Heinz Roemheld

Active - 1930 - 1969  |   Born - May 1, 1901   |   Died - Feb 11, 1985   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Romance, Crime

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Biography by Bruce Eder

Heinz Roemheld may never have achieved the recognition accorded such colleagues as Bernard Herrmann, Miklos Rozsa, Max Steiner, Alfred Newman, or Erich Wolfgang Korngold, but in a 24-year career in Hollywood he scored or contributed to the scoring of over 400 feature films, some of them still very well-known to general audiences, cineastes, or genre enthusiasts. He was born in Milwaukee, WI, and was a child prodigy, taking up the piano at the age of four and graduating from Milwaukee's College of Music at 19. Roemheld desired to study in Europe and took up performing in theaters to earn the money that he needed. In 1920, he got to Berlin and became a student of Ferrucio Busoni and Egon Petri, among other notable musicians, and made his debut as a guest soloist with the Berlin Philharmonic at the age of 22. He returned to America and began earning part of his living as a movie theater pianist and conductor; it was at one such engagement, conducting the music to accompany Universal's 1925 horror blockbuster The Phantom of the Opera at a theater in Milwaukee, that Roemheld was noticed by Carl Laemmle Sr., the president of Universal Pictures. He was hired by the studio to manage the company's theaters, a job that later took him to Berlin. By 1930, however, he was back in America, in Hollywood, working for Universal's music department. The art of scoring movies had undergone a shattering devolution with the coming of talking pictures and in 1930 it was being learned all over again. Roemheld's first job was to score All Quiet on the Western Front, which became one of the great dramatic films and moneymakers of its era and remains one of the very few movies from that transitional era, from silents to talkies, that is fully watchable to modern audiences. During the 1930s Roemheld moved between Universal, Paramount, and Warner Bros. as a composer and music director. At Universal, he was responsible for writing some of the more memorable music for their 1930s horror output, including the score for The Invisible Man (which was later tracked into the studio's Flash Gordon serial) and Dracula's Daughter. At Warner Bros., although he never had anywhere near the prominence of Max Steiner or Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and worked on many B-pictures in the studio's output (including Nancy Drew, Reporter), he occasionally got higher profile movies to work on, including the screwball comedy It's Love I'm After starring Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, and Olivia De Havilland, and the crime-dramas Kid Galahad with Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart, and The Roaring Twenties starring James Cagney and Bogart. He also spent time at MGM scoring sections of Gone With the Wind, for which he received no credit. Roemheld finally achieved some recognition from his peers and before the public in 1942 when he won an Oscar for his work on Yankee Doodle Dandy and ten years later he wrote the pop standard "Ruby" for the movie Ruby Gentry. Many of Roemheld's scores during the late '40s and early '50s were written for smaller films, but he still managed to put his musical mark on such movies as Orson Welles' The Lady From Shanghai and well-known action vehicles such as The Big Trees starring Kirk Douglas and the Abbott & Costello costume comedy-musical Jack and the Beanstalk. During the late '50s, he also moved into the scoring of horror and science fiction films, including The Mole People, The Creature Walks Among Us, and The Land Unknown. In 1964, after almost a quarter-century of scoring films, Roemheld retired from the movie world to return to Milwaukee and concentrate on serious composition, principally smaller-scale orchestral pieces and chamber music, and he occasionally conducted the city's symphony orchestra.

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