Franz Waxman, a mood maestro

Times Staff Writer

ONE of the most romantic love scenes captured on celluloid is the first kiss between Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in 1951's classic "A Place in the Sun."

Shot in close-up by director George Stevens, the shimmering black-and-white image of the performers embracing, with Taylor saying to Clift, "Tell mama ... tell mama all," is indelible, gaining additional power from the Oscar-winning, jazz-infused score by Franz Waxman.

The composer, nominated for 12 Academy Awards (he also won for his hauntingly forceful score for 1950's "Sunset Boulevard"), will be celebrated Thursday with a centennial tribute at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science's Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

The evening will feature a panel discussion hosted by conductor John Mauceri that includes the composer's son, John Waxman, along with screenings of "Suspicion" and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," two 1941 films for which the composer received Oscar nominations.

Programmer Ellen Harrington says the academy decided to screen both films "so we could explore how does a composer go through an entire narrative story and build all of those moments and come up with key themes and thread them together."

The academy will also display Waxman memorabilia including handwritten scores, photographs, sketches and correspondence connected to all of his films.

"He's definitely somebody who has a great range and a great range of accomplishment," says Harrington. "It was a wonderful opportunity to get in-depth on the subject of music scoring."

One of Waxman's great obsessions was the score for "Dr. Jekyll." "In the 1950s, he started writing an opera [version]," John Waxman says. "He had a commission from the New York City Opera and he just never finished it. Finally, maybe a year before he died, he said, 'I have to sit down and do this now.' But he didn't live to finish it."

Franz Waxman was playing piano with a popular jazz band in 1920s Berlin when he began working on early musical films, including Josef von Sternberg's "The Blue Angel," for which he orchestrated and conducted Frederick Hollander's score. He wrote his first major score for Fritz Lang's 1934 version of the fantasy "Liliom."

A Jew, he left Germany when Hitler came to power and arrived in Hollywood in 1934. Within a year, he was working on the score for James Whale's 1935 horror film "The Bride of Frankenstein."

John Waxman says his father's career was filled with coincidences and connections. Traveling to America on the Isle de France, he sat at the same table as producer David O. Selznick. The two clicked, and Waxman went on to write several scores for Selznick, including "Young at Heart," "Rebecca," "Suspicion" and "The Paradine Case."

First under contract to MGM, Waxman went to Warner Bros. in the early 1940s. "There was good news and bad news at Warners," Waxman says. "The bad news was that he was going to be the No. 3 composer. The first choice of a picture went to Max Steiner. Erich Wolfgang Korngold was second.

"But because he was the youngest of the three, he developed relationships with younger producers and directors who were more his age. It served him really well because he went on to have continued associations with these producers and directors."

In that circle was Jerry Wald, who produced "Destination Tokyo," the first film Waxman worked on at Warner Bros. They remained friends and colleagues; years later, Waxman provided the memorable Oscar-nominated score for Wald's adaptation of "Peyton Place."

Besides composing for films, Waxman also founded the Los Angeles Music Festival in 1947, hoping to encourage the performance of contemporary music by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and over the next 20 years, says Waxman, the Music Festival premiered 70 works.

Waxman describes his father, who died at age 60 in 1967, as a "very disciplined and very organized man." And his working methods served him well when he was simultaneously composing the scores to three major films, including "Miracle in the Rain" and "The Spirit of St. Louis."

"The only way to do it was he would get up in the morning and go into the studio and compose Picture 1," Waxman recalls.

"He'd come out of his study, go for a swim, have breakfast and work on picture No. 2. Then his orchestrator would come over. He'd have lunch, make some phone calls, take a nap and work on No. 3. He would then have dinner and then try to work again on picture No. 1!"

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susan.king@latimes.com

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'Centennial Celebration of Franz Waxman'

Where: Samuel Goldwyn Theater, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Price: $5

Contact: (310) 247-3600 or

go to www.oscars.org

For The Record Los Angeles Times Sunday October 22, 2006 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction Franz Waxman: The Cine File column last Sunday said that Franz Waxman founded the Los Angeles Music Festival in 1947, hoping to encourage the performance of contemporary music by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The Los Angeles Music Festival had no connection to the Philharmonic. For The Record Los Angeles Times Sunday October 22, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 61 words Type of Material: Correction Franz Waxman: The Cine File column in the Calendar section on Oct. 15 said Franz Waxman founded the Los Angeles Music Festival in 1947, hoping to encourage the performance of contemporary music by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He founded it because he thought the orchestra was not playing enough contemporary music and wanted to give a venue to groups that did.
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