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George Greeley, 89; composer wrote theme for ‘My Favorite Martian’

Times Staff Writer

George Greeley, a pianist, conductor, composer and arranger who composed the theme music for television’s “My Favorite Martian,” has died. He was 89.

Greeley, who had emphysema, died Saturday at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center, said Teri York, Greeley’s longtime companion.

For the record:
12:00 AM, Jun. 03, 2007 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 03, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Greeley obituary: The obituary of composer and pianist George Greeley in Thursday’s California section misspelled the first name of pianist Eddy Duchin as Eddie.

As staff pianist at Columbia Pictures in the 1950s, Greeley performed on hundreds of motion pictures. He also worked as a composer and orchestrator at the studio.

“He was an extraordinary pianist,” said Jon Burlingame, who teaches a class on the history of film scoring at USC. While at Columbia, Burlingame said, Greeley played the piano for the Leonard Bernstein score for the classic 1954 drama “On the Waterfront.”

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“He also was very proud of his work on ‘The Eddie Duchin Story’ because he coached Tyrone Power on the proper way to play the piano,” Burlingame said.

As a recording artist for Warner Bros. Records, Greeley produced and performed on 15 albums for piano and full orchestra, including “George Greeley Plays George Gershwin.”

Moving into television in the 1960s, Greeley wrote the musical themes and underscores for “My Favorite Martian,” starring Ray Walston and Bill Bixby, and “My Living Doll,” starring Robert Cummings and Julie Newmar. He also wrote background music for “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” and “Nanny and the Professor.”

For “My Favorite Martian,” the 1960s sitcom in which Bixby’s newspaper reporter character befriends the stranded Martian played by Walston, Greeley used an instrument called an electro-theremin to make the weird science-fiction-like sound every time the Martian’s antennae went up or he used his powers of levitation.

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“It was one of the first times electronic music was used on television,” said Burlingame, who interviewed Greeley for his 1996 book “TV’s Biggest Hits,” a history of television scoring.

The catchy “My Favorite Martian” theme left a lasting impression on many of the show’s young fans.

Greeley’s sister Louise Wheeler said she was with her brother in a doctor’s office when he mentioned that he had written the musical theme for “My Favorite Martian.”

“At that moment, the doctor went right into the first four or six bars of it,” Wheeler recalled Wednesday. “It always pleased my brother when something like that happened. It brought back happy childhood memories for an awful lot of baby boomers.”

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Born July 23, 1917, in Westerly, R.I., Greeley was taught by his musician-father to read music at an early age and was playing piano at age 5. He studied piano and music composition on a scholarship to the Juilliard School in New York, where he graduated in 1939.

He arranged music for several popular bands, including the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, before spending World War II conducting an Army Air Forces band at the Santa Ana Army Air Base. After the war, he wrote arrangements for a number of radio shows before joining Columbia Pictures.

At Capitol Records, he was a music director and arranger for Gordon MacRae, Jane Powell and Jane Froman, among others.

He performed as a piano soloist and guest conductor in Australia, Canada, Korea and Brazil. He also performed with the Boston Pops, the Atlanta Symphony and the Chicago Symphony.

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In addition to his sister, Greeley is survived by his two sons, Anthony and Edward; and a brother, Herbert.

A memorial service for Greeley will be held at 3 p.m. Friday at the Faith Chapel, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, 6300 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles.

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dennis.mclellan@latimes.com

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