Lalo Schifrin.

Stevens died in 1991. His Five-O theme outlived him, however. When the 2010 version of the show debuted, its pilot originally had a “rock music” arrangement that made the rounds on social media before the new show’s debut.

It wasn’t received well. The new series quickly commissioned a more traditional sounding version, which debuted at the 2010 San Diego Comic Book Con. Some of the musicians who performed the theme had worked on the original 1968-80 series.

While Stevens gets a credit on the current series, unfortunately it’s during the end titles. Stevens’ credit flashes by so quickly, you can’t really see it. Regardless, his legacy continues.

 

U.N.C.L.E.’s connection to The Prize (1963)

Poster for The Prize (1963)

Poster for The Prize (1963)

This week, Turner Classic Movies televised a series of spy films, including The Prize (1963). The movie, released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, had a number of connections to The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Some of this stemmed from how U.N.C.L.E. was also produced at MGM. In any case, here’s a partial list of U.N.C.L.E. ties to The Prize.

Crew: These names show up on just about every production either produced by MGM or made at MGM in the 1960s: George W. Davis (co-art director), Henry Grace (co-set decorator) and Franklin Milton (sound or recording supervisor). Another name that shows up in many MGM-related productions is William Tuttle, who headed MGM’s makeup department.

(Totally as an aside: Grace resembled Dwight Eisenhower. As a result, he played the Allied supreme commander in 1962’s The Longest Day.)

The Prize also includes a score by Jerry Goldsmith. At this point, Goldsmith was transitioning from a television composer to a movie composer. Despite that, Goldsmith scored the pilot episode for U.N.C.L.E. as well as two additional episodes.

Speculation: The Spy Commander has long wondered if Goldsmith, in his early 1960s work, was influenced by Bernard Herrman. Both Herrmann and Goldsmith did work at CBS during this period. In his score for The Prize, there are bits of Goldsmith’s score that evokes Herrmann (this also applies to Goldsmith’s score for 1964’s In Harm’s Way).

Cast: The Prize (which, essentially is a star vehicle for Paul Newman) includes a number of cast members who would later appear in U.N.C.L.E. Among them:

Leo G. Carroll: Played U.N.C.L.E. chief Alexander Waverly. In the Prize, he plays a small, but key, role as a Swedish count who helps administer the Nobel Prizes.

John Banner: Most famous for playing Sgt. Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes, the character actor also played one of a group of scientists trying to take over the world in The Neptune Affair in U.N.C.L.E.’s first season. In The Prize, he plays a newscaster during the movie’s title sequence.

Teru Shimada: In U.N.C.L.E., he plays the head of an Asian country who’s the target of an assassination plot in Season Two’s Part Two, Alexander the Greater Affair. In The Prize, he’s another newscaster in the title sequence. Shimada also played Mr. Osato in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice.

Kevin McCarthy: He played the villain in the U.N.C.L.E. Season Two episode The Moonglow Affair (which was also the pilot for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.). In The Prize, he plays a Nobel Prize winner.

Ben Wright: The character actor was in two U.N.C.L.E. episodes (The Deadly Games Affair and The Girls of Nazarone Affair). In The Prize, he plays a reporter who asks question of Andrew Craig (Paul Newman’s character) at a press conference.

Noel Drayton: Played a physician who conducts an autopsy on a seal in U.N.C.L.E.’s The Finny Foot Affair. In The Prize, he plays a policeman trying to verify what seems to be a wild story from Newman’s character.

Miscellaneous

Irving Wallace: The Prize is based on a novel by Wallace, who also had written some episodes of Have Gun — Will Travel, which was co-created by Sam Rolfe, who developed U.N.C.L.E. Wallace’s nephew was Danny Biederman, a first-generation U.N.C.L.E. fan who (with Robert Short) attempted to produce an U.N.C.L.E. movie in the late 1970s-early 1980s.