Jerry Goldsmith

Active - 1952 - 2003  |   Born - Feb 10, 1929 in Los Angeles, California, United States  |   Died - Jul 21, 2004   |   Genres - Drama, Action, Thriller, Science Fiction, Adventure

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Biography by Rebecca Flint Marx

An extraordinarily prolific composer whose productivity and versatility rank him with the likes of Ennio Morricone, Jerry Goldsmith scored well over 200 films and television programs over a career spanning nearly half a century. Goldsmith's music, which has been used for just about every imaginable film and television genre, is known in part for the composer's use of bass drums and deliberately discordant "stings" during action or suspense sequences. These stylistic trademarks were put to use with great success in 1997, with Goldsmith's score for L.A. Confidential, for which he garnered Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations, as well as a new generation of fans.

A native of Los Angeles, where he was born on February 10, 1929, Goldsmith received classical training in piano and composition before studying film composition with Hollywood veteran Miklos Rozsa at the University of California. Much of Rozsa's stylistic influence was to stay with Goldsmith during his subsequent TV and radio work. After college, the young composer got a job with CBS Television's music department. He started out in the bottom ranks, working as a clerk typist, but soon was given the opportunity to put his talents to work. After writing music for various CBS radio shows, Goldsmith started scoring for television, providing music for shows like Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, Have Gun Will Travel, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and perhaps most memorably, The Twilight Zone.

It was also during the 1950s that Goldsmith began composing for film: he made his uncredited debut with Don't Bother to Knock, a 1952 psychological drama starring Marilyn Monroe. The 1957 Western Black Patch was another early effort, done during Goldsmith's last years with CBS. In 1960, he was hired by legendary film composer Alfred Newman to work at Revue Studios and it was there that Goldsmith began one of the most productive stages of his career. Scoring his first major feature in 1962, Lonely Are the Brave, Goldsmith spent the rest of the decade working at an amazingly rapid pace: at the height of his productivity, he was estimated to write about six scores a week. Some highlights of this period include his music for Freud (a 1962 film that garnered Goldsmith his first Best Score Oscar nomination), The List of Adrian Messenger (1963), Stagecoach (1966), and Planet of the Apes (1968), the last of which he composed while wearing a monkey mask (and secured his third Best Score Oscar nomination for his efforts).

In addition to endless employment opportunities, the following decade brought further critical acclaim and recognition for the composer. Supplying scores for no less than 50 films, Goldsmith received Best Score Academy Award nominations for six, including Patton (1970), the 1973 Steve McQueen/Dustin Hoffman action drama Papillon, Roman Polanski's classic film noir potboiler Chinatown (1974), and The Omen, a 1976 horror classic that netted Goldsmith an Academy Award. He also further endeared himself to sci-fi enthusiasts everywhere by composing music for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) and Alien (also 1979).

During the 1980s and 1990s, Goldsmith continued to work steadily, scoring at least two major films a year. Some of his better-known work included Poltergeist (1982), Gremlins (1984), the Rambo series, Total Recall (1990), Basic Instinct (1992), and L.A. Confidential. His work on the last film earned him particular acclaim: in addition to netting him his 17th Oscar nomination, the score placed Goldsmith on many music critics' "Year's Ten Best" lists and gave him recognition among a new generation of fans. The following year, he earned another Oscar nomination, for his score for Disney's animated Mulan, and continued to work prolifically. After scoring three other films that same year, Goldsmith provided the music for The Mummy in 1999, ably demonstrating that age had not slowed him down in the least. After ushering in the new millenium with scores for such features as Hollow Man, Along Came a Spider, The Sum of All Fears, and Looney Tunes: Back in Action, the aging composer's difficult struggle with cancer made it difficult to keep up the near feverish work pace that had seemingly defined his career. On July 21, 2004, mere months after celebrating all things Hollywood by providing the score for the 76th Annual Academy Awards, Goldsmith finally succumbed to the devastating effects of cancer. He was 75.

Movie Highlights

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  • Began to play piano at age 6.
  • Inspired to be a composer after hearing Miklós Rósza's score for Spellbound in 1945; later took a course in film composition from Rósza at the University of Southern California.
  • Was hired by CBS as a clerk typist in 1950, but eventually began composing music for radio and TV programs, including Dr. Kildare, The Twilight Zone and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
  • Composed and recorded the score to Chinatown in just three weeks.
  • Wrote the scores for five Star Trek movies and the main title themes for two Star Trek series.