ELMER BERNSTEIN, 82 Oscar-winning composer dies
Bernstein had written music for films, television and radio broadcasts.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
Elmer Bernstein, the Academy Award-winning composer who created some of the most recognizable music in American films, died Wednesday at his home in Ojai, Calif., after a lengthy illness, his publicist, Kathy Moulton, said. He was 82.
Bernstein, whose career spanned more than 50 years and included more than 200 films, was nominated for Oscars 14 times, winning in 1967 for "Thoroughly Modern Millie." Among his other nominated scores were "To Kill A Mockingbird," "The Magnificent Seven," "The Man With the Golden Arm," "True Grit," "The Age of Innocence" and, most recently, "Far From Heaven."
He also wrote for television, including "The Big Valley" in the 1960s and "Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law" in the 1970s, as well as many miniseries and TV documentaries. In 1963, he won an Emmy for "The Making of the President: 1960."
A comedic turn
In the 1970s, Bernstein gave his career another dimension when he scored such comedies as "National Lampoon's Animal House," "Airplane!" "Stripes," "Meatballs," "Ghostbusters" and "Trading Places."
He also created lyrical scores for "My Left Foot," "The Birdman of Alcatraz," "Rambling Rose" and other movies.
More recently, his 2002 score for "Far From Heaven" garnered praise for its lush, swooning quality that added a 1950s sensibility to the period movie directed by Todd Haynes and starring Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid.
Bernstein was highly respected by others who practiced his art. Composer James Newton Howard, who wrote the score for "The Sixth Sense," "The Fugitive" and other films, told the Los Angeles Times in 2001 that he regarded Bernstein among the most influential of composers.
"With his scores, one never has the feeling that the music is working too hard," Howard said. "Somehow, he has always been able to achieve gigantic effect with the most gentle and graceful gestures."
Bernstein was born April 4, 1922, in New York City, the son of a high school teacher who loved jazz. He studied piano and composition and auditioned for composer Aaron Copland at the age of 12. Bernstein gave his first piano performance at age 15 in New York's Steinway Hall. He also attended the Juilliard School of Music on a scholarship and New York University.
With the encouragement of Copland, Bernstein studied composition with Roger Sessions, Stefan Wolpe and others before World War II, during which he wrote music for the Armed Forces Radio Network. After the war, he continued writing scores for United Nations radio broadcasts, among others.
His first film score was for "Saturday's Hero," a 1951 college football film starring John Derek and Donna Reed. Others soon followed, including "Sudden Fear" with Joan Crawford and "Never Wave at a WAC" with Rosalind Russell.
In the 1950s, Bernstein's career was stymied when he was "gray-listed" during the McCarthy era for his sympathies to left-wing causes. During that time, he worked on low-budget science fiction films with such titles as "Cat-Women of the Moon."
Called on by DeMille
Then, Cecil B. DeMille, who was directing "The Ten Commandments," hired Bernstein to "do for Egyptian music what Puccini did for Japanese music in 'Madame Butterfly,'" Bernstein once related. The composer, then just 32, wrote the "source" music for the film, including the songs and dances featured throughout.
About the same time, Bernstein also wrote an innovative score for "The Man With the Golden Arm," with its memorably jazzy sound, and his career took off.
Bernstein was valued in the industry for his youthful optimism and energy. At age 79, still with no plans to retire, he told the Times:
"I can't think of anything else that I'd have rather done with my life. I think I made a difference. It is an amazing human privilege to look back at your life and simply be able to say that you had some part in making millions and millions of people feel better, two hours at a time."
Bernstein is survived by his wife, Eve; sons Peter and Gregory; daughters Emilie and Elizabeth; and five grandchildren.