Alexander ‘Sandy’ Courage, 88; composer wrote ‘Star Trek’ theme

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Alexander “Sandy” Courage, who composed the soaring theme for the “Star Trek” TV series in the 1960s and was an Emmy Award-winning, Oscar-nominated arranger, has died. He was 88.

Courage, who had been in declining health since 2005, died May 15 at an assisted-living facility in Pacific Palisades, said his step-daughter, Renata Pompelli.

After launching his 54-year career as a composer for CBS Radio in 1946, Courage became an orchestrator and arranger at MGM in 1948.


Over the next dozen years, he worked on a string of classic musicals, including “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Show Boat,” “The Band Wagon,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and “Gigi.” He later was an orchestrator for musicals including “My Fair Lady,” “Hello, Dolly!,” “Doctor Dolittle” and “Fiddler on the Roof” -- as well as for films including “The Poseidon Adventure,” “Jurassic Park,” “Basic Instinct,” “Hook” and “The Mummy.”

“He made a very big contribution to the musical life of Hollywood from the end of the second World War to recent years,” Oscar-winning composer John Williams told The Times on Thursday.

“He was known to most musicians in the community as having been one of the architects of what we used to refer to as the MGM sound, which meant that most of the musical films from MGM had a particular style of orchestration, which was an extension and development of what was done in the theater in the 1920s,” Williams said. “They actually took that to a very high art form, particularly in the musicals produced by Arthur Freed.”

Composer Ian Fraser, who met Courage after he had moved to 20th Century Fox in the ‘60s, said Thursday that Courage’s “knowledge of all the genres of music was really monumental.”

“He was part of the wonderful music department at 20th Century Fox,” Fraser said. “With the passing of [composer] Earle Hagen this week, the last of that group are gone, never to be replaced.”

In the late ‘50s, Courage scored nearly a dozen films, including director Arthur Penn’s western “The Left Handed Gun” and Andre de Toth’s western “Day of the Outlaw” -- as well as “Shake, Rattle and Rock!” and “Hot Rod Rumble.”


He began composing for television in 1959 and wrote music for more than 350 episodes of series that included “The Untouchables,” “Laramie,” “Daniel Boone,” “Judd for the Defense,” “Lost in Space,” “Land of the Giants,” “The Waltons,” “Eight Is Enough,” “Falcon Crest,” “Flamingo Road” and many others.

Then there was “Star Trek,” the legendary science-fiction series that ran on NBC from 1966 to 1969.

Courage was no science-fiction fan when “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry asked him to score the pilot episode in 1965.

“I never have been” a sci-fi fan, Courage later told film music historian Jon Burlingame. But I thought, ‘Well, what the heck. It’s another show.’ ”

Roddenberry, Courage recalled, said he didn’t want the show’s score to sound like “space music,” nothing “far out.”

“He wanted something that had some . . . drive to it,” Courage recalled. “In fact, he told me to always write that way through the show, all of it.”

The eight-note brass fanfare that Courage wrote to herald the starship Enterprise became one of the most familiar musical signatures in TV history.

“I’d argue that it’s the most famous fanfare in the world,” Burlingame, who teaches film music history at USC, said Thursday.

“It’s been around 42 years -- and it’s all around the world -- and when you hear those eight notes you immediately think of the Enterprise,” he said.

Courage shared an Emmy in 1988 as a principal arranger for the ABC special “Julie Andrews: The Sound of Christmas.”

He also shared Oscar nominations with Lionel Newman for their adaptation scores for “The Pleasure Seekers” in 1966 and “Doctor Dolittle” in 1968.

Courage was born Dec. 10, 1919, in Philadelphia and moved to New Jersey as a boy. He began playing the piano when he was 5 and later played the cornet and horn.

A 1941 graduate of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., he enlisted in the Army Air Forces in January 1942 and served as a band leader on bases in California and Arizona.

Courage, who was one of the founders of the Composers and Lyricists Guild of America, also was an award-winning photographer whose pictures appeared in Life, Collier’s and other magazines.

His third wife, the former Shirley Pumpelly, died in 2005.

In addition to Renata Pompelli, he is survived by his other stepchildren, Raphael Pumpelly, Andrea Steyn, Lisa Pompelli; and six grandchildren.

A memorial service is pending.