PASSINGS: Ken Thorne, Ben Pesta

Attorney Ben Pesta, left, appears in court in 2004 with former Compton Mayor Omar Bradley, who was accused of misappropriating public funds while mayor.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Ken Thorne, 90, a television and film composer who won an Oscar for scoring the 1966 musical comedy “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” died of natural causes Wednesday at West Hills Hospital & Medical Center, said his wife, Linda.

Thorne arranged and directed incidental music for “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” the movie about a conniving slave in ancient Rome that starred Zero Mostel and Phil Silvers.

It was one of several films he worked on with director Richard Lester. He began his Hollywood career writing the incidental score for the Lester-directed Beatles comedy “Help!” (1965), which brought Thorne a Grammy nomination.

“My orders were to only use Beatles music and use their themes and snippets of themes, and I did that,” Thorne told the Daily Breeze in 2013.


Lester later hired him to handle the music for “Superman II” (1980) and “Superman III” (1983). For those films, Thorne rearranged the John Williams themes composed for the original “Superman” in 1978.

His other credits include “Inspector Clouseau” (1968), the Monkees’ comedy “Head” (1968) and “The Magic Christian” (1969), which starred Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr.

Thorne was born in Norfolk, England, on Jan. 26, 1924. He began to study piano when he was 5 and played professionally starting at 15.

He moved permanently to the United States when he started work on the “Superman” films.

In later years, he worked mostly in television, where his credits include the TV movies “The Return of Sherlock Holmes,” “Diana: Her True Story” and “Liz: The Elizabeth Taylor Story.”

Ben Pesta

Attorney defended Compton mayor

Criminal defense lawyer Ben Pesta, 65, who was involved in high-profile cases, died July 3 at home in Beverly Hills, said his wife, Monique Raphel High.


He had been battling pancreatic cancer for more than two years, she said.

In 2004, Pesta defended Compton’s self-styled “gangster mayor” Omar Bradley on charges that Bradley had misappropriated public funds, including charging personal expenses such as golfing excursions to city credit cards. Bradley was also charged with making unauthorized loans while in office.

In court, Pesta portrayed the former mayor as a “small town guy” who tried to make Compton “a better place to live.” The flamboyant Bradley was found guilty, however, and sentenced to three years in state prison. But much to the consternation of prosecutors, Bradley was permitted to serve time in a halfway house.

Pesta also represented Charlie Samuel, accused of kidnapping and killing 17-year-old Lily Burk in Los Angeles in a crime that shocked the city. Samuel pleaded guilty to the murder and was sentenced in 2010 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Pesta said the plea saved Samuel from a possible death sentence. “I think we saved a life today,” the attorney said after the sentencing.


Pesta was born Oct. 15, 1948, in Hagerstown, Md. His undergraduate degree was earned at UCLA, where he studied philosophy and political science. He earned his law degree at UC Berkeley.

He also wrote for several publications and was on the editorial advisory board of the magazine California Lawyer.

Times staff and wire reports