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Jerry Goldsmith, 75; Created Memorable TV, Film Scores

Times Staff Writers

Jerry Goldsmith, the Emmy- and Academy Award-winning composer who created memorable scores for films as varied as “Planet of the Apes,” “Patton,” “Chinatown” and “The Omen,” has died. He was 75.

Goldsmith died in his sleep Wednesday night at his Beverly Hills home after a long battle with cancer, said Lois Carruth, his longtime personal assistant.

During his five-decade career in Hollywood, Goldsmith was prolific and highly sought after. He composed music for nearly 200 feature films and memorable themes for several television shows, including “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” “Dr. Kildare,” “The Waltons” and “Barnaby Jones.”

Goldsmith was nominated for 18 Academy Awards, winning for 1976’s “The Omen.” His other nominations included “A Patch of Blue,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Patton,” “Chinatown,” “Under Fire,” “The Wind and the Lion” and “Basic Instinct.”

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He was nominated for seven Emmys, winning five for “Star Trek: Voyager”, the miniseries “Masada” and “QB VII,” and the TV movies “Babe” and “The Red Pony.” He was also nominated for numerous Grammys and Golden Globes.

Goldsmith’s early TV background taught him to be fast as well as prolific. He was brought in at the last minute to replace the score of 1974’s “Chinatown,” and he finished the music for the film noir thriller in just 10 days. For the 1997 action thriller “Air Force One,” he wrote the score in just over four weeks after the original work was rejected.

Considered an innovator, he added avant-garde instruments to film orchestras and new ideas to film scoring. In 1968’s “Planet of the Apes,” for example, he used stainless-steel mixing bowls to create an unusual percussion sound.

He also used his orchestras in unusual ways. For “Planet of the Apes,” he had the brass players create sound by blowing into the mouthpieces of their instruments without the instruments attached.

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“As modern acting came from Brando, modern film scoring came from Jerry Goldsmith,” Lukas Kendall, editor and founder of Film Score Monthly, a magazine, website and record label dedicated to vintage film scores, told The Times on Thursday.

“It’s very rare for a Hollywood musician to find success in one genre, but Jerry did it in every genre. For a composer to be as relevant in 2004 as he was in 1964 is unprecedented.”

Director Joe Dante, who did nine movies with Goldsmith, including the “Gremlins” films and “Looney Tunes: Back in Action,” told The Times on Thursday that there was a joke on his sets that if a scene wasn’t working right, “Well, Jerry will save it.” He said the composer’s scores improved every film they worked on together.

“He never got stale. He didn’t repeat himself,” Dante said.

Film music historian and writer Jon Burlingame said Thursday that Goldsmith did not like to intellectualize his scores. “He operated almost viscerally and he would ascertain internally what a film needed,” he said.

Goldsmith once chalked up his success to a mix of flexibility and pragmatism.

“I’m a chameleon,” he told The Times’ Elaine Dutka some years ago. “My longevity comes from my adaptive skills. I let the picture dictate the style. And I accept the fact that there will be gunshots and dialogue over my music. Movies are a director’s medium and I’m not center stage.”

Charles Bernstein, a composer and friend of Goldsmith’s, said he watched Goldsmith accommodate director Rod Lurie while scoring “The Last Castle” a couple of years ago.

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“He did it with such grace,” Bernstein said.

Rick Berman, executive producer of several of the “Star Trek” series and films that Goldsmith composed for, said Thursday that he never saw him riled.

“If a director or a producer suggested something be altered slightly, he was always enthusiastic to do that,” Berman said.

Goldsmith once said he waited until a film was at least in a rough-cut stage before he started scoring.

“I can’t get ideas from a script,” he once told the Washington Post. “One can look at a piece of music and envision the sound, or look at a painting and get the idea, or even read a play and imagine; but a script is just a blueprint, and what comes to the screen is so totally different that you really can’t conceive of it until you see it.

“Plus, I can’t really start to write until the film is locked in since we write to the 10th of a second; a foot [of film] changes and it throws off the music.”

Goldsmith’s scores never overpowered the material, and he knew the power of silence.

“Jerry will stop the music for 10 or 20 bars, so when it starts it will be new again,” director Paul Verhoeven, who worked with Goldsmith on “Total Recall” and “Basic Instinct,” told Dutka.

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“Jerry gives emotional context to the images without making them cheap or hollow. There’s nothing ‘on the nose.’ Instead of accentuating sound effects, he goes for the soul of a film.”

The son of a structural engineer father and a schoolteacher mother, Goldsmith grew up in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles. He studied classical piano and composition as a boy, deciding early on that writing would be his goal. He said that he had neither the temperament nor “the fingers” to be a great pianist.

After graduating from high school, he enrolled in music classes at Los Angeles City College and took a course at USC with Miklos Rozsa, the composer for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound,” which Goldsmith recalled seeing at the age of 16.

By the age of 21, Goldsmith had found work at CBS -- typing scripts. After writing scores for a weekly employee show at the network, he was given the opportunity to compose for live television and radio dramas. Initially, he composed music for programs such as “Playhouse 90,” the Emmy-winning live anthology series, and for “Gunsmoke,” “Have Gun Will Travel” and “The Twilight Zone,” among others.

Of all his television work, he expressed a special fondness for “The Twilight Zone” and its innovative approach to music.

“The wilder it was, the better,” he said of his compositions for the program.

Goldsmith left CBS in 1960 and found work at Revue Studios, where he composed music for the studio’s thrillers. Two years later, he was hired to score his first major motion picture, “Lonely Are the Brave.”

He received his first Oscar nomination for the 1962 biography “Freud.” Through the 1960s, he was one of the busiest composers in Hollywood.

Among his other notable scores over the years were “Papillon,” “The Sand Pebbles,” “Alien” and “L.A. Confidential.”

In addition to his lucrative composition work, Goldsmith was commissioned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to write a fanfare that could be identified with the academy. His “Fanfare for Oscar” was first heard during the announcement of the Oscar nominations in 1998 and has been on every Academy Award telecast since.

Goldsmith also dabbled in classical composition. One concert piece, “Music for Orchestra,” was performed first in the early 1970s by the St. Louis Symphony and later, in 1998, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting.

In 1999, Goldsmith was commissioned by the Philharmonic to write a piece for the Hollywood Bowl summer series. He conducted the piece, “Fireworks,” at the bowl that summer. Other classical works include a cantata, “Christus Apollo,” with a text by Ray Bradbury.

Goldsmith is survived by his wife of 32 years, Carol, and their son, Aaron; four children from a previous marriage, Ellen Edson, Carrie Goldsmith, Joel Goldsmith and Jennifer Grossman; six grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

Services will be held at 2 p.m. today at Hillside Memorial Park in Los Angeles.

Instead of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made to the Jerry Goldsmith Scholarship Fund for Film Music Composition, c/o UCLA School of the Arts, Dean’s Office, Box 951427, Los Angeles, CA 90095, or to the Jerry Goldsmith Memorial Fund for Cancer Research, c/o Tower Cancer Research Foundation, 9090 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.


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