Anton Karas, the Viennese zither player who composed the haunting Harry Lime theme for the classic 1940s film “The Third Man,” died today at the age of 78.
Karas, an unheralded musician in a Vienna wine tavern, was discovered by British director Carol Reed, who came here just after World War II to direct Orson Welles in “The Third Man.”
Reed, desperately searching for a theme tune for his villain Harry Lime, chanced on the tavern in Vienna’s Grinzing wine-growing district.
Struck by the simple zither melodies, Reed asked a stunned Karas if he would compose the music for the film. Karas protested, saying he had never actually written music.
As Karas later told the story, the director insisted and invited Karas to England.
The Austrian became homesick and asked to be allowed to return. Reed told him he could--as soon as he had written the music. Under this pressure Karas wrote his Harry Lime theme.
The film became a classic and Karas a rich man.
He bought his own wine tavern in Grinzing and often delighted tourists with his famous theme, which became as closely associated with Vienna as the Blue Danube Waltz.