Allyn Ferguson dies at 85; prolific Hollywood composer
Allyn Ferguson, a prolific, Emmy-winning composer who co-wrote the themes for the popular TV series “Charlie’s Angels” and “Barney Miller,” has died. He was 85.
Ferguson, who also was known as an arranger and conductor, died of natural causes June 23 at his home in Westlake Village, said his daughter, Jill Ferguson.
Teamed with composer Jack Elliott in a television scoring partnership, Ferguson and Elliott wrote the themes for “Charlie’s Angels” and “Barney Miller” in the 1970s as well as scores for episodes of numerous other series, including “The Rookies,” “Starsky and Hutch,” “Police Story” and “Banacek.”
On his own in the 1970s and ‘80s, Ferguson scored many of producer Norman Rosemont’s TV adaptations of literary classics such as “A Tale of Two Cities,” “The Count of Monte Cristo,” “Les Miserables” and “Camille,” for which Ferguson won an Emmy in 1985.
He received five other Emmy nominations for music composition in the ‘80s — for “Ivanhoe,” “Master of the Game,” “The Last Days of Patton,” “April Morning” and “Pancho Barnes.”
“Allyn will always be remembered as the co-writer of two iconic television themes,” said Jon Burlingame, author of “TV’s Biggest Hits,” a 1996 book that chronicles the history of television themes. “But I think his real strength was in writing large-scale orchestral scores for Rosemont.
“He’d often write lavish orchestral scores, some very swashbuckling in nature, that helped to set the mood and place the viewer in the proper period. It was great stuff; he was really good at this.”
During the ‘70s and ‘80s, Ferguson served stints as conductor and musical co-director for the Oscar, Emmy and Grammy award telecasts. He also received an Emmy nomination for music direction for “The American Movie Awards” in 1982 and shared an Emmy nomination for music direction for “The Kennedy Center Honors” in 1986.
Ferguson and Elliott, who wrote the scores for the movies “Support Your Local Gunfighter” and “Get to Know Your Rabbit,” also co-founded the Orchestra, an 84-piece ensemble that debuted at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 1979.
“Its primary thrust was a combination of symphonic and jazz-influenced pieces they were commissioning,” Burlingame said. “I think the Orchestra was a grand experiment, and I’m sorry it didn’t last.”
Ferguson, who moved to Hollywood in 1958, was an arranger for artists including Sarah Vaughan, Stan Kenton and Andy Williams and wrote the arrangements for the Count Basie Orchestra’s 1998 Grammy-winning “Count Plays Duke” album. He also was a musical director for Johnny Mathis, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Julie Andrews and others.
In the late ‘80s, Ferguson assumed a leadership role in the Grove School of Music in Van Nuys, where he launched a film music composition course. The school went out of business in the early ‘90s.
Born in San Jose on Oct. 18, 1924, Ferguson started taking trumpet lessons at age 4 and began studying piano seriously at 7.
He became a P-38 pilot during World War II, but the war ended before he saw action. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from San Jose State University and studied music with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood in Massachusetts.
While working toward a doctorate at Stanford University in the early 1950s, he formed the Chamber Jazz Sextet, which performed in the Bay Area and recorded three albums, including one with original jazz works accompanying poems by Kenneth Patchen.
In addition to his daughter, Ferguson is survived by his wife, Joline; his sons, Dan and Todd; his sister, Marilyn Dallman; and six grandchildren.
A celebration of his life is pending.
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